Visiting W&J professor discusses Ukraine’s options, Putin’s motivations

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There are two options for Ukraine’s future, one of which would involve the country remaining in a constant state of instability as it deals with the threat of Russian annexation, a visiting Washington & Jefferson professor said Wednesday.


The other option would involve the possibility of a civil war breaking out or the violence to escalate in Ukraine as the crisis there continues, said Susan Vdovichenko, an assistant professor of Russian and director of the non-major languages program at W&J.


“Everything is much more unstable now,” Vdovichenko said at a symposium on Ukraine, Crimea and Russia.


She was joined on the panel by 2004 W&J graduate Joshua Andy, who completed his graduate work in Russian and East European studies at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.


Andy spoke on the history that led to the tension in Ukraine, saying Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be invoking a 19th century “right to protect” Christians led by Nicholas I as a modern motivation to protect the rights of Russians living in Ukraine.


“He doesn’t want to return to the Soviet Union but to an Imperial Russia,” Andy said.


The event, part of International Week at W&J, followed news Wednesday that the Ukrainian army had suffered setbacks while trying to retake its eastern cities from the control of pro-Russia insurgents who seized their vehicles.


Vdovichenko, a U.S. citizen who is married to a Ukrainian with family in Crimea, said the chaos is “Putin’s dream situation” as his popularity surges in Russia while Ukraine destabilizes.


“Everything he has done thus far has been in his favor,” she said.


She suggested a number of possible motivations behind Putin’s treatment of Ukraine, including that he might be attempting to prove that uprisings are a bad idea after several of them had taken place in Russia.


Putin might want to increase his empire or prove himself to be a “strong, tough leader who should be feared,” Vdovichenko said.


And finally, she wondered, will he stop the aggression if Ukraine is annexed to Russia?


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