UND experts present webinar on ‘War in Ukraine: Past, Present & Future’
Five faculty members with expertise in the region offer background, analysis and predictions
On Thursday, March 10, UND hosted a free, open virtual webinar on the war in Ukraine.
The webinar, titled “War in Ukraine: Past, Present and Future,” featured five UND faculty members, all of whom who have had extensive first-hand experience in Ukraine or elsewhere in eastern Europe, or who specialize in international relations, or both.
The webinar was moderated by David Flynn, professor of Economics and Finance and research director at the Institute of Policy and Business Analytics at UND.
More than 400 people registered for and attended the webinar. Most of the attendees tuned in for the entire event, digital records suggest.
The webinar has been posted to UND’s YouTube page and is available above. A transcript of the webinar has been prepared and is available below.
In addition, the questions that viewers asked and the panelists’ answered using the Zoom webinar’s Q&A function are reprinted below.
The faculty members who participated in the webinar are:
• Vasyl Tkach, professor of Biology and a native of Ukraine
• Cristina Oancea, associate professor of Population Health, UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences; chair, UND University Senate; and a native of Romania
• Brian Urlacher, department chair and professor of Political Science and Public Administration; specialist in international relations, in particular conflict resolution and cooperation
• Paul Sum, professor of Political Science and Public Administration; specialist in post-communist Europe, as well as human rights
• Alejandro Drago, associate professor of Music, graduate of the Moscow State Conservatory, and a frequent traveler to and performer in Russia, Ukraine, Romania and other former Soviet-bloc countries
• Moderated by: David Flynn, professor of Economics and Finance and research director, Institute for Policy & Business Analytics
The following questions were asked by viewers, and answered by panelists, in the “Q&A” function of UND’s “War in Ukraine: Past, Present and Future” Zoom webinar. The text has been lightly edited for clarity.
The Zoom transcript did not specify which panelist wrote the answer to each question. So, except for those questions that ask for the view of a specific panelist, the panelists’ names aren’t attached to the answers below.
Q. How can UND best support Ukraine now and in the future? How can we help our students understand and not look the other way?
A: This is a more general problem in our society. Even the most tragic events (like mass school shootings) do not stay among headlines for long, and the focus changes. The same here.
There are many ways; many of them do not require monetary contributions. Raising and sustaining awareness is one of the ways. Making sure your congressional delegation knows what you think needs to be done. The most urgent things are military help (otherwise there will be no country to help) and meeting the needs of refugees. The former requires governmental actions, the latter is a combination of governmental and non-governmental actions.
Q. What do you see is being done to reach the Russian people with info about the reality of the war in Ukraine?
A. At this point, the best way I see to solve this problem is via short wave radio stations broadcasting to enable Russians to listen to.
Q. What sources of direct news does Professor Tkach use to get current news about the war?
A. (from Vasyl Tkach): I talk to my father and to several friends every day; most of my friends are in cities surrounded by Russian army. I also read news from multiple sources, both Ukrainian and in other countries, including Russia.
However, Russian state news sources are useless because they show total success and locals greeting the “liberators” with flowers while in fact, the locals meet them with Molotov cocktails and Javelins.
Local blogs around Russia are more indicative about mood in the society.
Q. The Cossacks seem to be an important part of Ukrainian history. Can you talk more about Cossack history as it relates to Ukraine?
A. (From Vasyl Tkach): I would love to, as that part of history (much of it is military history) is very rich, and it defined much of the subsequent history and self-identification of Ukrainians. Unfortunately, the time of this webinar is very short. I am happy to talk about it or other issues separately. I am easy to find.
Q. Why is the United Nations hesitant to call this a “war” or an “invasion”? Instead they call it a special operation, which is what Putin wants it to be called.
A. This is something that is completely despicable and demonstrates the weakness of the UN. How can an invader have a right of veto on resolutions about invasion?
Q. Alejandro – did you say that the argument that Russia is rescuing Russian people is not valid because the nation wouldn’t consider them Russian anyway, since they weren’t born there?
A. (From Alejandro Drago): That’s what Putin’s propaganda would want the Russians (in Russia) to believe. The OVERWHELMING support for Ukrainian national sovereignty, expressed in multiple ways – including volunteering by primarily Russian-speaking Ukrainians for the armed defense of the country – shows the mendacity of that thesis.
Russian-Speaking Ukrainians identify themselves as Ukrainians, and didn’t need any “rescue” from Russia or Putin.
Also, the pretext of defending oppressed national minorities was used before … by Hitler in 1939, to justify the invasion of Poland. Putin is repeating the same game plan.
Q. I keep hearing that countries CAN’T provide direct assistance in the form of troop support, etc. What does this mean? What are the barriers preventing countries from offering more direct assistance to Ukraine?
A. A short answer is Putin’s threat to use nuclear weapons. However, there are many other answers. Volunteers are coming from many countries. Weapons and other supplies can be provided without boots on the ground, etc.
Q. Will the Pentagon approve predator drones for use by Ukraine Armed Forces?
A. A problem with some of these systems is that they require extensive training, so would need American operators.
Q. What is left for accountability if Putin and Russia simply refuse to be involved in international judicial procedures? What resources are available when a country’s leadership renounces participation?
A. Russia may refuse cooperation *now*. But in a couple of years, a new, more democratic administration may be interested in rejoining the international community, and the price of surrendering some of their worst offenders to the Hague may not seem so heavy.
Q. For any or all panelists: Thinking about Paul Sum’s cautious optimism regarding justice for those responsible for the invasion and war crimes, what do you see as the best possible likely outcome for the people of Ukraine (and yet realistic given the nature of Russian forces)?
