Panel on Russia-Ukraine conflict

The past few months have seen devastation as the ongoing conflict in Ukraine has killed thousands and displaced millions. Illustration by Kevin Baggerly.

Students and faculty came together in a Clarke Building classroom to hear from speakers about the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian conflict.

The panel discussion on March 16, heard from several panelists which included esteemed professors such as Dr. Frederick White, professor of Russian and integrated studies, Dr. Baktybek Abdrisaev, former UN ambassador from Kyrgyzstan and professor of political science, Dr. Ryan Vogel, director for the Center of National Security Studies, Dr. Hong Pang, associate professor of political science and international relations, and Dr. Kal Munis, associate professor of political science.

Each speaker spoke to the complexities that surrounded the ongoing war in Ukraine. Topics ranged from the role of religion in the conflict to potential Russian intentions. Dr. Lynn England, the director of peace and justice studies at Utah Valley University, acted as moderator for the panel.

“We do want to welcome [the audience] here,” England opened. “Each of our presenters has a lot to say in very little time in which to say it.”

The panel began with White speaking on general issues about the war, including the role of North Atlantic Treaty Organization expansion.

“From the perspective of Putin, NATO was a military alliance created to contain the spread of communism,” White said. “Communism is defeated, we’re done … So the question is why does NATO exist, why do we need to continue to contain communism when communism no longer exists?”

White related this attempted containment of communism to the collapse of the Soviet Union, noting that representatives from both the United States and Russia met to discuss future relations between the two countries. In these discussions, Russia asked to limit the expansion of NATO. White later claimed that this condition wasn’t applied, noting NATO has expanded since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Audience members then heard from Vogel about the role of international in the reaction to the war in Ukraine, saying, “The law of war is triggered by an actual armed conflict, it doesn’t matter if the parties declared war, or if they recognized a state of war if there is a war objectively on the fact than the law of war applies.”

“Typically what we look at is if a state has gone to war legally. If they haven’t we call that aggressive war,” Vogel said. “In this conflict, we have none of [the justifications for legal war].”

Munis spoke last in the discussion about how the role of religion and identity has played a role in the conflict going on in Ukraine. Identifying as a practicing Orthodox Christian, he outlined connections between nationalist rhetoric from Moscow and the fates of Ukraine and Russia together.

“I think that it is necessary to grapple with the identity dimensions of this conflict,” Munis said. “In particular one must grapple with the role of this so-called ‘Russkiy Mir’ ideology propagated over the last 20 years by Russian leaders of both church and state including Patriarch Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church and President Vladimir Putin.”

According to an article by the German Council on Foreign Relations, the term “Russkiy Mir” or “Russian World” is the concept of Russia being a divided nation of people who are culturally, religiously and genetically similar to each other. Munis described this in the panel discussion as an appeal to “blood and soil” in the Russian ideology. Munis stated that through propagation by Russian religious leaders and Russian politicians, this has become a dominant mindset in Russia today.

“Its central notion is that there is a transnational Russian sphere spanning all of modern Russia, Ukraine and Belarus and Russian areas in other countries such as South Ossetia and Georgia,” Munis said. “This ideology holds that these Russian lands ought to be united, safeguarded and ruled over by a benevolent and protecting Tsar in conjunction with a loving Russian Orthodox Patriarch.”

Relating Russiky Mir to the notion that Ukrainian is nothing more than a Russian dialect, an offset of the Russian language, Munis expanded on the dangers of believing that Ukrainians and Russians are one people.

As the conflict wages in Ukraine, the UN reports that the conflict has displaced more than three million people, and has led to over 2,000 civilian casualties.

For more information on how to help the Ukrainian refugee crisis, visit the Red Cross website.

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