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Panelists discuss Ukraine-Russia conflict from a global perspective

| Friday, March 18, 2022

A panel of Notre Dame affiliates touched on themes of resilience, responsibility and restraint while discussing global implications of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in the Hesburgh Center for International Studies Wednesday afternoon. The panelists covered topics including the current situation in Ukraine, the threat of nuclear war, the refugee crisis and Ukrainian nationalism. 

Panelists from left to right: Fr. Andrij Hlabse, David Cortright, Erin Corcorna, Karrie Koesel, Asher Kauffman, and moderator Clemens spoke at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies. Panelist Marianna Kozintseva joined the event via Zoom.Gabby Beechert | The Observer
Panelists from left to right: Fr. Andrij Hlabse, David Cortright, Erin Corcorna, Karrie Koesel, Asher Kauffman, and moderator Clemens spoke at the Hesburgh Center for International Studies. Panelist Marianna Kozintseva joined the event via Zoom.

The full extent of the conflict, however, cannot be understood without knowledge of Ukraine’s history, theology doctoral candidate and Ukrainian Byzantine Catholic priest Fr. Andrij Hlabse explained. 

“Ukrainians are an ancient European people trying to stand up with a free democratic society after being bowed down by Communism,” Hlabse said. “This is still the playing out of that standing back up and trying to establish a free and healthy civil society and democratic political society.”

Marianna Kozintseva, a visiting faculty member from the Sim Kee Boon Institute for Financial Economics at Singapore Management University, echoed that the resilience of the Ukrainian people is crucial for the future national identity of Ukraine. The country is one with citizens who practice different religions and speak different languages. The unification after the invasion, Kozintseva said, creates a sense of Ukrainian nationalism.

Unification and resistance against Putin is important, especially in the context of Russia’s role in the Syrian civil war. History and peace studies professor Asher Kaufman explained that the Russian government is using similar tactics on Ukraine, as those used by the Syrian government during the civil war.

Supported by Russia, the Syrian government targeted civilians, hospitals and infrastructure and used propaganda to scare citizens. Any opposition to the Syrian government ultimately fell to these tactics. Kaufman said he believes the opposition failed because there were pre-existing divisions between opposition forces and the Syrian population. 

Kauffman seconded the divisions that Kozintseva mentioned. He said although there are religious and linguistic divisions among Ukrainians, opposition to the Russian government remains strong. 

“In terms of differences between Russia within Syria and Ukraine is that what we see is a very strong Ukrainian national cohesiveness,” Kaufman said.

Ukraine mirrors Syria in other ways, such as with the refugee crisis. The Syrian refugee crisis is the largest of the last 20 years, executive director and associate teaching professor at the Kroc Institute for International Erin Corcoran explained.

More than 6.6 million Syrians have fled their homes since 2011. The current flood of Ukrainians to neighboring countries is similar to this crisis and has even been characterized as “the biggest exodus of refugees from Europe since World War II,” according to Corcoran. 

As of March 3, the European Council unanimously agreed to apply the European Union (EU) temporary protection directive to individuals coming from Ukraine. Corcoran called it “the best contemporary model of responsibility sharing.”

The directive, which is being used for the first time, grants immediate and temporary protection to people coming from non-EU countries. It’s designed to circumvent asylum procedures and processes —providing immediate assistance for those fleeing violent conflict. 

It should be noted, however, that the response of western nations to the invasion has been criticized. Critics believe that the West has portrayed Ukrainians as more deserving of international aid because of a subconscious bias against non-white refugees, Corcoran explained. While these are valid criticisms, Corcoran noted, the model of shared responsibility has had a positive outcome. 

“I would argue that the EU’s recent decision to appoint a temporary protective direction is a model for how nation states can effectively engage in responsibility sharing and eliminate procedural hurdles that often retraumatize those who have fled,” Corcoran said. “It recognizes the inherent dignity of all persons and that those who are fleeing violence and safety are worthy of immediate protection.”

This idea of international cooperation is essential in other considerations of the invasion, specifically with nuclear weapons. David Cortright, director of the Global Policy Initiative and special advisor for policy studies, said Putin has reintroduced nuclear weapons into geopolitics. 

Putin’s disrespect of Ukraine’s sovereignty has led to important policy implications, Cortright said. The United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) should continue their military restraint, but need to express more support for Ukrainian civil resistance, and there also needs to be a diplomatic offering to try to end the war, he said. For example, If Putin withdraws from Ukraine, the sanctions can be removed, Cortright suggested.

The final implication is an existential one, Cortright emphasized, the world is on the verge of a nuclear nightmare. 

“Once this war is over, we need a serious reckoning with the role of nuclear weapons, civil rights and a return to the now largely abandoned, global agenda of reducing nuclear dangers and striving toward their eventual elimination as Catholic Social Teaching urges, and as President Reagan and the first President Bush pursued 30 years ago,” Cortright said. 

These themes of resilience, responsibility and restraint, Hlabse noted, are reminders that the Ukrainians are fighting for more than themselves. 

“I think simply the fact that we’re having this kind of panel, and they’re such substantive contributions indicates that perhaps the Ukrainian intuition that they’re fighting for more than just themselves and their own existence … rings pretty true,” Hlabse said.

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