A. As terrible as this is and the re-building would take many years, this is a historic chance to improve the unity of Ukrainian people and bring people closer together as a nation. As I said, lots of Russian-speaking people prefer dying fighting Russian invaders to life under potential Russian rule.
Q. What does a realistic longer-term positive outcome for Putin even look like now? The quick-victory with a lack of resistance is out the window. But even if Ukraine’s army is ultimately overwhelmed, it seems wildly unlikely that Putin would be able to maintain any significant level of control without a massive commitment of personnel, resources, money, etc. that they don’t have (or at least could not maintain over the long term). What’s the end game look like?
A. Your assessment sounds correct to me. It is nearly impossible to hold a hostile population for a long time. However, in case of Russia, it may be different. It has a long experience of using total terror, and never stopped before killing very large numbers of people. But yes, it is likely impossible long term.
Q. There is a saying: kill the chicken to scare the monkey. If Ukraine is the chicken, is Pakistan the monkey? Do you think this was why Putin started this war during the Pakistani prime minister’s visit?
A. I’m not a political scientist, but I do not think there is any connection. Lots of foreign leaders talked to Putin and/or visited Moscow in the same general period of time.
Q. The first presenter mentioned something about the growing season, and I thought that the bombs now landing in Ukraine would, later this year, affect agriculture. Could he reiterate/expand on that?
A. It was a figurative expression – a “time bomb.” It means that the ongoing war may prevent farmers from planting their crops, which may result in catastrophic shortage of food later in the year and next winter.
Q. How do Russian military tactics and doctrine now used in Ukraine essentially differ from those used in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, and Syria?
A. They don’t (there has been an extensive interview about this), and that’s part of their difficulties – they are still fighting the previous war.
Q. It was referenced that Russia was stating it was a crime for any news organizations to report false claims about the situation. Who is monitoring the reports and making the determination if it is accurate or not?
A. I believe it’s the Ministry of Internal Affairs, but I am not 100% sure.
Q. What is a good source in English of information about the war?
A. For this question and from a military aspect, I recommend the Institute for the Study of War: https://www.understandingwar.org/
They put out daily updates of the military situation.
Q. Should the world be worried about nuclear war with Russia?
A. In my opinion, Russian officials will DISOBEY the order to fire those weapons. They are people too, and they love their children.
Q. Do you realistically think that Putin could possibly be removed permanently?
A. He *will*. Unfortunately, the ideas he represent are very much alive, so…
(The following are a selection of comments that listeners offered after the webinar):
Comment: Thank you to all the panelists and the moderator for a well-thought-out presentation. Your willingness to educate all of us is greatly appreciated. This is a whole lot better than listening to TV news!
Comment: I appreciate the information provided. Well worth the time to listen to the material. Thank you.
Comment: Thank you all for this timely and insightful discussion. There is so much good information in the chat. If it could be shared with the recording, that would be wonderful.
Comment: Many thanks for taking such care and thoughtfulness in sharing your experiences, expertise and insights. This has been incredibly helpful.
Comment: Thank you so much UND and guest panelists. Very appreciative of all of you.
Comment: Thank you for this, my heart breaks for these people. You all did a great job!
Comment: Thanks so much for your time & thoughtful explanations. This is truly the value in being part of UND’s community.
The following is a transcript of the webinar, “War in Ukraine: Past, Present and Future,” which was presented via Zoom on March 10 and is available in video form above. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
David Flynn: I would like to welcome everyone. It’s my privilege to welcome you to this webinar, titled “War in Ukraine: Past, Present and Future,” sponsored by the University of North Dakota.
My name is David Flynn. I’m Research Director in the Institute of Policy and Business Analytics, professor in the Nistler College of Business and Public Administration, and also your moderator.
Since February 24, the world’s attention turned towards the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the ongoing war. We have five panelists with us today who will help us with context, information and insights about the situation.
They are Professor Paul Sum from the Political Science and Public Administration Department. He joined the University of North Dakota faculty ranks in 2000.
His scholarly efforts address the interplay between political culture and behavior in Central and Eastern Europe.
Professor Sum has served as an evaluator and consultant for the Council of Europe, OSCE (the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe), USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development), and the World Bank for programs in the region. He maintains a special relationship with Romania holding lecturer, fellow, and advisory board positions.
In 2009-2010, he was the recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award to Romania, where he taught courses on Research Design and conducted research on the effectiveness of U.S. democracy assistance to the region.
We also have Professor Brian Urlacher from the Political Science and Public Administration Department, who came to the University in 2007.
He teaches courses in International Relations and his research focuses on cooperation under difficult circumstances. He has published on topics such as conflict resolution in civil wars and negotiation analysis.. He’s published on topics such as conflict resolution in civil wars and negotiation analysis.
We also have Dr. S. Cristina Oancea. She is an Associate Professor of epidemiology and biostatistics in the Department of Population Health at School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Dr. Oancea lived for the first 18 years of her life under the despotic communist regime of the late Romanian president Nicolae Ceausescu. She lived through extreme shortages of food, medicine, electricity and basic necessities, under very harsh rules prohibiting freedom of speech and international travel to any non-communist country.
Dr. Alejandro Drago is a Professor in the Music School is hailed by music critics as “a superb musician.” His discography includes string quartets, concertos and avant-garde tangos for EMI International and Naxos Music Library Japan.
His successes are truly global with awards and prizes from competitions in Italy, Yugoslavia and Argentina, performances of his symphonic and chamber arrangements in Europe, Latin America, and the United States, and he has been a member of the jury for international competitions in Russia, China, and the United States.
