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Faculty Experts Share Insight on Ukraine-Russia Conflict


At the Munich Security Conference of 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin decried the expansion of NATO. In a speech that drew extensive criticism from Western leaders, Putin expressed his distrust of the military alliance and, chief among its participants, the United States. It was with this important historical vignette that Sol M. Linowitz Visiting Professor of International Affairs Robin Quinville opened a panel discussion on the crisis in Ukraine, hosted on March 4 by the Arthur Levitt Public Affairs Center.

Quinville was joined by Henry Platt Bristol Professor of International Relations Alan Cafruny and Professor of Government Sharon Rivera. The panel of experts discussed the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, contextualizing the ongoing military operations within prior international agreements, domestic Russian politics, and the role of Western governments and alliances. Quinville argued that Putin has violated many of Russia’s commitments to international law, including the agreement that all sovereign nations are free to form alliances and international associations.

Putin saw Ukraine—its Slavic neighbor with deep and ancient cultural, historical, and spiritual roots—steadily choosing to move West and away from Russia. And he was deeply worried about the push for democracy along Russia’s borders, which made him more inclined to wonder: what would happen if Russians saw that and then wanted democracy themselves?

Rivera detailed the domestic factors leading to the invasion, describing multiple theories which aim to explain Putin’s aggression. While she agreed that  resentment against the West due to NATO expansion was partly to blame, Rivera cited Putin’s “civilizational turn” as one key  reason for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“In 2012, Putin began expressing increasing concerns about Western liberalism,” she explained. “Putin saw Ukraine—its Slavic neighbor with deep and ancient cultural, historical, and spiritual roots—steadily choosing to move West and away from Russia. And he was deeply worried about the push for democracy along Russia’s borders, which made him more inclined to wonder: what would happen if Russians saw that and then wanted democracy themselves?”

Rivera also explained the tenuous support Russian elites have for the war in Ukraine, particularly compared to levels of approval for the 2014 annexation of Crimea. She stressed the importance for Putin of keeping elites on his side, warning that a loss of elite support could mean significant trouble for Putin’s regime.

Focusing more internationally, Cafruny discussed the impact of NATO intervention and U.S. military operations. He asserted that NATO’s expansion since the cessation of the Cold War has perpetuated the function of the military industrial complex, and that the U.S. has been the primary driver in NATO operations, using the alliance to consolidate power in Europe. Cafruny stressed the importance of diplomacy, criticizing the widely discussed escalations of military involvement and the establishment of a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

After sharing their insights on the conflict, the panelists fielded audience questions and shared resources for further action, including a list of relevant Ukrainian and Russian nonprofit organizations needing financial support. On March 3, the Hamilton Young Democratic Socialists of America hosted a candlelight vigil for the people of Ukraine, raising funds for nonprofit organizations and offering prayers and thoughts for those affected by the crisis. Additionally, the Office of Alumni Relations will be hosting a virtual event featuring faculty and alumni experts.

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