’War Scare: Russia, Ukraine and the West’ offers insight into current events

Feb. 16, 2022

By Adam Wickham ’22

On Wednesday, Feb. 9, the Program in Russian East European and Eurasian Studies at Princeton University hosted a webinar, “War Scare: Russia, Ukraine and the West.” Moderated by Ekaterina Pravilova, Rosengarten Chair of Modern and Contemporary History and professor of history, and Iryna Vushko, assistant professor of history, the panel welcomed three experts who offered valuable insights on the current reality and mindsets of both citizen and political actors in Ukraine and Russia.

American journalist Nolan Peterson presented first. A former USAF pilot currently based in Kyiv, Peterson drew on his journalistic and military experience to present on the current mood in Ukraine. He discussed how Russia’s military preparations are almost complete and can quickly overwhelm Ukraine militarily. To Peterson, the worst case scenario would be a full scale invasion with mass casualty air strikes sparking a massive humanitarian and refugee crisis. Peterson stressed the resolve of grassroots efforts preparing for an insurgency, and he noted that the mood on the ground is “far from panic,” but rather resolute. “Here in Kyiv, people are making plans to either flee the city, to build up supplies to weather the siege at home, or take up arms to defend their towns as territorial defense units,” he said. “The Ukrainian national is giving the world a masterclass on how a democratic society should act in a moment of crisis. Civilian volunteer groups are teaching combat first aid, how to pack to-go bags, how to find the nearest bomb shelter, how to take care of children in a combat environment.”

The next panelist was Russia-based journalist and TV presenter Mikhail Fishman. Fishman presented a comprehensive history and analysis of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s personal relationship with Ukraine. He attributed Putin’s current fixation on Ukraine to a perception of Russia “losing” Ukraine to the West during the 2004 Orange Revolution and the 2014 Maidan Revolution.Fishman believes that Russia does not want to annex Ukraine, but rather have it as an integral part of Russia’s economic and cultural sphere of influence. “It’s the only point in Putin’s agenda; he has no way to go other than to try to rebuild the empire,” he said. “Ukraine is crucial, which is why this situation is so dangerous.”

The final panelist was Eastern Ukraine native Olena Lennon, adjunct faculty of political science at the University of New Haven. Regarding the situation in Donetsk, Lennon said that she believes that Putin underestimates how the knowledge of human rights abuses has turned many Ukrainian citizens against Putin’s regime. She cited that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has reinforced this sentiment by stating that there is a reasonable basis for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Donbass. However, Lennon said that that attitudes against the Ukrainian government have hardened in the past eight years in the non-government controlled territories of Luhansk and Donetsk, which challenges a vision of a reunified Ukraine. “Of concern to us should be the methods of indoctrination and militarization, where the young population who were educated in these [non-government controlled territories] schools who were presented a very different history of Ukraine, and treats Ukraine as an existential enemy,” she said.

The panelists then answered audience questions and shared their perspectives on Ukraine’s future. They emphasized that a Russian invasion of Ukraine is a realistic possibility with the possibility of cyberattacks and electronic warfare too. There was a consensus that Putin is not as risk averse as he used to be and is willing to militarily install a new regime in Kyiv. 

“War Scare: Russia, Ukraine, and the West” was sponsored by the Program in Russian East European and Eurasian Studies and can be watched in its entirety on YouTube.