Professor Vasyl Tkach, a Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of Biology. He was born in the city of Rivne in northwestern Ukraine, the region with nature reminiscent of Minnesota and Wisconsin.
He lived the first 28 years of his life in the Soviet Union and then 11 years in Ukraine after it gained independence. His background and extensive traveling and work in multiple Eastern European countries provides him a good grasp of the history in the country and the broader region.
Vasyl also knows Russia well because his father and much of his extended family are Russians. He speaks and reads four different languages, so he is able to obtain information from a variety of sources. He maintains close ties with his colleagues and friends in Ukraine and communicates with people within the country on daily basis.
He will make a very brief introduction into the history of Ukraine before we move to the discussion of the ongoing war. I’ll now turn it over to him where he’ll make some introductory remarks about the history of Ukraine, as well as providing some broader context to the current situation.
Vasyl Tkach: Thank you, David. Can you see my screen, and does everyone see my slides?
Before we continue with our discussion, I’d like to introduce the country itself. Ukriane is the country positioned in the middle of Europe geographically or Eastern Europe politically.
Before we proceed, I’d like to say that while there will be said harsh words about both invaders and those who send them, these should not be extrapolated to Russian people who oppose the war and actively protest this war.
With that said, let’s put to rest one of the biggest lies of the Kremlin that Ukraine is somehow threatening Russia. It cannot threaten Russia, because as you can see, the difference in size is greater than between David and Goliath.
Just a very brief crash course in history. Kyiv was founded in the year 482. According to the legend, it was founded by three Viking brothers and their sister. The name of one of these brothers was Kyi, and hence, the city was named Kyiv.
The more commonly used in English pronunciation, Kiev, is Russian, so I will use the word Kyiv in pronunciation.
Just for reference, Moscow was founded more than 600 years later, which puts to rest another myth of Russian propaganda that Ukraine somehow always belonged to Russia.
Centuries later, one of the Kyiv queens adopted Christianity. Queen Olga did a lot in trying to introduce Christianity to that part of the world.
The task was completed in 988 by King Vladimir the Great. Olga and Vlidimir are both Catholic and Orthodox saints, which is a rare case. You can see their images in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Kyiv has always been called the Golden Domed City, because of the countless churches that have this characteristic onion-shaped and often golden dome. Saint-Sophia Monastery was established in the 11th century. Some of the major churches have been destroyed by soldiers like this one, or this one was rebuilt.
This landmark of Kyiv, the Lavra Monastery, is beautiful anytime of the year, but particularly in summer.
Again, fast-forward centuries, independent Ukraine existed as a Cossack state so that Cossack warriors had elected power. Their leader was called Hetman, and the Zaporozhian Sich existed as an independent state within the Cossack Hetmanate for over 100 years between 16th and 18th century.
It was disbanded by the Russian Empress Catherine the Second in 1775. That meant the loss of all freedoms in Ukraine.
But something happened that is very remarkable during the Zaporozhian Sich statehood.
In 1710, they developed the first democratic modern constitution that established the principle of separation of powers in government between the legislative, executive and judicial branches. That happened well before the U.S. Constitution.
After World War I, Ukraine made another attempt at independence. The Ukrainian People’s Republic was established and existed for under three years. It lost its independence again to Bolshevik Russia.
That state was much larger than today’s Ukraine; it had large parts which are now Russia.
During those times before World War II, there was another horrendous crime committed by the Soviet regime to Ukrainian people known as Holodomor, or terror famine. It was a peacetime, manmade famine that killed, according to United Nations documents, 7 million to 10 million Ukrainians.
Many countries have recognized it officially as a genocide of Ukrainian people.
This is a museum and monument to Holodomor.
World War II came, of course, and Ukraine was the stage of some of the fiercest battles for several years. This is a picture taken after the attack on Kyiv by Nazis.
These are pictures taken a few days ago of an attack by Russians.
If you can’t see the difference other than the color of these images, you’re not alone. There aren’t any.
The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and Ukraine regained its independence again. This is the Independence Monument statue in Independence Square. It’s said the highbush cranberries are an emblematic national plant in Ukraine; so, they are shown here.
The Independence Square in the center of Kyiv did not always look so calm. It was a central place for the peaceful protests during the Orange Revolution in 2004; and then, during the protests against pro-Russian president in 2013 that was followed by the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014.
Which brings us to to current events.
This is a map of Russian military invasion as of yesterday. As you can see, the country was attacked from all directions.
Russia invaded with about an army of about 200,000 strong, an overwhelming number of tanks, aircraft, missiles, warships, all sorts of equipment. They planned a victory parade in Kyiv within two or three days. Well, as you know, this didn’t happen.
The Ukrainian army and the Territorial Defense fought bravely and extremely effectively — surprisingly, even to me, (given the size of the invading Russian army).
The same countries who provided anti-tank and anti-helicopter weapons systems include the United States, Britain, and other countries — well, the Ukrainian forces need more.
Sustaining major losses on the battlefield and unable to achieve a significant military victory, Russians in desperation turned on soft civilian targets.
The countless war crimes and atrocities committed by Russian invaders are unspeakable. The amount of destruction and loss of life is mounting by the hour.
As we speak, invaders are not only indiscriminately hitting civilian targets, they’re methodically and purposefully destroying civilian infrastructure, creating a humanitarian crisis and causing, directly and indirectly, a very large number of civilian casualties.
At least 63 hospitals were destroyed. Yesterday, they bombed the maternity clinic in Mariupol.
