"Ask the Expert" articles provide information and insights from MSU scientists, researchers and scholars about national and global issues, complex research and general-interest subjects based on their areas of academic expertise and study. They may feature historical information, background, research findings, or offer tips.
Matthew Pauly, associate professor of history at Michigan State University, discusses the large impact that Russia’s war against Ukraine has on world security. He explains Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reasoning behind the invasion of Ukraine, the history between Russia and Ukraine and Ukraine’s declaration of independence from Russia.
What can you tell us about Ukraine?
With the exception of Russia, Ukraine is the largest country in Europe. It is a country of significant security interests to the whole of Europe and to the United States. It is also a country with an immense economy, one that is still struggling to adjust to the realities of a market economy in the 21st century. But it is certainly a place of significant potential with a vibrant, educated workforce. It is a country that is not some parochial province on the edge of the world. It is a European country and from the perspective of Ukrainians, they are located at the center of Europe.
Why did Russia invade Ukraine?
This is a war not just between Russia and Ukraine, but it's a war between authoritarianism and democracy. Ukraine is an imperfect democracy, but it's a democracy worthy of American and transatlantic support. This is not about the reincarnation of the Soviet Union, but about the expansion of a Russian state under a president who has a distorted view of history and believes that Ukraine is fictional, and that Ukrainians are not a real people. He considers Ukrainians to simply be a part of the Russian nation.
What is the history of Ukraine’s independence?
Ukraine has been independent since 1991, when it declared its independence from the Soviet Union, as did the Russian Federation. The Soviet Union is an artifact of history, it has long ceased to exist. There's no need to refer to Ukraine as a former Soviet republic.
What are some of the consequences of this war?
The immediate consequences are Russia has destroyed part of Europe that will need to be rebuilt with help from the international community. We also most certainly have a refugee crisis already on our hands. The long-term foreign policy implications, I think, are considerable and a lot depends on the outcome of the war. And, in fact, if the Russians are forced to leave Ukraine or make a decision to leave, then I think it's reasonable to assume the pressure will be on the European community to accept Ukraine as a member state of the European Union of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This current conflict has only confirmed the reason for NATO's existence. Russian aggression represents a peril to all of Europe, and it is quite natural that Poland and the Baltic states have been at the forefront of advocating for NATO's resolve against Moscow.
What could come from this if Russia wins this war?
In the unfortunate event Russia wins this war, there most likely will be a puppet government in Kyiv. But it is highly likely that Ukrainians will wage an insurgent war against the occupying Russian forces. NATO will obviously be forced to adjust. We can imagine many more U.S. soldiers based in Poland, Romania and the Baltic states. We can imagine an increased military presence in Eastern Europe, and quite obviously we will then have a fundamental alteration of the international framework and security posture of the continent of Europe.