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University of Rhode Island scholar Nicolai Petro, Professor of Government Alan Cafruny, and former foreign minister of Russia Andrei Kozyrev discuss the war in Ukraine.
Former foreign minister of Russia Andrei Kozyrev and University of Rhode Island scholar Nicolai Petro discussed the war in Ukraine with Professor of Government Alan Cafruny on Nov. 15. This was the second Common Ground event of the semester, with the series’ first installment — which also focused on Russia and Ukraine — featuring author Max Boot

Petro opened the conversation with remarks he titled “The Case for Empathy.” He first relayed both the Ukrainian and Russian positions on the conflict, before explaining why some outside powers — the U.S. chiefly among them — support continuing the war rather than advocating to end it as soon as possible through negotiations.

“The Biden administration argues that Ukraine is the most significant national security interest that the United States has today — one upon which the entire future of the global order hangs” Petro said. This belief, he noted, bolsters the notion that “nothing short of humiliation will deter Putin from future aggression.”

After pointing out the probable ineffectiveness of economic sanctions and condemning the caricatural portrait of Russia in the Western media, Petro proposed his view on “the greatest obstacle to peace in the world today.” In line with the title of his remarks, he took issue with the idea that “if one feels compassion for one side in the conflict, it is presumed that one cannot feel compassion for the other side as well.” Combatting this assumption and “cultivating compassion toward adversaries,” Petro said, “would be the greatest achievement any political leader could ever aspire to.”

Revisiting the Russian position outlined earlier by Petro, Kozyrev stated that “I see it as a heap of lies — no word in it should be taken at face value.” An outspoken critic of the war and of Putin’s regime, Kozyrev proceeded to detail the Russian leader’s rise to power and subsequent concentration of political authority in a system he labeled a dictatorship.

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“The sole reason for the war in Ukraine is the same reason why Russia is in conflict with NATO: Russia hates examples of free, prosperous democracies in the West,” Kozyrev said, echoing the explanation that the war is being driven by a single, unhinged leader who — in the words of Petro — is aiming to “reconstitute the USSR.” 

The Russian “inferiority complex” framed by Kozyrev was also linked to non-membership in both the European Union and NATO. For Petro, the former entails an advisable future aspiration for Ukraine, whereas an official affiliation with the latter may only aggravate Russian relations once again. He cited the increasingly pluralistic society and economy that may well result from EU membership, advocating for these “good things” while cautioning that “pushing the boundaries of a military alliance further eastward” might not “help solve any problems.”

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