There are many cases of shooting at unarmed civilians, ambulances and schools. More than 2 million people fled abroad, and many are internally displaced. Almost all refugees are women and children because males between 18 and 60 are not allowed to leave the country. In fact, tens of thousands of men returned to Ukraine to fight.
My younger colleague in Kyiv stood for 2 1/2 hours in a long line just to sign up for the Territorial Defense and get his Kalashnikov. He is a PhD and a professor.
There’s even a new kind of corruption. People are trying to give bribes to get ahead of others in the line, to be able to fight and possibly to die.
That said, another myth needs to be put to rest. A very high proportion of soldiers and the frontline and volunteers who are waiting to join the battle are Russian speaking. These last two weeks, Russia attacked and destroyed cities populated predominantly by Russian-speaking people.
The language you speak has no connection to how you feel about your country. I am a mostly Russian-speaking person. Americans illustrated this perfectly during their war for independence.
Well, Ukrainians will never forget these crimes. A family whose loved one’s life was now destroyed will not forget. Babies born in the bomb shelters will not forget.
Although my heart is breaking now, I’m proud of my people, and I believe they will prevail.
While there are many questions about the immediate future and that will be subject of today’s discussion, one of the big questions is, Who will be next? I just wanted to mention one aspect.
While everyone is talking about oil and gas prices, the real “time bomb” sent by Putin is what will happen later this year or next winter, when farmers will not be able to plant their fields in time — and it’s almost time, in some parts of the country. It will mean food shortages for millions.
Moreover, since Ukraine is the world’s fifth largest exporter of grain, there will be starvation in countries that are far from Ukraine. It probably also means higher prices for the grain produced by North Dakota farmers. But I will leave this topic to my colleagues.
With that, I will finish this brief presentation.
David Flynn: Thank you very much.
At this point, I will turn it over to Dr. Oancea. She will be talking about, among other things, the freedom of speech experience she’s had and the consequences of obstruction and some other matters.
Cristina Oancea: Thank you very much.
So as you have heard about the history of Ukraine, I want to talk a little bit about the location of Ukraine within the entire European map, and also within the context of NATO.
We all know by now NATO is the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. It has currently 30 members, including the United States and Canada.
And Ukraine has expressed its intent to join not only the European Union, but also NATO, causing Russia to get quite upset about their decision and being one of the reasons that Russia decided to invade Ukraine.
In fact, Russia has also warned Sweden and Finland — as you can see here, Sweden and Finland are grayed out, meaning they are not NATO members — that if they have such similar intentions, potentially they will be next.
The country of Romania borders Ukraine at the north of the country and also toward the tail of the country. And then the country of Moldavia, which is a former territory of Romania, is also not a NATO member.
So, talking about who is next, there are many worries about the potential of Moldavia being next — and then, the eventuality of Romania being next, although that will be a huge catastrophe because Romania being part of NATO, that will really trigger an even bigger war.
I can only say that I’m very proud of the Romanian people being so welcoming of the suffering of women and children who are trying to flee from Ukraine. One of the countries that they’re trying to flee to is Romania, and the other country is Poland.
A majority of Ukrainians are trying to flee in Poland. More than 1 million Ukrainians have tried to flee and have fled to Poland. Once again, a majority of these being women and children since men, ages 18 to 60 will stay back home to fight for their country.
As of today, and this is a snapshot of one of our Romanian TV station named EG24, they were recorded 343,515 total Ukrainian refugees in Ukraine, a majority of which are trying to leave also Romania because they are afraid that Romania will be next.
So out of them, they are a total of 84,671 still left in the country and out of those, already 3,520 have asked for an asylum.
That being said, I totally concur that we should not confuse the government with the people. And talking about Russia invading Ukraine, I want to remind everybody that not too long ago, the whole area — the whole region — was a communist area. As such, we were under huge restrictions — speech limitations.
I remember we had only two hours of TV a day, and those were about the Communist Party. And so our only connection to the outside was via shortwave radio, via Radio Free Europe, which was broadcasting from Germany at the time.
And the police, the Romanian police, had technology to spy from the street and to listen in through some special devices to see what people were talking about in their homes. So that was a major fear, because a lot of people were caught listening to Radio Free Europe, and the police would come and pick people up from their houses in the middle of the night, never telling the family, never telling anybody where those people were taken.
Over 800,000 political prisoners due to lack of freedom of speech were actually murdered in Romania between the late 40s/early 50s through 1989, when we had the Romanian Revolution and Romania finally got rid of communism.
The overall estimates including Romanians located in former Romanian territories are close to 2.5 million Romanians being killed during this communist regime.
So a similar situation happened to other communist countries, including Russia. Some estimates are that more than 10 million people were killed in Russia for similar reasons during the communist regime.
So that’s why I want to emphasize: the fact that Russia and Russian leaders are not the same as Russian people.
The freedom of speech in Russia was a little bit better in the last 20 years. But then, in the last 10 years, restrictions started to occur more and more, until more recent, when the Russian government just passed a law making the intentional speaking of “fake” or “false news” about the war in Ukraine a criminal offense punishable by jail for terms of up to 15 years.
So far, they had a lot of demonstrations in Russia, and more than 7,500 anti-war demonstrators were arrested and at least 4,366 people were detained in jails across 53 cities in Russia.
The media, the official media used in Russia, is actually controlled by the government. And there are strict limitations right now also to the internet and internet websites, a lot of them being shut down. We already know about Facebook, we already know about Telegram and many more.
And that’s all I wanted to share at this point. Thank you very much.
David Flynn: Thank you very much. I’m going to turn it over to Dr Drago who will talk a little bit about nationality versus citizenship and some of his other experiences.
