A recent panel discussion on the Global Implications of the Russian Invasion of Ukraine was sponsored by the Office of Global Learning Initiatives, the Steven J. Green School of International & Public Affairs and the Sigma Iota Rho Honor Society. Time did not allow for the panelists to answer all participant questions. FIU News asked faculty experts from the Green School to tackle those question after the event.
Rebecca Friedman is associate professor of history and founding director of the Wolfsonian Public Humanities Lab. Tatiana Kostadinova is a professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations. Martin Palouš is former ambassador of the Czech Republic to the United States and the United Nations and director of the Václav Havel Program for Human Rights and Democracy. Markus Thiel is associate professor in the Department of Politics and International Relations and director of the Miami-Florida Jean Monnet European Center of Excellence.
Do you think the U.S. will make an aggressive response to the invasion or just continue to support the Ukrainians financially?
Palouš: The U.S. wants to avoid a military confrontation with the Russian Federation and will resist any move that could result in direct U.S. participation in the conflict. At the same time, the U.S. has said repeatedly it will seek all available ways to assist Ukraine in its legitimate efforts to defend its territory and population against the Russian aggression.
Friedman: It is hard to imagine the U.S. getting involved in a ground war in any way. I imagine sanctions, no fly zones and cash [to Ukraine] are way more likely.
How much of Putin's invasion is a reaction to NATO’s expansion into Eastern Europe, despite promises made in the early 1990s that the U.S. would not expand NATO?
Friedman: Although analysts and historians do not agree, it seems to me that the expansion of NATO angered Putin long ago and added to the sense that Russia is isolated and backed into a corner. This, no doubt, contributes to his now extreme and aggressive position. [See Friedman's article on Putin and toxic masculinity.] However, the seeds of much of this aggression were planted long ago. The Soviet and Russian flags flying side by side in Russia’s cities, the over-the-top celebrations for WWII “Victory Day” anniversaries and the continued elevation of Stalin and Stalinism all contribute to this moment.
Palouš: Putin’s aggression in Ukraine is, indeed, justified by the Russian government as a necessary response to the threat to Russian security caused by the NATO Eastern enlargement started in 1999, especially the decision of NATO in 2008 to open its doors to Georgia and Ukraine. But for the record: The debate on the future of NATO started in 1990 in talks leading to the reunification of Germany, when [former president of the Soviet Union] Mikhail Gorbachev and [former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union] Eduard Shevardnadze were in charge of Soviet foreign policy. To the best of my knowledge, there were no promises made as far the future political architecture in Europe.
Kostadinova: Putin did state he wanted a return back to the state of affairs before 1997 [the first enlargement of NATO - Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic]. However, I think blaming the West for the current conflict because of the enlargement of NATO does not make sense. If we accept a liberal order in international relations, every sovereign state should have the right to determine their foreign and defense policies, rather than appease an insecure dictator who prefers a buffer zone.
Thiel: While this point is often made, including by major international relations scholars such as John Mearsheimer, it is only part of the broader context. There are other voices, such as former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul, who say that NATO enlargement is not a significantly large enough threat for Putin to go to war over and that in reality, his regime is threatened by the democratic advances in Ukraine and the region – which would arguably threaten his authoritarian oligarchy at home and abroad.
If Poland sends NATO peacekeepers to Ukraine, would it lead to a bigger conflict between Russia and NATO?
Kostadinova: It might. The European Union, of which Poland is a member, is on the enemies list recently issued by the Russian administration. If a peacekeeping option is accepted as part of the solution, I think the coalition should consist of several, including non-NATO, countries. It should be a broader international effort in order to be effective.
Palouš: It would certainly be seen and criticized by the Russian government as a hostile, escalatory move. However, it seems to me that the Polish proposal – we still don’t know its details – may be more of a political statement. The real question is, who else should be asked to serve in such a peacekeeping operation/humanitarian intervention, given the deteriorating humanitarian crisis on the ground? Perhaps the UN or a “coalition of the willing” nations.
Is there any hope that Putin would stop? Would a coup stop him? What are the chances that his people would turn against him?
Friedman: This is a very unlikely scenario, in my opinion. There are several reasons. First, Putin has surrounded himself with “yes men” for years. Second, while there is significant opposition, there is also significant support for Putin and his war. Moreover, while the control of information can never be absolute (even in the 1930s), the crackdown does reduce the amount of news flowing into the country thus, making support the more and more likely scenario.
Thiel: Personally, I don’t think he will stop anytime soon, nor that he will be removed by a coup in the short term. Many influential critics and powerful elite members have left Russia already over the past few years, so unless his remaining inner circle and the military leadership turn against him, there is relatively little chance of his removal. However, the longer the Russian economy and people suffer through sanctions and other effects of war, the more likely it becomes for large-scale popular protest or a domestic coup attempt to emerge. So in the longer term there may be a chance for a domestic regime change.
