‘Berg hosts discussion on recent Ukraine events

The political science department hosts a webinar on the ongoing conflict.

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Faculty members discuss the current situation in Ukraine.

On Tuesday, Mar. 1, the political science department held a webinar on the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine. Beginning on Feb. 24, Russian President Vladimir Putin initiated an attack on Ukraine, marking the start of a significant conflict between the two nations. The webinar was held in order to give context for the attack, answer questions and hear from experts about what we might expect in the near future.

The webinar was run by Lanethea Mathews-Schultz, Ph.D., department chair and professor of political science. The panel consisted of Mohsin Hashim, Ph.D., a professor of political science, director of the Russian studies program and director of the Dana Scholars program; Julie Shoults, Ph.D., a visiting lecturer in German and women’s and gender studies; Brian Mello, Ph.D., professor of political science and director of Muhlenberg’s Center for Ethics; and Lauren C. Anderson ‘79, a distinguished graduate of Muhlenberg and former Federal Bureau of Investigation executive with national security expertise.

Hashim began the discussion by giving some context on Russia’s political climate. He described the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of 110,000 kilometers of territory. He stated, “From the Russian perspective, Russia’s regional and global security concerns and interests were disregarded as the country was afforded a second-class status of a defeated power.” With the collapse of the Soviet Union came the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and the European Union (EU). Hashim said, “NATO and EU expansion reified Russian distrust of American hegemony and intensified a sense of Russian humiliation that was born out of what it called unilateral concessions.” In short, “Russia felt that it deserved to be afforded the status of an equal partner in a restructured European security system.”

Hashim continued saying, “We often rush to Putin immediately when thinking about Russian apprehension and Russian aggression. But this is where I say it’s important to pause and remember that this disenchantment with the west grew before Putin and it led to an assertive national security posture even within the Yeltsin administration.”

We often rush to Putin immediately when thinking about Russian apprehension and Russian aggression. But this is where I say it’s important to pause and remember that this disenchantment with the west grew before Putin and it led to an assertive national security posture even within the Yeltsin administration.

Mohsin Hashim, Ph.D.

Putin has described modern Ukraine as being a constant threat to Russian power and has claimed that he is attempting to “de-Nazify” Ukraine, despite the fact that there is no genocide in Ukraine, and their president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is Jewish. The conflict’s true origin seems to be Ukraine forming closer ties with NATO and the EU.

As a professor of German studies, Shoults gave a perspective on the conflict, shedding light on the chancellor of Germany, Olaf Shultz’s opinion. “He made several important announcements that speak to the magnitude of the situation. Germany has a longstanding principle in the aftermath of World War II of not sending or selling weapons to conflict zones and also not authorizing weapons made in Germany to be sold to other countries either, but this aggression threatens the entire post-war world and post-war order. Germany will be sending weapons to Ukraine.” Shoults also described how the traditionally neutral Switzerland has adopted sanctions placed by the EU.

Shoults also discussed the current humanitarian crisis at hand in terms of Ukrainian refugees. Countries like Poland are welcoming refugees, but Shoults pointed out how this was not the case for other humanitarian crises that occurred in non-European countries. “These Ukrainian refugees are largely white Europeans, majority Christian. They have a legal right to enter Poland and other EU countries without visas and these circumstances have been different for refugees coming from the Middle East and Africa in recent years. So, we also see that racism and Islamophobia are apparent in the language being used.” 

Shoults pointed out the struggles of international students in Ukraine right now who are struggling to find refuge because they are not white. “I’ve also been reading reports of non-white residents of Ukraine including Africans who are studying and working in Ukraine being stopped at the Polish border and not allowed to cross. Though these reports are being denied by officials and border patrols, Nigerians are the second-largest group of foreign students in Ukraine and the Nigerian government has not offered support or assistance. These international students and workers contribute to the economy in Ukraine but are not valued or protected in the same way, as evidenced by their treatment right now in trying to escape the danger.” With over 600,000 individuals displaced as a result of this conflict, it is vital to note the overt racial discrimination of this conversation.

I am concerned for the citizens of both Ukraine and Russia. They are all undeserving of the pain they are being put through at someone else’s hands.

Rebecca Salkin ’24

Anderson gave some additional context from a national security standpoint and from her experiences in dealing with the Russians at the height of the Cold War. She stated, “In more than three decades of work in the national security intelligence and geopolitical space globally, there is one truism that has stood consistently: Russia will keep us in its crosshairs. We understood how the Russians operated and we’ve watched them do so very successfully for decades. The Russians are formidable, intelligent and tenacious.” Put simply, “Putin has created a completely unnecessary geopolitical and humanitarian crisis with significant economic and financial implication for much of the world.”

Students on campus are concerned about the Ukrainian crisis. Rebecca Salkin ’24, a political science major, said “I am concerned for the citizens of both Ukraine and Russia. They are all undeserving of the pain they are being put through at someone else’s hands.” Regarding the conversations that are happening on campus, Salkin states, “I think that if a student wanted to have a conversation about the war, it would be easy enough to start. I also have found that certain spaces lend themselves to having that conversation more than others.”

Maddie Davidson ‘25 spoke on the horrifying events recently, saying, “I’ve been thinking about World War II and the Holocaust and when we learned about it I would always wonder what was going on in America while it was all going down? How can people be sitting there learning and laughing while people were being murdered? But that’s the reality of war and genocide and misfortune.”

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