Alejandro Drago: What I want to talk about is perception — about feelings and identities, which is another side of the coin, one that may seem not as relevant as the hard facts that are being presented by my colleagues.
However, I will argue that these perceptions are such an ingrained aspect of the reality that indeed they shape actions, they shape politics, and they are fundamental to understanding.
So I would like to share first person insights, and then some reflections on a number of things that a 20-year-old student from South America — from a rather thriving (culturally speaking) South American country, at least for the region, a socially well-integrated country — had arriving in Russia.
So in no particular order, as I learned the language — which I managed to master to a close to a native level after so many years of living and studying there — I was surprised to find out the very interesting expression in Russian, pyatyi grafa or pyatyi punkt, which means the fifth graphic or the fifth point. It refers not exactly to your national document, but to your work documents that listed your first name, middle name, last name, date of birth and nationality.
It took me a while to understand that the concept of nationality within this paradigm was totally detached from the concept of citizenship.
Whereas in my country of origin, Argentina, if you looked black or Asian, or whatever, we would say that you are an Argentinian of Asian origin and Argentinian of black roots. That is even the construction: in Spanish, we don’t have the concept or even the word to name the concept that you are Argentinian only by virtue of your certificate of birth and certain civic rights, but actually, you represent a different nation even though you were born here, and you speak exactly the same language as we do, whereas at home, you can speak another language.
It took me a while just to grasp this simple concept. I remember talking to a colleague of mine, and I had discovered the recordings of fantastic violinist, Boris Goldstein. So if you’re a Russian speaker, you already know everything that follows this.
Boris Goldstein, he cannot be considered Russian by any means — because he’s Jewish. And I said, innocently, “Oh, I found this fantastic Russian violinist, Boris Goldstein.” And the way my colleague looked at me was funny. I mean, in retrospect, it is not funny at all. But it was like, “What are you talking about? He was a Jew. Right?”
I mean, he was one of the greatest violinists ever to come from the Soviet Union. However, he wasn’t a friend of the regime, therefore, his career was hindered severely.
Another thing that I would like to mention before I get to the core of what I wanted to share with you, is the challenge, for a translator, that’s posed by the fact that the word Russian is expressed in two different words in Russian — two different adjectives.
One is Russkiy and the other one is Rossíjski. And there is no way of differentiating those two words in pretty much any other language other than by means of a paraphrase.
Russkiy refers to that which, in terms of nationality, is Russian be that a person or the language, whereas Rossíjski or Rossíjskaya refers to that which pertains to the Russian state, but not necessarily to Russians as a culture or ethnicity.
Which means that you can be a Russian citizen, or Rossíjski grazhdanin, but nobody will at all consider your Russian. In fact, you may not consider yourself Russian.
Whereas you may be a citizen of Moldova, or Ukraine or Latvia, and seriously consider yourself Russian.
This all begins in the 19th century with the concept of the nation state, and the attempts at enforcing new borders based on that — this is a long story. The problem is that within this diversity of identities, and there is a Kazakhstani historian, I cannot recall his name now, but he made a compelling argument that the Soviet Union was simply the supremacist ideal of the Russian Empire, in terms of culture, continued under a different ideological banner.
So the echoes of this we see even today, because the argument that the Putin regime uses to sell this war — that they even are allowed to call a war — to its own population is that they’re acting in the rescue of the Russian population of Ukraine.
But as Dr. Tkach pointed out, this argument crumbles on its own base under any objective scrutiny, but that’s another thing that is not happening.
So I know that my time is coming to an end. But I wanted to point out, or at least start the conversation about the problem of national identities, the conflict with the actual citizenship and place of living of these peoples and the historical precedent of Russian cultural supremacism from the Tsarist empire to the Soviet Union to the new nationalism embodied by Putin’s political movement. Thank you.
David Flynn: Thank you very much, Doctor. We’ll turn now to Professor Sum. Among other things, we’ll talk about the current and and burgeoning humanitarian crisis that we see in Ukraine. So please, Professor Sum.
Paul Sum: Thank you very much. And thank you for inviting me to participate here.
I’m going to limit my remarks to five primary points. Some of them will echo what my colleagues have already covered, and I think it’ll just underline how important some of those points are.
The first is that I had a lot of experience of working with and evaluating the effects of democracy assistance, which was part of U.S. foreign policy in the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union.
And I want to impress upon you that this destabilizing action by Russia is not a unique event. This has been going on since the demise of the Soviet Union.
So when Ukraine declared independence and indicated that it was going to move towards a democratic regime, Russia — in a variety of ways, supporting anti-democratic forces within the country, primarily, sometimes during elections, sometimes outside of elections — posed a regular menace to that project.
So this attack is, in my view, a continuation of Russian policy toward an independent Ukraine.
And when we put it in that perspective, I think you can appreciate how the escalation is transforming.
The second point is, the destabilization efforts have created a monumental humanitarian crisis. As my colleagues mentioned, you have over 2 million Ukrainian refugees; those are outside the country — 1.4 million actually in Poland as of today.
But that doesn’t count the millions of people who have been displaced internally.
When I’ve talked to colleagues over the last week, they discuss and they tell me about Ukrainian refugees, the pictures we see are horrific. But keep in mind that many of these refugees are people that have the means or had the means to collect resources and get out of the country.
Many of the internally displaced people are those who are the most vulnerable in Ukrainian society. They’re the ones who cannot get out.
Part of that is by design, from Russian forces. But some of it is simply that they don’t have the means. And so the humanitarian crisis is particularly, particularly devastating for Ukrainians trying to survive as internally displaced people who would be without refuge, without shelter, without reliable sources of food, without the ability to communicate with those that they love.
