The Past, The Present, The Future: A Look at Leiden’s Ukraine-Russia Panel

On the evening of last Monday, March 7th, students flooded the Wijnhaven lecture hall and Kaltura room for a chance to join the Ukraine-Russia panel, organized by the Russia and Eurasia Committee.

Oskar, one of the Committee members, explained that “We organized the panel discussion to give the students an opportunity to go in depth with what is currently happening in Ukraine.” Invited to lead the panel were Dr. Matthew Frear, Dr. Isaac Scarborough, and Chris Colijn, based on their experiences living in the Russian Federation, Ukraine, and Belarus, and their extensive historical and contemporary knowledge about the region. Together, according to Oskar, they “provided a comprehensive historical background and the two stories of both Ukraine and Russia, these countries’ mutual relations and accumulating tensions that led to the 2022 invasion.”

The Past
Dr. Scarborough, a specialist in Russian politics and economics, led students to the roots of the conflict. He concluded that while Russia has had issues with its territorial loss since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, tensions sparked in 2008 when Ukraine was given a verbal promise of joining NATO (at the same time that Russia was invading Georgia). Tensions further escalated in 2014, when Ukraine’s Euromaidan toppled its pro-Russian government, and brought the country ever closer to joining NATO and the EU. Unable to accept this, Russia spent years supporting separatist movements in Ukraine, and holding military drills on its border in preparation for the events of February 24th, 2022.

The Present
Dr. Scarborough and Dr. Frear provided both Russian and Ukrainian perspectives on the invasion that left the rest of the world in shock and disbelief. In Russia, citizens are now faced with a sudden economic crisis, with foreign currency and goods becoming unavailable as the value of the Russian Ruble plunges. Mass protests are met with mass arrests and media restrictions, leading people to think twice before speaking out. The situation in Ukraine, however, is even more drastic. Aided by millions of people from both at home and abroad, the country was able to quickly mobilize and mount an impressive response to the Russian attack. Despite this, losses in the country have been monumental. Thousands have died as cities are rocked by shelling, with the loss of homes, jobs, and future prospects driving millions of (mostly) women and children towards the western border. Particularly salient to understanding this was the input of Chris Cojin, a journalist and tutor at Leiden University. Chris, who recently came back from reporting on the Polish-Ukrainian border, described seeing thousands of refugees crossing the border in search of food, medicine, and above all, safety.

The Future?
The statement of the professors on the future of Ukraine was short and bleak. They believed that as things currently stand, there is no resolution in sight for Ukraine, instead seeing a war that will likely last for months or years, and one that “will get worse before it gets better”. With this closing statement, the floor was opened up for questions. One student asked whether the EU could have done anything to prevent this invasion, and received the response that it would’ve been difficult for the EU to act without escalating the conflict and leading to even more war. Another student asked if there’s any chance of a direct confrontation between Russia and NATO. This time, the response was a little more comforting. Dr. Scarborough replied that currently, the probability of Russia attacking a NATO member is extremely low.

All in all, the panel was a good opportunity for students to inform themselves about the war, and to discuss their concerns. However, as the lights dimmed and the lecture hall emptied, many left with more questions than answers. “When will the war end?”,  ”What does this mean for my future?”,  “Are my friends and family safe?”. These questions are the most important ones to ask, and are unfortunately also the hardest ones to answer.

by Krzysztof

@krzysztof__witt

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Images from Unsplash

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