“The only solution is to defeat Putin sooner rather than later,” Taras Dobko, vice-rector of Ukrainian Catholic University (UCU) said during a virtual flash panel on the war in Ukraine hosted by the Nanovic Center for European Studies Wednesday afternoon.
Dobko was joined by Law School professor Mary Ellen O’Connell and political science professor Michael Desch in discussing the state of the Ukrainian nation, the international response to the conflict and the end of the war as it enters its second year.
Dobko began by reflecting on the strength and resiliency of the Ukrainian people throughout the war.
“Ukrainians proved that they could face danger and continue to create art, manufactured goods, learn new things and live human lives,” he said.
The feeling of a distinct Ukrainian identity has increased in the past year, Dobko pointed out, with Russian symbols being removed from public spaces and the use of the Russian language dramatically decreasing.
“Putin has achieved the exact opposite of what he aspired. He is pushing Ukraine into becoming anti-Russian for generations to come,” Dobko said.
Dobko also argued that the war is now entering a new stage and that Ukraine and its allies must adjust their goals accordingly.
“Against all odds, Ukraine has survived,” he said. “But new uncertainties emerge and cause new worries. Will Ukraine, aided by the West, be able to win and restore its territorial integrity? How to negotiate just peace?”
On the subject of peace talks, Dobko asserted that “85% of Ukranians are not ready for any territorial concessions,” and that the country would continue to fight until it can reclaim the entirety of its occupied land.
O’Connell echoed many of Dobko’s points, stating that the Russian invasion is “the most significant armed conflict since the adoption of the United Nations (UN) Charter in 1945.”
She explained that the war has also caused extreme economic harm globally and within Russia.
“Russia has put the global economic system, the system of human rights and international humanitarian law and the chance to defend the climate and the natural environment, as well as the state system itself, at risk,” O’Connell said.
O’Connell also argued that the complete expulsion of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory is the only acceptable resolution to the war.
“Ukraine must prevail in this conflict,” O’Connell said. “A Russian defeat of Ukraine, even in the short run, will only introduce more chaos in the world than anything we have seen in the first year of the war.”
Desch, on the other hand, offered a point of view more critical of Ukraine and its prospects of victory.
“For many in the West, it’s clear-cut, black and white. Putin is bad, the Russians are deluded and Ukraine is completely on the side of the angels,” he said.
While there is “some truth to that,” Desch argued it’s not that simple.
Desch attacked Ukraine’s high levels of corruption and questioned both the intentions and the durability of the Ukrainian nationalist movement.
“The level of corruption in the Ukrainian government remains astronomically high,” Desch said, adding that recent firings of corrupt government officials is “just the tip of the iceberg.”
Desch was also critical of Dobko’s touting of the decreasing use of the Russian language in Ukraine.
“A lot of the impetus behind the decreasing use of Russian in the public space has been a result of coercive policies of the Ukrainian government, including laws passed restricting the teaching of Russian,” he said.
Turning to the end of the war, Desch argued that “the strategic situation is largely a stalemate and will remain a stalemate.”
He said he thinks the United States must broker peace talks, with the only two realistic outcomes from such negotiations being the partition or neutralization of the country.
Dobko pushed back on this idea, placing the blame for the war on Russia.
Although the situation in Ukraine remains perilous for Ukrainian sovereignty, Dobko expressed a sense of optimism about his country’s fate.
“There is a strong feeling that we are making some kind of history and can shape our future,” he said.
Contact Liam at firstname.lastname@example.org.