That kind of humanitarian crisis is hard to get our heads around.
There are the basic needs that we see in that crisis, the immediate needs, and the U.N. is working to satisfy some of those needs.
Simply put, we’ve had millions upon millions of lives that are shattered, but that’s the immediate need. We are also on the cusp of looking at the short-term needs that are going to arise.
Currently, you can’t describe a health care system that operates in Ukraine, not in any real sense. Maybe in Lviv or some of the western parts, you have clinics that are operating, but not in a way that would satisfy basic human needs. This is triage at best.
In Poland, in Romania, in Hungary, and other bordering countries, the refugees as they continue to come are placing health care needs and other kinds of burdens on those countries. Romania, as was mentioned, has already processed nearly 350,000 refugees, and 85,000 or so remain in Romania.
The Romanian state has committed to supplying resources for 70,000 refugees; that has already been exceeded. They have allotted resources for 30 days, but what happens then?
So, the humanitarian crisis is rolling like a snowball. And as we move in from the immediate need to the short term needs, we’re going to see this as a growing crisis. That’s not something that just goes away, regardless of what’s happening on the battlefield.
The third point I want to make is that, on top of all this, there’s a broader international context, which we might refer to as the humanitarian regime. That is the infrastructure, the international infrastructure of organizations, and financial entities that try to address these kinds of problems.
Very unfortunately, Ukraine is only the latest in a number of refugee humanitarian crises. And so it adds to the list of crises that we see coming out of Yemen, coming out of Syria, coming out of Ethiopia, coming out of different parts of Central Africa, just to name a few.
So, when we think about this crisis, it’s not only limited to Ukraine, but it adds to the burden internationally that we are we are facing.
The last point is more towards this future and thinking about what happens with resolution. There are avenues for justice, and war crimes are being documented. And I’m optimistic, cautiously, that at least some level of justice might be found through either the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court.
This is not action that will be forgotten. And the international community is in a better position now to address these things than it has been in the past. And so, the international machinery is starting to work, and let’s see where it goes.
I’ll add my remarks there. Thank you.
David Flynn: Thank you very much, Professor Sum.
We will turn to our last speaker now, Professor Urlacher. Please, Professor Urlacher, take it away, talking about navigating the post Cold War timeframe and conflict and those kinds of diplomacy issues. Thank you.
Brian Urlacher: All right, thank you very much. Hopefully, technology is working. I had my computer lose the internet and then go to a forced restart, which was quite an interesting development.
So I’m operating without my notes, but I think I can get my point across, which is that in the United States, we have not had to think seriously about the possibility of a conflict between two nuclear armed states that could escalate into a nuclear exchange for about 30 plus years.
And for most Americans, median age 40-ish, that’s never been something that they’ve had to consider. And so this is, I think, something that a lot of people are processing through in real time, the risks and the consequences of where we are at and what makes this conflict different than the things we’ve seen the past.
But during the Cold War, this was something that United States and the Soviet Union, worried about, fretted about, thought about a lot, and worked actively and consciously to try to avoid taking steps that would trigger an escalation that would end in a nuclear exchange.
And so everything from installing communication for deconfliction so that the president of the United States can reach the Soviet premier and say, “It looks like we are on a collision course; it looks like we have the possibility of striking your people. How do we avoid that? How do we separate, how do we get them out so that this is not an accident that that spirals into something else?”
There were sort of a playbook of things that you could do, that would be treated as acceptable, rather than an escalation. So I think the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 is a useful illustration of this where, when Soviet forces moved into Afghanistan, the Carter administration responded with diplomatic criticism. It responded by decoupling some forms of cooperation.
For example, there had been an arms limitation treaty that was in the Senate ,and that was paused. The U.S. boycotts the 1980 Olympics; again, sort of political responses that are viewed as acceptable, that are unlikely to escalate.
The Carter administration increased military spending; that was considered a reasonable response. The Carter administration imposed sanctions — stopped selling grain to the Soviet Union.
The Carter administration began providing non-lethal aid to Mujahideen fighters who are resisting Soviet occupation.
A few years later, the Reagan administration began providing lethal aid — guns — but did so with the idea that there should be deniability in the U.S. policy response.
So instead of just simply shipping in guns, they were routed, I think, through a Chinese factory in Egypt that was manufacturing the Chinese design of AK 47s, which were then routed into Pakistan and distributed through the Pakistan intelligence service — again, for the idea of deniability that the United States was taking steps that were resulting in Soviet soldiers being killed.
And it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the Reagan administration decided to take an even more provocative, aggressive step of providing shoulder-fired missiles that could attack Soviet helicopters and planes — the Stinger missiles, sometimes described as MANPADS, or Man-Portable Air Defense Systems; that was the acronym.
But that’s something that would be very obviously coming from United States.
And so we saw this sort of escalation: here are things that the United States can do to respond, to push back, to complicate this invasion, that in Afghanistan played out over the course of six or seven years.
We’ve seen that escalation process play out in six days in Ukraine, to get a sense of just how rapidly the global response has been.
But it’s still operating within that structure of avoiding direct escalation, direct conflict, which could possibly spiral into something else.
Now, I want to flag four things that make this conflict a little bit different, that maybe didn’t exist as much in the Cold War; and therefore, we don’t really have a sense of how to navigate.
One of those is the domain of space. Russian and American astronauts are sharing the International Space Station right now. But also the vulnerability of satellites to attack, that’s a domain that we didn’t have to think about, potentially, during the Cold War, the way that it is a potential zone of escalation today.
