Paul Christensen, a political science professor at Boston College, said prior to the Russian invasion, the majority of Russians believed their country was not at fault for the crisis in Ukraine.
“Pre-invasion data show that over 50 percent of Russians blamed the United States and the West for the crisis,” Christensen said. “Only 15 percent blame the Ukrainian government, and only three to four percent blame Russia.”
This information, Christensen said, reveals the nature of the Russian attitude toward their own country and toward the West.
“Even if those numbers are skewed, I think that tells us something important about how Russians felt,” he said. “Obviously many very much oppose using violence, but also believe that it was not Russia’s fault.”
Christensen was one of six BC faculty that met on Monday night to discuss the past, present, and future of Ukraine during the ongoing Russian invasion.
Curt Woolhiser, a professor in the Eastern, Slavic, and German Studies department, opened the panel by discussing one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s justifications for the invasion.
“Language plays such an important role among Putin’s justifications for his war in Ukraine,” Woolhiser said. “Putin and many of those who adhere to the sort of traditional Imperial Russian view of Ukraine deny the existence of an independent Ukrainian language and nation.”
Woolhiser said the Russian and Ukrainian languages are more different in origin than other European languages.
“Swedish and Danish are more similar, Dutch and German also more so, than Ukrainian and Russian,” Woolhiser said. “Again, there are various measures of looking at differences between languages, but certainly there’s no linguistic justification for referring to Ukrainian as a dialect of Russian.”
Christensen said speech has become restricted in Russia because of the constraints the Russian State has put on media organizations and what individuals can say. The Russian State has closed down the last two independent media outlets in the country, which makes it increasingly difficult to get accurate information out of the country, according to Christensen.
There is an argument that greater interdependence between nations leads to greater cooperation and peace, Christensen said. European dependence on Russian gas, however, has also led to some aggression, he said.
“The more dependent we become upon each other, the less likely it is that we want to fight,” Christensen said. “What we’re seeing here with European dependence on Russian gas … is yes, it can lead to peace, but it can also sort of encourage aggression.”
Gerald Easter, a political science professor, said Ukraine’s government and economy are in a vulnerable state.
“Per capita income in Ukraine today is less than $5,000,” Easter said. “It’s one of the poorest countries in Europe.”
Easter said there are three kinds of ethno-national identities in Ukraine—one influenced by the West, one by the East, and one category that identifies as mixed or non-politicized. These identities, Easter said, make it difficult to create a coherent identity as a nation.
“There is this complexity to creating a coherent national identity—that language, religion, and region seems to work against, not together,” he said.
Maksym Fedorchuk, a professor in the math department and a native of Ukraine, said no one was prepared for the Russian invasion.
“We were warned, but no one was really prepared, so we don’t know what’s going to happen, but I’m not very optimistic about the situation,” Fedorchuk said.
Fedorchuk said his father and mother-in-law struggled to flee the city of Kyiv.
“Suddenly electricity went out, so they spent 10 days living in the basement eating whatever they had and charging their cell phones on power generators,” he said. “And so at some point, they got scared and they decided to get out.”
Leaving their home country, however, was extremely difficult, according to Fedorchuk.
“They couldn’t leave,” he said. “They couldn’t take the highway because there were Russian tanks nearby on the highway, so the road volunteers helped guide people through.”
Christensen concluded the panel, saying that he was struck by Russia’s military strategy.
“Russia looks like they are still studying Napoleon—this is artillery and attrition,” Christensen said. “That’s how Napoleon went across Europe. That’s how Russia went back towards Paris. That’s how Russia beat the Nazis, and it looks like that’s what they still do when they have to do war, and Ukraine is the victim of that.”
Featured Image by Molly Burns / Heights Staff