Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last week launched what could possibly become the largest land war in Europe since the end of the Second World War in spring 1945.
The aggression has launched renewed interest in the humanities – from history to languages to religion – and prompted requests from local, national and international media for interviews and essays from several in the Franklin & Marshall community.
Those expert opinions included faculty, students and alumni, and covered everything from the historic tensions between the two countries to the impact of economic sanctions against Russia and how those sanctions could affect Americans.
Here is a sampling of some of those F&M reactions:
“The Russian government has seen the Ukraine as its little brother,” said Stefanie Kasparek, professor of government at F&M College.
Experts say this is designed to give him cover as a democratic leader at home while allowing him to do pretty much what he wants elsewhere. “The space he holds on the democratic scale, he is not a full-blown authoritarian leader. He doesn’t have the same means available to oppress his people. He still has democratic elements, even though they’re vanishing,” says Stefanie Kasparek, an assistant professor of government at Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania who studies international political institutions. Not that Putin has worried excessively about appearing democratic. At home, he has spent years harshly stamping out both public dissent and political opposition, targeting rivals and jailingopposition party leader Alexei Navalny, whom the Kremlin declared a terrorist last month. Nevertheless, says Kasparek, “There are democratic elements that he can’t fully ignore.”
Op-Ed from Professor of History Abby Schrader: On the eve of his rise to power, when he was Boris Yeltsin’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin penned a 5,000-word manifesto, “Russia at the Turn of the Millennium.” In it, he lamented that Russia was “becoming Portugal” — a once-important land mass slipping into second- or third-rate status. Putin concluded: “We are running out of time to avoid this.” That was more than 20 years ago, and the 69-year-old Putin is more fearful than ever that he is running out of time. This is perceptible in the latest set of proclamations from the Kremlin in unleashing an all-out war on Ukraine that is designed to reestablish the Russian empire on the basis of false historical premises. Ironically, this deliberate violence may lead Russia’s leader to another fate he also seeks to avoid: that of the cornered dictator.
When it comes to the long-term effects of these U.S. sanctions, Jon Stone, associate professor of Russia & Russian studies at Franklin and Marshall doesn’t think they'll be enough. “Honestly – no. I don't think so. I think short of any kind of direct military intervention, I think...the Russian government and Putin are already fairly well underway for their next steps," Stone said.
Those next steps by Putin, Stone says, are a matter of shifting speculation – but the economic implications will be widespread.
Stefanie Kasparek, a professor at Franklin and Marshall College, says Russia is trying to keep Ukraine in check. “There has been this constant struggle for Russia to make sure that the Ukraine is not wandering off,” Kasparek said. Kasparek explains watching Ukraine forge a closer relationship with the West infuriated Putin. “If Ukraine becomes too successful and too buddy-buddy with the West, and wants to be an established democracy, who then in long run can join NATO, that’s right in the backyard of Putin and the last thing he wants,” said Kasparek.
From one Vladimir to another, the Ukraine war is steeped in 1,000 years of history and religion. In 988, Vladimir the Great brought Christianity to Kyiv, Ukraine's capital city, by inviting the whole town to the Dnieper River to be baptized. Orthodox Christianity spread from there through Eastern Europe and Russia. Now, Vladimir Putin wants to claim that history as part of modern Russia’s. “This has been the origin story that Putin has relied on,” said Jon Stone, professor of Russian and Russian studies at Franklin & Marshall College. The Russian Orthodox Church has long claimed the entire region as its canonical territory. However, Ukrainian Christians chafed at the Church’s increasingly political approach, which backs Putin and often preaches his ideals. “You can’t workably separate the Russian Orthodox Church from Putin’s government,” Stone said.
Researchers at Franklin & Marshall College who have been disabling land mines around Ukraine are facing uncertainty about their work as the country becomes a war zone. Since 2015, a team of researchers led by Franklin & Marshall professors Tim Bechtel and Fronefield Crawford have been working to “demine” parts of eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have tried to separate themselves and declare independence from Ukraine. The Franklin & Marshall professors have been conducting this work alongside researchers in Ukraine, Italy and Jordan, with funding through NATO’s Science for Peace and Security program. Eastern Ukraine is one of the world’s “most contaminated” areas by land mines, with more than 2 million people each year exposed to the deadly explosives. Approximately 70% of families in this part of Ukraine are “struggling to go about their daily lives to avoid them, whether it be going to get food, school, home, hospital or crossing the ‘contact line,’” according to a report published in April 2021 from the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The so-called “contact line” is the area that separates the Ukrainian-controlled areas and the non-governmental areas led by separatists, where many land mines still exist today, Bechtel said.
In the short term, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will mean rising gas prices and energy costs across America. This despite the fact that America imports very little oil from Russia. “Even though we might not necessarily be importing much oil from them, oil prices are determined in international markets,” said Yeva Nersisyan, an associate professor of economics at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster. “And since Russia is a big producer of oil and natural gas, whatever happens price-wise overseas is not going to stay there. The average Pennsylvanian is going to pay more for gas and for heating their house.” Nersisyan pointed to two existing issues with the US economy — inflation and the near-certainty of the Federal Reserve raising interest rates — that could be exacerbated by potential US sanctions against Russia and how long the conflict drags on.
Gabe Pimsler ’19, a Russian minor who did a Fulbright in Ukraine, where he was an English Teaching Assistant to the Donbas National Academy of Civil Engineering and Architecture in Kramatorsk for 2019-2020, co-founded a newsletter, Ukraine Unlocked, about the country’s current events. He is currently a client services associate at Venn Strategies in Washington, D.C.
Evelyn Farkas ’89, a national security adviser who served as deputy assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia in the Obama administration, appears regularly in the media, nationwide and internationally. Here’s one of her most recent appearances on MSNBC’ The Beat with Ari Melber and in the Boston Globe. She is president of Farkas Global Strategies, an international business development firm. Here’s a guest essay she wrote for The New York Times in early February: We Underestimated Putin Once. We Can’t Make That Mistake Again.
(Sophomore Darij Kulchyckyj, a contributing writer to the newspaper, was born in Delaware; his father was born of Ukrainian parents in Philadelphia; and his mother was born in Ukraine.)
“Whoever reads this, I hope that you were able to better understand this omnipresent battle that I and millions of Ukrainians share. A battle to retain hope and suppress the tyranny that has been faced from Russia. I hope that things will get better through consistent action and representation, regardless of how big or small. I hope that I can go back and see my grandparents in their homeland. And simply – I hope that the freedom and democracy that we so often take for granted in this beautiful nation of the United States can blossom in the gorgeous nation where my heart dwells.”
(Senior Anna Synakh II, a staff writer for the Reporter, born Ukaine and now lives in the U.S.) I learned early on after moving from Ukraine that it was best to hide my origins, as none of my classmates could place it on a map and even fewer of them would know anything of its history. It was just easier. I got so good at not being Ukrainian that the phrase “I never would have thought you’re not from here” became the standard and praised reaction to my big fun-fact reveal. And I took that phrase as a little chip on my shoulder and wore it with pride. The point is, my country is at war. On land, online, socially, politically, you name it. And Ukrainians can’t do this alone. So, since you’re wasting your time reading this already, you might as well do something useful: report accounts that support Russia, report any type of Russian propaganda you see, do some research, find Ukraine on a map, maybe memorize a couple of the names of our cities (happy to help with proper pronunciation), and please kindly fuck off with the World War III jokes, they hurt, a lot. Do better. Extra brownie points if you can reach out to your representatives, bug them a little regarding the US response to the war in Ukraine. You could also donate to one of the organizations listed below.