Gerald Easter, chair of Boston College’s political science department, said that after thousands of deaths in Ukraine, a question arises surrounding how the country will rebuild itself.
“Here we are, a year later, where the numbers in terms of casualties and fatalities are in the hundreds and thousands,” Easter said. “And one wonders how difficult it will be for a coherent, substantive Ukraine nation to exist again on these lands.”
Professors from the political science, history, and the Eastern, Slavic, and German studies departments gathered on Thursday night, exactly one year after Russia first invaded Ukraine, to reflect on the impacts of the war.
Easter said the Russia-Ukraine war was caused by multiple factors, including a conflict over Ukraine’s identity
“It is a confluence of factors which have brought us to this point,” Easter said. “The first one is internal to Ukraine: this is a war over the identity of the nation.”
Maxim D. Shrayer, a professor of Russian, English, and Jewish studies and the director of BC’s Eastern European and Eurasian Studies minor, organized the panel and spoke about the role that religion plays in the war.
“You have this sentiment where religious leaders in Ukraine are coming behind the war, and speaking about the war not only as a patriotic war … but also as a religiously justified war,” Shrayer said.
Ukraine is also fighting against lasting Soviet nationalist policies, according to Shrayer.
“This is not [only] a war of Ukraine’s patriotic liberation against Putin’s Russia and the Russian invasion,” Shrayer said. “It is also a war, I would suggest, in which the spirits of the Soviet, and specifically the Stalinist, nationalities policies are continuing to fight their final battles.”
Easter said Ukraine’s desire to involve other nations in the war, combined with Russia’s power, could result in a stalemate situation, similar to North and South Korea.
“At this point, maybe Koreanization is the more likely outcome,” Easter said. “On the Russian side, they’re just going to stand there and pound. And Ukraine’s hope is to expand the war into a wider conflict and bring in other nations.
Devin Pendas, a history professor, explained that Russia’s invasion in Ukraine broke many international laws, as the state used illegal forms of violence.
“It does seem to be remarkably widespread in occupied territories, which suggests at least some level of tolerance on the part of the military hierarchy, if not making it an actual policy,” Pendas said.
According to Pendas, it is unlikely Russian military officers will be held accountable legally, which could affect peace negotiations.
“International indictments can be harmful to peace negotiations, because they give perpetrators—especially elite-level government officials—incentives to keep fighting, if peace means prison,” Pendas said. “On the other hand, if you use that as a negotiating chip, it has the potential to be useful.”
Even though Russian military officers are not currently on trial for their war crimes, Pendas predicts that justice could come decades in the future.
“There is likely to be large-scale and ongoing projects of international justice that will play out over decades for these mid to low-level perpetrators,” Pendas said. “We see this ongoing with perpetrators of the Rwandan genocide … who end up on trial for crimes back in the ’90s.”
Correction (2/27/23, 10:14 a.m.): This article has been corrected to state that Maxim D. Shrayer is the director of BC’s Eastern European and Eurasian Studies minor and organized this panel.
Correction (2/27/23, 12:18 p.m.): A quote from Shrayer has been corrected to say “This is not [only] a war of Ukraine’s patriotic liberation against Putin’s Russia and the Russian invasion. It is also a war, I would suggest, in which the spirits of the Soviet, and specifically the Stalinist, nationalities policies are continuing to fight their final battles.”