Palouš: The only thing that can stop him is the failure of his plan. I am quite skeptical that in the present moment the people around him can organize a coup. However, it is already clear that Putin’s time is running out, from the perspective of his vision to renew a great Russian Empire as one of the dominant geopolitical forces in the world of the 21st century. The inability of his armed forces to subdue Ukraine will have, at least in the long-term perspective, devastating consequences for Russia.
Kostadinova: This is very difficult to predict because of the secrecy on which the regime in Russia relies. There could be cracks within the ruling elite that are not visible now. What we learned from the events in 1989 when the communist governments collapsed one after the other within several months, warrants such a hypothesis. The big question is what divisions may form. If the siloviki (members of informal security and military networks) who once brought Putin to power prevail, one cannot expect more transparency and accountability in a future Russian government even without Putin.
How long can this conflict last? Is it realistic to expect it may last 5-10 years?
Thiel: That is hard to predict, because of the many security, economic and political variables and multiple actors involved. I would hope that the conflict may be resolved diplomatically within the coming weeks or months. There are already potential conditions for an agreement, such as guaranteed NATO neutrality of Ukraine and the “independence” of the Eastern breakaway regions and Crimea, discussed bilaterally. But a settlement with a most likely partitioned Ukraine, monitoring through peacekeeping troops, and the necessary rebuilding will take years. Finally, given Putin’s hold on power (until 2036 if his regime can survive this long), it will be years till the conflict can be fundamentally resolved.
Palouš: Of course, it is hard to predict. It is clear that February 24, 2022, will be remembered in the world history as a watershed. But I believe optimistically that Putin’s defeat is a matter of months and not years.
Friedman: It seems very unlikely that Putin will give up. A palace coup or simple assassination are unpredictable, if unlikely. It will not be short-lived.
What do you think about the opposition against Putin? The war helps him to reinforce the “us versus them” dichotomy by calling anti-war people traitors. What will be the impact of this war on Russia’s domestic politics?
Friedman: Certainly, our counterparts at universities and in the arts communities in Russia have formed a significant opposition. Sadly, very sadly, the arrests have been massive and swift. Many are running for their lives and others staying with the dying hope that they can fight back. The opposition has always been real, but also always been suppressed. Now it is simply more so. The videos on the supporters of Putin (the “Z” or “zed” groups) are disturbing and clearly evocative of authoritarian/fascist movements in the European and Russian past.
Palouš: What we see in front of our eyes is another chapter of the ongoing Russian tragedy. A minority of brave Russians protesting, a majority brainwashed by state propaganda and blindly believing in their leader. Our duty is not to succumb to anti-Russian sentiments. We must reject the concept of collective guilt and subscribe to the principle of individual responsibility. We simply must do anything possible to keep communicating with open-minded Russians and to support the Russian people. After all, Russians are brothers of Ukrainians, and any real solution of the current conflict presupposes that the open-mindedness and mutual respect on the both sides - truth and love, in the words of Václav Havel pronounced in the days of Velvet Revolution of 1989 - prevails over the deadly blend of Putin’s war s in Ukraine and his repressive steps at home with the goal of silencing all voices calling for peace.
Despite the large disparity in military capabilities, have nuclear weapons essentially leveled the playing field between NATO and Russia?
Palouš: Given Putin’s recent statements and writings – apparently inspired by crazy apocalyptic Russian thinkers like Alexander Dugin - the possible use of nuclear weapons by the Russian military forces must certainly be taken in consideration. But I am convinced that it is, for many good reasons, a highly unlikely scenario.
Doesn’t the movement of arms and other military supplies from NATO and the U.S. to Ukraine create more danger of a potential strike from Russia? And thus lead to a potential escalation of the conflict?
Friedman: It is impossible to predict the moves of a madman. If past behavior predicts future action, he has a longstanding plan in place that involves restoring Russian greatness, taking “back” Ukraine and asserting himself against “the West,” which includes Poland these days.
Kostadinova: Countries on the eastern flank of NATO are facing this challenge. Some (Poland, Romania) disregard the threat and allow the supplying of military equipment, while others (such as Hungary and Bulgaria) worry about automatically becoming “a target” and refuse to send even protective gear.
Palouš: I am convinced Ukraine must be offered robust military assistance in order to be able to defend itself. It is the only possible answer to the Russian aggression - consistent with the principles of the international order that have been violated in an unprecedented manner by the Russian Federation. It is a necessary step that can only lead to a just solution of this unfortunate and unnecessary conflict.