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Joja Offers Middle Eastern Perspective on the Russia-Ukraine Conflict

The Russia-Ukraine conflict is unlike any war we have ever experienced since it is digitally accessible all across the world, Iualia-Sabina Joja, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said.

“We see in real time on our cameras Russian atrocities, fighting, trenches, all of that,” Joja said. “It’s not possible to hide as much.”

Boston College’s political science department invited Joja to speak on Nov. 14 about the implications of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and offer projections for the conflict’s future.

Joja said the Russia-Ukraine conflict is personal for her, as she was born in Romania—a country that has historically faced significant Russian aggression. Joja’s grandmother told her about Russia’s involvement in Romania during World War II, she said, and how Russia invaded her neighborhood.

One month before Russia invaded Ukraine, Joja said Vladimir Putin “demanded” the United States withdraw all military presence from Central and Eastern Europe, tell Ukraine not to join NATO, and withdraw membership from all countries that joined after 1997—which are primarily Eastern European countries, she said.

“This is very important, because it not just highlights how Russia thinks about my neighborhood, but also the role of the United States,” Joja said.

According to Joja, President Joe Biden refused to negotiate on Putin’s terms, which excluded Ukraine from the negotiation.

“It’s just not possible for a couple of people to shake hands over the fate of millions of people,” Joja said.

Joja said the Biden administration is driven by a fear of escalation, which Russian nuclear threats have only amplified.

In Biden’s May op-ed, Joja said he argues moving from short range weapons to medium range weapons would be an escalation in the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Short range weapons create an impact from short distances such as two miles, according to Joja. Moving to long range weapons would create an effect for nearly 44 miles, she said.

“This fear of escalation and self deterrence is of course a lot about self perception and the perception of others,” Joja said. “It’s what we think the Russians think.”

Russia considers everything as an act of war, Joja said, such as the U.S. providing military aid to Ukraine.

Joja then offered three possible scenarios for how she believes the conflict in Ukraine will continue.

Joja’s first scenario, “freeze and repeat,” refers to Ukraine’s fear. The Ukranians are afraid of falling into Russia’s pattern of conflicts, she said, including its involvement in Hungary in the ’50s, Czechoslovakia in the ’60s, and the Cold War as well as being unable to negotiate on fair terms.

“The fear is about repeating the Minsk agreements where we will seat the aggressor and the victim at the table and say, ‘Okay. He has walked into your house, has tortured your wife, has kidnapped your kids, wants to annex the kitchen, and now please sit at the table and find a compromise,’” Joja said.

The second scenario, which would involve tactical nukes, is unlikely according to Joja, as the devastation these weapons cause would far outweigh the benefits.

For the third scenario, Joja said peace could be restored in the conflict, turning toward Finland Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s answer for her own explanation.

“[Marin] says, ‘for Russia to get out of Ukraine. They started it. They have to get out,’” Joja said.

Grace Phan Jones, a second-year political science master’s student, said she thought Joja’s perspective on the conflict was important, as it was not centered on “America first issues.”

“It’s very interesting to hear from [Joja] the Ukrainian people’s perspective and to cut through some of the propaganda,” Phan Jones said.

She said her biggest takeaway from the lecture was Joja’s hopefulness for the future.

“I hear a lot of pessimism,” Phan Jones said. “So to hear a little bit of confidence for [conflict] to evolve over time and improve—I think that’s really noteworthy.”

November 20, 2022
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