Second is cyber. I think there’s a whole host of ways in which cyber warfare or even just information warfare through the internet plays in this conflict. And I’m happy to talk a little bit and speculate about that; but it will be long-winded.
A third way that I think we’re seeing technology change the way things operate is with autonomous systems — that if a Predator drone fires on a Russian tank, we don’t know what the pilot for that Predator drone is in Grand Forks, or Poland, or Kyiv. And there’s no way to identify it, so that creates, again, another layer of uncertainty about who is doing what.
And then the final thing that is maybe different, and we don’t really have a playbook for, is civilian nuclear reactors. As far as I can tell, there has never been a war between two countries that have civilian nuclear reactors, in which the reactors have been attacked and seized as part of an invasion force.
Again, we don’t necessarily have a playbook for how to navigate what that could possibly mean in terms of conflict.
So, I think there’s some things about this particular conflict that are unprecedented. And yet, we’re still working with a playbook that is fairly well established, in terms of how you support a country in need against aggression, while avoiding the escalation that could be cataclysmic for everyone. I’ll stop there.
David Flynn: Thank you very much, Professor Urlacher.
I’m going to start asking the questions from the audience, as well as some questions that were emailed to us ahead of time.
I’m going to tell all panelists to feel free to weigh in.
There’s a very important question that asks, Does anyone wish to comment on where they find the most accurate news, in English, on the situation? And I think that would be an important one to hear from our panelists, where are they finding accurate news. So please?
Alejandro Drago: I cannot say, because I’m reading exclusively sources in Russian, Belorussian and Ukrainian, besides being in direct contact with people on both sides of the border — and I mean, literally, like Belgorod (Russia) and Kharkiv (Ukraine); you know, they’re what, maybe 60 miles apart?
A lot of people through social media who might know, they give me direct information.
But what I’ve seen in our major outlets, regardless of their left-leaning or right-leaning tendencies, the big picture seems accurate. Of course, both CNN and Fox are putting their own spin on this; CNN is insisting that it is all Trump’s fault, of course, and Fox is insisting that the negligence of the Democrats is the cause of all this.
Now, if you can filter that out and stick to the facts, I would say that what they are presenting matches the picture that I’m getting from the original language and in situ sources.
Cristina Oancea: I would concur. A lot of the news that I get is in either Romanian language or I listen to the German news, the Deutsche Welle, or in in France. But there are two news stations that I would highly recommend in English: BBC World, and France 24 in English.
Paul Sum: I would add, the DW in Germany also is published in English. And the United Nations itself, depending on what you’re interested in, has a series of press releases on a regular basis. And I find that to be fairly accurate, at least in terms of some of the factual information of what’s going on what we know is going on inside Ukraine.
Brian Urlacher: I’ll answer in a slightly different way. And that is, there is a temptation to want the up-to-the-minute, freshest-of-fresh takes on what’s happening on the ground.
But I think that if you go that route, you’re always going to be in danger of getting information pushed to you through social media that is not necessarily reflective. You are in an active information war zone, if you are going to Twitter or Facebook or any social media, and there’s information that’s being pushed out to paint a particular picture.
If you’re concerned about accurate information, I would say step back and wait for the Washington Post, the New York Times, BBC World to push out a story. It might not be the thing that happened, you know, an hour ago, but you will walk away, I think, with a more judicious and informed set of information that you can be a little more confident in.
Alejandro Drago: I would like to make an important distinction, one that in the last six years seems to be rather lost in American journalism, at least.
There is reporting, and there are opinion articles. Traditionally, they used to be clearly — even typographically — separated in serious outlets. They have interbred apparently, and so you can hardly read any report without finding editorializing or any editorial passing as reporting. So there is that additional filtering to be done.
David Flynn: Excellent points. Thank you.
We have multiple questions submitted about aid and support towards the people of Ukraine. But not just in terms of financial support; there have been questions about, what other kinds of actions could be undertaken to transmit support to the people of Ukraine?
So I throw that out there broadly. Financial — I received a question asking if small donations needed to be massed into larger donations. But then also, what nonfinancial things could we be doing to support? So I’d like to have the panel address that.
Paul Sum: If I could jump in the financial part: I made reference to the humanitarian infrastructure internationally. And part of what I’m referring to are organizations like the International Red Cross, UNICEF, other UN agencies — they all are accepting donations, and they are in a better position to filter that money to local organizations that are doing the work.
There are a lot of nonprofits, NGOs, that are working in Poland and Romania, etc. A group that I support is in Romania, a social initiative group that has been assisting refugees in Romania for a decade already.
But I also know that the U.S. Ukrainian Foundation is taking money and giving it to local NGOs.
So I would stay with large, well-known actors when it comes to donating money, simply because they have a better handle on where to direct the money.
Other things to do, very simply, are to talk about it, to educate yourself, to remind yourself that this is real and what the implications are — and to sort of insert it into your own life. But I think my colleagues may have other things to add.
David Flynn: Multiple questions have been asked about about the the way this will progress, but I’m going to highlight this one now: Do you believe the sanctions are enough currently to prevent any further invasions or expansions of this action?
Brian Urlacher: I’ll jump in, as that might be in my wheelhouse.
So sanctions have a mixed record of being effective. I would suggest that the role of sanctions isn’t necessarily to change behavior, because by the time you see a sanction applied, it’s already failed. Instead, sanctions are used to say, “If you take this step, there will be a response, and it will probably sting.”
And aggressive actors, like Russia in this case, have made the calculation that they can withstand those sanctions.
So, it’s only after they’ve made that calculation that you actually see sanctions in place.
