David Rivera and Sharon Werning Rivera
David Rivera and Sharon Werning Rivera

Associate Professor of Government Sharon Rivera and Lecturer in Government David Rivera were members of a panel that discussed “Russia, the West, and the War in Ukraine” on April 16 at the Center for European Studies, one of the Moynihan European Research Centers at Syracuse University (SU).

In a talk titled “The Real Sources of Russian-American Discord,” David Rivera took issue with the popular view that Western-Russian relations have descended to the extremely conflictual state that has prevailed over the course of the last year largely as a result of the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization over the last two decades.

Rather, he argued, an accurate understanding of Moscow’s sense of estrangement from the West would also need to include NATO’s anti-Serbian military interventions in Bosnia and especially Kosovo, pan-Slavist attitudes among the Russian elite, Vladimir Putin’s intolerance of Western criticism of the pronounced democratic backsliding that has occurred at his direction, and the Kremlin’s vehement opposition to Western democracy-promotion.

For these and other reasons, he said, there is much more wrong with explanations that focus single-mindedly on NATO expansion than there is right about them.

Sharon Rivera argued in her talk titled “Putin’s Evolving Views of Europe and the U.S.” that since Vladimir Putin returned to the presidency for a third time in 2012, he has adopted a worldview that has contributed to the Kremlin’s sense of estrangement from the West, made the prospect of Ukraine moving closer toward integration with Europe unacceptable to the Kremlin, and set the stage for Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine.

She said that one of the major components of this worldview is a belief that Russian civilization is ethically and spiritually superior to that of the West. A second component, what she called a “besieged fortress” mentality, is a belief that Russia has been humiliated by and is under constant attack by the West.

The Riveras were joined on the panel by Brian Taylor, professor of political science at SU’s Maxwell School and director of the Moynihan European Research Centers.

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