The War in Ukraine

The War in Ukraine

Ty Mcphee, Staff Reporter

Foreword: When I first set up my interview with Dr. Jungblut from the department of political science and Dr. Reichert from the William O. Douglas Honors College, Russia had yet to invade Ukraine. Troops were building up on the border and I wanted to see what their input would be on whether Russia would decide to invade or not. On Feb 24, Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine and the following day, I met with the two of them.

Dr. Reichert said his initial thoughts were that the conflict was not just between Russia and Ukraine, but between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He also mentioned a book called “The Foundations of Geopolitics” by Aleksandr Dugin, which he said outlines a plan that Russia is following. According to the book, Ukraine should be annexed and Russia should rule the world.

“It’s essentially a conflict about an autocracy that wants to engage in expansionism, [and] believes that it has a right to expansionism because Ukraine and other independent sovereign nations used to be soviet socialist republics,” Jungblut said. “Certainly a well planned invasion I hate to say, from the north, from the east, from the south, airborn, on the ground and the sea.”

There wasn’t much of a problem initially when Ukraine was run by pro-Russian leaders prior to the revolution in 2014, they said. With Ukraine leaning toward western ideologies, their sense of independence and western views pushed against Putin’s agenda to reunite the countries and was seen as a threat of westernization.

“If you have a country that’s leaning westward and liberal in the classic liberal sense, not the liberal left leaning ideological sense, then you know it would make you nervous, because what if your people start aspiring to that,” Jungblut said.

When Ukraine is Russia’s neighbor and is leaning into a limited government, free market and economically free way of thinking, it puts pressure on Russia because of their conflicting ideologies.

Jungblut also mentioned how she doesn’t agree with, but can understand, how Putin would feel threatened by Ukraine because of its ideological standing.

Jungblut isn’t the only one disagreeing with Putin’s feelings. AP News reported on protests across Russia from St. Petersburg to Moscow. They reported people chanting “No to war!” while riot police detained those gathered.

The people themselves have been vocal, as well as the oligarchs that support Putin, according to Reichert. Oligarchs are rich business people who also function in the Russian government.

“When oligarchs do oppose him he’s often been able to eliminate them, and I mean that in a literal sense,” Reichert said.

Jungblut explained that to keep the oligarchs close to him, Putin has given them lucrative contracts and ownership of natural gas and oil companies. She said if he’s to answer to some group of people and not his citizens, it would be the oligarchs, but that doesn’t guarantee he would and doesn’t guarantee they would be alive.

The sanctions that NATO and other countries have imposed on Russia are targeting these oligarchs. Jungblut said that theoretically, the oligarchs could form a coalition that could at least temper Putin’s behavior. 

“Their main tool right now is economic pressure,” Reichert said.

As of writing, the Russian ruble is 83.9-to-1, meaning to equal one U. S. dollar you would need almost 84 rubles, according to CNBC.

Jungblut said Russian banks were disconnected from the international banking and exchange system, going after the SWIFT (Society of Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) agreements along with export controls. 

When looking back home to the U.S., there are some aspects that will affect Americans. Because of the sanctions and export controls on natural gas and oil, it will lead to an increase in prices not only in Europe but across the world. Jungblut mentioned that Ukraine is a major exporter of wheat, and, if the conflict continues, we may see increases in agricultural prices as well.

“Yes, there’s supply chain issues and pandemic issues and a whole host of reasons for that, but the situation in Ukraine will only exacerbate those things,” Jungblut said.

Looking back on Russia itself, Dr. Reichert said it’s arguable whether Russia is considered a world superpower today.

“The size of the Russian economy is roughly equivalent to that of Texas, much smaller than it is of California and it’s not a diverse economy,” Reichert said.

Reichert mentioned that Ukraine is much more diverse in its resources than Russia, another reason why Putin is wanting to overtake it. Jungblut listed that Ukraine is economically, geographically, politically and militarily more advantageous than Russia.

This isn’t the first time the Soviet Union has invaded or interfered in former soviet socialist republics that have been sovereign nations. 

The two break-away regions in Georgia: Abkhazia and Ossetia, Chechnya, Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh were also interfered with by Russia, Jungblut said. According to Reichert, Crimia was another country that Russia maintained its presence in when Ukraine gained its independence in 2014 due to access to the Black Sea.

According to the NATO website, Article 5 said, “The parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.” 

However, Article 5 of NATO doesn’t apply to Ukraine because they aren’t a part of the agreement.  

If Putin doesn’t stop at Ukraine and chooses to push into neighboring nations that are NATO members, it may lead to NATO parties following through on Article 5.

That hasn’t stopped countries from pooling together resources to help or even intimidate Putin. The U.S. sent Apache helicopters to Poland which are specifically designed as tank killers, according to Jungblut. Reichert mentioned Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems (MANPADS) were sent to Ukraine by western allies in order to combat Russian helicopters.

A teach-in was held in the SURC Theatre on Monday, Feb 28 that provided more context both on the nationalism of Russians, Ukrainians and Soviets as well as Putin’s actions to limit and restrict citizens as the Russian president. This is the first conflict since 1945 that has ground conflicts and according to associate professor Volha Isakava, Ukraine is winning the PR war. Isakava said he believed that even though Ukraine applied to join the EU, it wouldn’t happen because of how diverse it already is and the standards to join being so high.

A key thing that both Jungblut and Reichert want people and students, specifically, to be aware of is where they are getting their information from, whether or not it’s credible or if it’s just being shared for likes and fame.