Now, countries can misjudge what might happen. And I think the scale and the speed and the scope and the unity of the sanctions certainly took me by surprise, and it may have taken many others by surprise.
But I would suggest that maybe the next step isn’t necessarily constrained by the sanctions. It’s constrained by the fact that the war in Ukraine has not gone as well as Putin expected. I think his military is performing far worse.
So currently, just salvaging that situation is Priority No. 1 for Putin. Any steps beyond Ukraine bump up against NATO, which means there’s not a lot of space for additional steps that don’t produce the kind of cataclysmic outcome that I think everybody, including Vladmir Putin and the whole Russian leadership, has the incentive to avoid.
So I’m not concerned in the immediate short term about the next-step escalation. That’s my view.
David Flynn: For any or all panelists: Thinking about Paul’s cautious optimism regarding war-crimes justice for those responsible for the invasion, what do you see as the best possible likely outcome for the people in Ukraine and yet realistic, given the nature of Russian forces?
Alejandro Drago: Well, that’s difficult to assess, because to put it bluntly, is it better to be alive and a slave, or to die a free man?
Just to put it bluntly. But when when push comes to shove, thousands of people at this very moment — including my friends, with whom I’m in touch — are making this decision.
So you want me to say. “Oh, I hope this all stops, and Russia keeps half of the territory of Ukraine, and puts some marionette president there” — knowing Ukrainians and how close I am to them and their traditions and way of thinking, I don’t think that this is exactly a good outcome that would stop the war.
And Putin would be just ecstatic to stop the war. It’s costing him crazy amounts of money, plus then we can all go about our business, pretending this never happened, you know? Which is likely what’s going to happen. That’s the nature of the markets, right? They are impersonal in that regard.
Now, do I want any war whatsoever to go on? Of course not. But there is not a good outcome, because any good outcome will come at a price, either in political or economic terms.
So I don’t know what to say. But just to assume that the people of Ukraine … Let me give you an example. By the second or third day of the war, there were already talks in Belarus, right? And some people said to me, “Apparently, cooler heads are prevailing; after all, they started the talks.”
And I had two things to say. First, this is pour la galerie, you know, like they say in French — just to show that this is happening. And the fact that they are having like the fifth round of talks, and absolutely nothing happened, and the only things that they decided upon — namely, the humanitarian corridor — is not being observed. That tells you a lot.
But more importantly, after the eight years of the revamping of the Ukrainian army, and all the processes that happened in Ukraine and the resurgence of a new sense of Ukrainian nationality that goes beyond the language boundaries. I don’t think that Zelensky or anybody can decide anything that Ukrainians would not approve, because if the Ukrainians do not approve of it, is dead on arrival.
All those people who are armed now will not take anything from their president or Prime Minister or anything that they cannot second and support. There will be armed resistance to any agreement that does not match the will of the Ukrainian people — that, I can bet anything on it.
So I don’t know what the good outcome is here. A good outcome is perhaps, Putin being conveniently removed by the people in his entourage, whose interests is he is affecting. Perhaps that’s the case.
Cristina Oancea: Putin is extremely unpredictable. And I don’t think that even people in his close entourage really know all the time what he wants to do next.
Truth be told, we are not too far removed from the horrible times of the communist regime and the Russian influence over the Eastern European countries and the impact of those influences in terms of economics, freedom of speech, freedom of travel, you name it. It was one of the darkest periods of time.
Romanians, for example, right now wish for the best and prepare for the worst. The lines at the passport offices are humongous. People are getting ready to have a passport to flee, especially women and children. Men also in Romania ready to fight because they know, otherwise, what the outcome will be.
So I’m hoping for the best. I’m hoping this war will stop with a very good outcome for Ukraine and for the Ukrainian people. As good as it can be at this point after so many lives have already been lost — and this should have never happened, especially in the 21st century.
But, I don’t know. I have seen too much to say I’m really 90% sure that this will stop.
Paul Sum: I will just jump in, since it was a my cautious optimism that was referenced.
The optimism comes more in a much longer shadow to the future.
When we talk about prosecuting war crimes, it’s nice to think that it’s like a domestic system, in which all you have to do is catch the perpetrator, and the wheels of justice begin to turn. That’s not the way it works in the international community.
However, I would point to the former president of Sudan, Omar al Bashir, who was indicted for crimes against humanity, acts of genocide, and war crimes. He has not been arrested, but he also has very limited travel.
It was his undoing, domestically, that that led to that tragedy, and he was displaced.
We don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m not a military expert, I don’t know what it’s going to look like on the ground.
But what I do know is that those types of crimes don’t have statutes of limitations. And to think that Vladimir Putin is all supreme and will be there until his demise is, I think, giving him too much credit.
So, as was stated earlier, opposition forces do exist in Russia. Yes, they are being rounded up, but yet, they are still there.
And we’ve been impressing upon hopefully everybody that the Russian people are not generally in favor of this. If they know what’s happening, they’re abhorred.
That suggests to me that that Russia is not as stable, and Putin is not as omnipotent, as the rhetoric would have us believe.
And because of that — again, I don’t know what the immediate settlement will be. But we will see the opportunity for these crimes to be heard.
David Flynn: Thank you very much, everyone.
I’m going to, unfortunately, stop it there. We reached the end of our hour; we have always more more questions than we can get to in the time we have.
But I’d like to thank all the panelists for taking their time and sharing their insights on this situation. I’m sure it will be something that we might have to call them back for in the future.
If you continue to have questions, I would encourage you to email me, and I can direct questions to those who might have the best information to answer it.
Thank you very much for attending. Thank you very much for our presenters. And thank you very much for all your time!