Experts discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine 

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Pictured is a boy holding up a “STOP WAR IN UKRAINE” sign. Many professors including Oxana Shevel and Sara Silverstein discussed what a Russian invasion could mean in “A New World Order? A Roundtable On Putin’s Invasion Of Ukraine.” Photo courtesy to Matti

Though Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was predicted by government intelligence and reported by the media before it occurred, many were still surprised by what unfolded. Oxana Shevel, associate professor of political science at Tufts University, Ellen Litman, associate professor of English at UConn and Sara Silverstein, associate professor of history and human rights institute at UConn, all articulated Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and what it could mean for the world in a Zoom lecture on Friday titled, “A New World Order? A Roundtable On Putin’s Invasion Of Ukraine.” The conversation was moderated by Christopher Vials, associate professor of English at UConn.  

“As someone who studies fascism in the far right, from an Americanist point of view, Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is deeply unsettling and for many Americans, it’s unsettling in a similar way that January 6 on the election of Donald Trump was unsettling,” Vials said. “That is, these events are all a part of a continuum that makes us feel as if we’re replaying a history of fascism and right-wing authoritarianism, a history that wasn’t supposed to happen in the 21st century.” 

Silverstein compared Russia’s invasion to a fight between democracy and imperialism. Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine is imperialistic because he claimed that Ukrainians lack nationality or citizenship. However, Ukrainians have fought back through their mobilization of civil society, according to Silverstein. In 1991, Ukrainians succeeded in pursuing independence from the Soviet Union. The 2004 Orange and 2014 Maidan Revolutions are some other examples of where Ukrainians engaged in democratic practices against authoritarianism.  

“…THESE EVENTS ARE ALL A PART OF A CONTINUUM THAT MAKES US FEEL AS IF WE’RE REPLAYING A HISTORY OF FASCISM AND RIGHT-WING AUTHORITARIANISM, A HISTORY THAT WASN’T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN IN THE 21ST CENTURY.”

Christopher Vials

“It’s really the action civil society contributed that has shown just how strong that democracy can be against imperial aggression,” Silverstein said. “The type of democracy the Ukrainians are presenting also shows us the significance of needing to choose democracy, again and again, not taking it for granted. Putin basically underestimates the power of democracy, his political ideology regards democracy as weak and dissolute and we’re seeing Ukrainians show the strength of democracy.” 

Currently, Russians haven’t felt the effects of economic sanctions from international actors yet. In Russian history, similar types of wars have occurred in the past, so Russians don’t view the Ukrainian invasion as overly unique, as stated by Silverstein. Additionally, due to censorship from the Russian government, Russians also lack access to the western perspective of the war.  

“So you have people who will argue that, oh none of this is real,” Silverstein said. “It’s all nationalists who are committing all these crimes and they don’t care how illogical, [or] ridiculous it might sound because it gets them through another day. They believe it’s easier instead of accepting the cognitive dissonance that we, the people who are always for peace, suddenly are inflicting this on the other people.” 

“ON AN OPTIMISTIC NOTE, I THINK PUTIN UNDERESTIMATES THE ADAPTABILITY AND THE CREATIVITY OF THE DEMOCRATIC PROCESS. I THINK HE WOULD BE SURPRISED THAT THERE ARE MANY GREAT EFFORTS FROM THE ECONOMISTS, YOU KNOW LIKE GOVERNMENT CIVIL SOCIETY [AND] ACADEMICS THAT [ARE] GONNA WORK [THEIR] WAY OUT. [T]HE DEPENDENCY IS GONNA BE LESSENED IN A WAY THAT PUTIN KIND OF THINKS IT CAN’T BE.”

Oxana Shevel

From a broader perspective, both the right-wing and nationalists have problems, Shevel argued. In Ukrainian history, the right-wing believed in control but the nationalists took part in the Holocaust. Shevel said that it’s difficult to tell who the good or bad guys are but it’s important to have a space where those kinds of debates can occur, unlike what Putin is trying to force people to think. 

The narrative in Russia is that the war in Ukraine is a war of self-defense against the U.S. and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, who are trying to portray Russia as weak, according to Shevel. Though Putin threatens to use nuclear weapons, Shevel stated that it is unlikely to occur. Instead, Russian forces might use smaller nuclear weapons and blame it on Ukraine because they have nuclear power plants.  

Litman stated that is important to document the war crimes that Russia is partaking in so they can be held accountable. Also, she added that it is important to try to separate the West’s reliance on Russian energy because they use that money to support their war.  

“On an optimistic note, I think Putin underestimates the adaptability and the creativity of the democratic process,” Shevel said. “I think he would be surprised that there are many great efforts from the economists, you know like government civil society [and] academics that [are] gonna work [their] way out. [T]he dependency is gonna be lessened in the way that Putin kind of thinks it can’t be.” 

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