Acceding parts of Ukraine to Russia means condemning Ukrainians to the same fate as Bucha

By Vishal Manve, MALD 2023 Candidate, The Fletcher School

On April 7, 2022, the Institute for Global Leadership at Tufts University organized a session titled “The State of the Ukraine Conflict” to explain the contours of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which began on February 24, 2022. The session was chaired by IGL alumna Alexandra Vacroux, executive director of the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies at Harvard University, and Arik Burakovsky, assistant director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at The Fletcher School at Tufts University.

To explain Russia’s conquest of Ukraine, Burakovsky outlined six major trends that led to the ongoing geopolitical crisis. These comprised the complex relationship between Russia and Ukraine involving three different Vladimirs. The first, Vladimir the Great, brought Christianity to Kievan Rus. The second is Russian president Vladimir Putin, and the third is Vladimir Zelensky, president of Ukraine.

“If you listen to Putin, he believes Ukraine is not a real country and there is no such thing as a Ukrainian entity, and that the country has always been a part of Russia,” Burakovsky said.

Zelensky has a differing viewpoint, stating, “Ukraine and Russia are two independent and brotherly nations that have the same origins but are not one people.”

“This war is about undoing Ukrainian nationhood,” Burakovsky further added, stating, “Russia wants to return to its imperial past and Ukraine is fighting for its independence.”

“In 2008, Russia intervened militarily in Georgia, and in 2014, it intervened militarily in Ukraine. NATO has enlarged five times since 1999 to Poland, Baltic countries, and other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Russia feels encircled by NATO in both the East and the West,” Burakovsky further added.

Burakovsky further explained how cooperation between Russia and NATO was “formally discontinued in 2014,” leading to an arms race.

Furthermore, NATO moved its military infrastructure eastwards while both Russia and NATO conducted military drills in Central and Eastern Europe, resulting in the erosion of the Arms Control Framework about missiles.

By claiming Zelensky would use military action to retake Donbas, Putin sells the invasion of Ukraine as a “pre-emptive war to stop Ukraine from acting militarily and from building up its military,” Burakovsky said.

In 2020, Russia amended its constitution so that Putin can stay in power for “as long as he wants till 2036,” said Burakovsky, thereby turning the country into a full-fledged dictatorship.

“After 2020…Putin began to use greater repression to stifle internal dissent, and there exists a theory that an independent Ukraine threatens Putin’s rule. This could be one of the reasons Putin may have invaded Ukraine,” Burakovsky added.

He further explained how the war distracted Russians from domestic corruption and enabled the rally around the flag effect, resulting in more Russians supporting Putin as compared to before the war.

On Russia’s failure to perform as analysts expected, Burakovsky said, “Putin either did not have great intelligence or did not listen to it.”

After Burakovsky’s remarks, Vacroux showed the map of Ukraine when it was invaded by Russia and offered a breakdown of troop movements.

“Before the war started, Russia had 200,000 troops and equipment massed around three sides of Ukraine, and the idea was that they would move quickly and take Kyiv in a few days. Russia was so confident of this outcome that they had parade dress with them as well. They thought they would have a triumphant parade within three days,” Vacroux explained.

Russians had never bothered to study Ukraine and understand how things had changed since 2014 when Russians invaded Crimea, she said.

“So when the Russians came on February 24, they were not welcomed with flowers, bread, and salt, but were greeted as invaders,” she further added.

Highlighting the paucity of the information offered by maps, she stated how maps don’t “show other important things like on-ground realities: terrible pictures from Bucha and northern suburbs in Kyiv after Russian troops left.”

Academics with a special focus on Russia are concerned about Russia’s intentions in different parts of Ukraine, akin to what it did in Chechnya in the 1990s to subdue opposition.

“We cannot exclude the possibility that Putin thinks he needs to shock the Ukrainian people into submission; he might use chemical, biological, or tactical nuclear weapons. There is a bigger refugee crisis, the biggest since World War II,” she added.

Russians have a good understanding of how nuclear energy works, but accidents can happen in the context of indiscriminate shelling in Ukraine. Additionally, priorities have changed from reducing fossil fuel usage to energy security as Russia invaded Ukraine.

“The war has led to higher energy prices and this impacts what happens to fossil fuels; it will have a significant dampening impact on our ability to fight climate change,” Vacroux concluded.

Leave a Reply