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‘The unthinkable has now become possible,’ poli-sci panel discusses Ukraine-Russia conflict

‘The unthinkable has now become possible,’ poli-sci panel discusses Ukraine-Russia conflict

‘The unthinkable has now become possible,’ poli-sci panel discusses Ukraine-Russia conflict
March 03
09:15 2022

It was a full house Tuesday afternoon in Wooten Hall 111 — students packed into the classroom to listen to an informal panel of political science professors answer questions about the ongoing Ukraine-Russian conflict.

Students discussed what they already knew about the situation while they waited for the event to start, leaving topics of nuclear war and refugees hanging in the air as conversations became a discussion of not “if” but “when.”

“[Putin] needs to be stopped,” attendee and political science senior Susan Hyde-Mahoney said. “Will it happen soon enough before Ukraine falls?”

Extra chairs at the back of the room were quickly claimed after the desks filled up, leaving some students leaning against the walls. More students joined virtually on Zoom — the gallery view projected onto the wall filled up with more than 60 participants and their questions.

The panel consisted of political science professors John Ishiyama, Paul Hensel and Michael Greig, all sitting facing the room from a table at the front as the event became standing room only. Associate professor of political science Alexander Duff stood in a back corner as the event’s moderator and read off questions from the Zoom meeting chat.

“The Ukrainians are going to have, I fear, a really difficult question to ask themselves, which is whether fighting this Russian occupation and invasion is worth what an urban insurgency would do to Ukraine’s major cities,” Greig said. “I suspect their answer is going to be yes.”

One question from one of the virtual attendees addressed something some people across the globe may be asking themselves – why should people care?

“What is currently happening, in my point of view, is Russia trying to challenge U.S. dominance in the globe and its leadership among democratic countries,” Ishiyama said. “That’s something we should probably care a lot about.”

The economic damages would also hurt Western Europe as it depends on the Ukraine and Russia for exports of natural gas and oil, explained the panel.

“[Western Europe will] care a lot about Russian energy right now,” Hensel said. “There isn’t a whole lot of natural gas in the U.S. [or] in the Middle East to keep them warm, but they’re cold right now.”

Most of the following questions centered around the strict economic sanctions against Russia and hypotheticals of what the next days will look like for Ukraine. The sanctions, explained the panel, have forced the Russian Ruble to be worth less than 1 cent, which is devastating for its economy.

“[The Ruble] is virtually worthless,” Ishiyama said.

When it came to how the conflict was progressing, Russian military doctrine exists but the military capabilities do not, said Ishiyama. Some of the Russian tanks being driven into Ukraine are from the 1960s.

“A lot of what we’re seeing is a function of the Russians underestimating the Ukrainians,” Greig said.

The panelists emphasized that they believed the conflict lasting this long was unexpected for Russian President Vladamir Putin, who had likely hoped for less resistance.

“I think that [the Russians] are advancing faster than their supply lines can equip them which is why we see them running out of gas and groceries,” Greig said.

Comparisons of past Russian conflicts like the Cold War or World War II were brought up as students asked what the Russian army’s next move could be.

“I do unfortunately think that the Russians will revert back to their tactics in the past,” Ishiyama said. “There is a strategy called […] ‘war without limits’ – you completely destroy your enemy [and] civilians are legitimate targets.”

World War II was also brought up as a discussion point because of recent claims by Putin stating his invasion of Ukraine was to “de-Nazify” the country. The panelists were able to offer insight into what many have seen as a bizarre claim, considering Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Jewish.

“The Russians don’t think of World War II in terms of the Holocaust,” Ishiyama said. “For Russia, World War II was the 10 million battlefield dead they lost. The Nazis are not about the Holocaust, it’s about anyone [who] threatens the integrity of the Russian people.”

Since the conflict began five days ago, reports put the estimated casualties in the hundreds, including civilians.

“The unthinkable has now become possible,” Ishiyama said.

Plans to host another panel were discussed but have not yet been made official.

“Who knows what’s going to be true five days from now?” Hensel said.

Featured Image: From left to right political science professors Paul R. Hensel, Michael Greig and John Ishiyama answer questions about Ukraine and Russia during a discussion on March 1, 2022. Photo by Jackie Martinez

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Alex Reece

Alex Reece

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