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College Democrats of BC Host Lecture on Russia-Ukraine Crisis

The effects of the Russia-Ukraine conflict are going to be long-lasting and devastating, according to Paul Christensen, a professor in the political science and international studies departments at Boston College.

“This could lead to massive hunger, food insecurity, and disruption of supply lines and supply chains all over the world,” Christensen said.

In an overflowing room on Tuesday evening, the College Democrats of Boston College welcomed Christensen and Lindsey O’Rourke, a professor in the political science department, to analyze the crisis.

While tensions have been escalating between Russia and Ukraine for years, the current crisis began when Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

O’Rourke opened the event with historical background on the two nations from a U.S. foreign policy perspective. 

“Up until 1991, [Ukraine] was a part of the Soviet Union,” O’Rourke said. “With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was one of 15 new states that came into existence at this time.”

While neither Russia nor Ukraine are part of NATO—a military alliance of 30 countries—Ukraine is the only geographic buffer zone between Russia and NATO countries, and thus potential western invasion, O’Rourke said.

At the end of the Cold War, O’Rourke said the United States attempted to gain German reunification by promising the Soviet Union it would not expand NATO to Eastern European countries.

“There’s a lot of scholars who argued at the time that the United States promised, if you allow us to let Germany reunify and enter NATO, we promise not to expand NATO eastward,” she said. “At the time, we made some verbal assurances that we would do this, but there was no … formal guarantee, there was no written treaty.”

Joining NATO has been a source of tension in Ukraine for a long time, according to O’Rourke. Ukranians in support of the West argue for the benefits of joining NATO and the European Union, which she said has unsettled Russia, while some Ukranians argue for closer economic and political relations with Russia.

According to Christensen, these persisting divisions among Ukrainians led to dysfunction within the state, resulting in contested presidential elections and many uprisings.

Christensen said Russian leaders have become increasingly concerned by the eastward expansion of NATO, fearing that NATO nuclear missiles could be dangerously close to Moscow.

“Russian leaders from Gorbachev all the way through [Putin] have been concerned about this to the point of obsession,” Christensen said.

While the possibility of Ukraine joining NATO played a significant role in Russia’s recent actions, another driving force behind Russia’s invasion was Ukraine’s desire to join the E.U., Christensen said

“[Ukraine joining the E.U.] would be far more consequential to Russian influence on a day-to-day basis because Russia’s economic levers over Ukraine would basically collapse,” he said. “Even if Ukraine does eventually become part of NATO, that’s going to take a longer time.”

When asked who was responsible for the current crisis, Christensen said over 50 percent of Russians said “we are.” Almost all independent news sources are banned in Russia, so citizens consume only state-sponsored news, warping their views on the current crisis, he said.

Russia will ultimately overpower Ukraine if the conflict continues to escalate, according to Christensen.

“As brave as Ukraine has been, if Russia pushes on and escalates its use of force, Ukraine cannot win this,” he said.

Featured Image by Ben Schultz / Heights Staff

March 3, 2022
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