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How to End the Ukraine Crisis in 4 Steps

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Authors: Alexander Dynkin and Thomas Graham*

Europe is on the brink of war. The United States and its allies are convinced that Russia is planning an invasion of Ukraine, and they are threatening “devastating” sanctions should it take that step. Moscow vehemently denies any such plans, while maintaining that Kyiv is preparing for an assault on the Donbas separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Russian military maneuvers in Crimea, Western Russia and Belarus unnerve the West, while NATO plans a buildup of forces along its long frontier with Russia stretching from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Meanwhile, a fitful round of diplomacy preserves hope that the crisis can be defused without military conflict — although the leaked “confidential” U.S. response to Russian demands to halt NATO expansion underscores how far apart the two sides remain.

Is there a diplomatic resolution that will bring enduring peace and stability to the troubled region of Eastern Europe? There is, but getting there requires understanding the essence of the current crisis. It is not simply about Ukraine. It is about the broader European settlement at the end of the Cold War 30 years ago, which Moscow contends was imposed on it at a time of extreme weakness and fails to take into account its national interests. The subsequent eastward expansion of Euro-Atlantic institutions — notably NATO, a political-military organization designed to contain Russia, and the European Union, an economic community that Russia can never join — in Moscow’s views jeopardizes Russia’s security and prosperity. A revived Russia is determined to halt, if not reverse, that process, using all necessary means.

This should not come as a surprise. Great powers, once they can, will seek to revise a peace that was imposed on them after a defeat in a major war. That was the lesson of the Versailles Treaty at the end of the First World War, which was negotiated without the participation of Germany or Soviet Russia. Russia’s economic recovery in the 2000s and the rapid modernization of its military in the past decade have given it the capacity to dispute the Cold-War settlement for the sake of what Moscow believes is a more just one.

The United States will be reluctant to revise a European order that has served its interests extraordinarily well for the past three decades. Absent significant adjustments, however, intermittent crises such as the current standoff are inevitable. A lasting peace requires that Russia’s interests be accommodated so that it has a stake in that order. The challenge is to find a way forward that satisfies at least Moscow’s minimal security requirements without requiring the United States and its allies to compromise their core principles and interests.

This might seem to be an impossible task — how to you reconcile the irreconcilable? How do you reconcile the principled U.S. insistence that NATO’s door remain open to membership by former Soviet states, notably Ukraine, with Russia’s non-negotiable demand for a sphere of privileged interests that would include those former Soviet states?

To be sure, the path forward is treacherous, but it exists. It will take flexibility and creativity on both sides to navigate it successfully. The risk of a war that would prove catastrophic for Europe, and first of all Ukraine, and threaten escalation to a nuclear cataclysm should concentrate minds.

We have both served in senior policymaking roles in our governments, and while we no longer represent our respective governments, we think we have identified an off-ramp for this standoff that could work for our respective countries.

We see four elements to a solution. First, restrictions on military operations along the NATO/Russia border. Second, a moratorium on NATO expansion eastward. Third, resolution of ongoing and frozen conflicts in the former Soviet space and the Balkans. And fourth, modernization of the 1975 Helsinki Accords, which created a pan-European forum and articulated agreed principles of interstate relations to undergird East-West detente.

These four elements must be negotiated as a package, although progress is likely to proceed at different paces along the four tracks, because both the United States and Russia need to see where they are headed before they will engage in substantive talks on details.

Curb military operations. To reintroduce military restraint along the Russia/NATO frontier, the two countries can begin by resurrecting aspects of Cold War agreements that have fallen into abeyance in recent years as one or the other side lost interest in adhering to them. Both sides agree that this is an important step, although Russia insists that it be taken only after the issue of NATO expansion is addressed — one more reason why all aspects of the settlement must be on the table if there is to be progress on any one of them.

Today, the two sides need to reaffirm agreements to avoid dangerous incidents at sea or in the air. They need to negotiate something akin to the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty that regulated military activities in nonthreatening ways in border areas, taking into account current realities. They need to resurrect the INF Treaty at least for Europe — that is, no deployment of land-based intermediate-range ballistic missiles on the continent. That will require the United States and Russia to resolve grievances that led to the treaty’s demise in 2019, when neither country was prepared to muster the political will to pursue the technical fixes that could answer its concerns. Reaching agreement on these matters will take time, as it did for analogous agreements during the Cold War, but agreement is surely possible.

Agree to a moratorium on NATO expansion. NATO’s expansion eastward is the crux of the current dispute. One of us has proposed a formal moratorium on expansion into former Soviet states, including Ukraine, for 20-25 years. The other proposes 2050 as the year in which the moratorium would end. There is nothing magical about the period; it just needs to be long enough so that Russia can claim its minimal security requirements have been met, and short enough so that the United States can credibly claim it has not abandoned the open-door policy. Even if a moratorium cannot be agreed, it should prove possible to find a mutually acceptable way to make it clear that Ukraine is not going to join NATO for years, if not decades, to come — something American and NATO officials will readily admit in private.

At the same time, the two sides should seek agreement on limits to NATO activities in and around Ukraine that meet Russia’s security concerns, but once again do not compromise NATO’s principles. Those could include a pledge by NATO member states not to build or occupy military bases in Ukraine or to supply Ukraine with offensive weapons systems that could strike Russian territory in exchange for a Russian pledge not to deploy certain weapons systems within a defined zone along Ukraine’s borders. This would not be an extraordinary concession by NATO members. In the 1997 NATO-Russia Founding Act, NATO pledged not to deploy nuclear weapons or substantial permanent combat forces to new member states — because it had no plans to do so in any event. Certainly, NATO can now make pledges to refrain from certain types of activities with regard to nonmembers, if that will help ease Moscow’s concerns.

Resolve “frozen” conflicts. The ongoing and frozen conflicts in the former Soviet space and the Balkans, including Crimea, Kosovo and Donbas, all involve separatism of some sort. All should be resolved on the basis of some form of local democracy, that is, a vote to ascertain the will of the people in the separatist regions is the starting point, after which a series of technical agreements need to be reached to regulate issues that would necessarily grow out of any peaceful secession of a territory from a larger state. The exact form of the vote could be adapted to the specific circumstances of each conflict. It need not be a referendum on the issue of separatism. In the cases of both Crimea and Kosovo, the most prominent conflicts, regularly scheduled elections could serve this purpose, with the stipulation that victory would require that a qualified majority of the electorate vote for candidates who support separatism. The only requirement would be that the vote be internationally observed and then certified as free and fair to erase any doubt that it was legitimate. Such votes would undoubtedly reaffirm what most impartial observers know to be the hard truths that Kosovo will remain independent and Crimea will never go back to Ukraine. A similar vote could be used to determine how to move forward with the Donbas separatist regions, including whether the Minsk agreements should form the basis of the resolution or whether some minor adjustments have to be made to take into account local preferences.

Update the Helsinki Accords. Updating and modernizing the Helsinki Accords would cap a comprehensive settlement, laying the foundation for decades of peace in Europe. In particular, the two sides should seek agreement on the interpretation of the 10 principles guiding relations between states, to which all the parties agreed, including respect for sovereign rights, self-determination, noninterference in internal affairs, restraining from threats or use of force, and peaceful settlement of disputes. The goal is to establish a firm basis for the organization of European security going forward that takes into account historical developments and technological advances since 1975 that affect the way states relate to one another and act on the global stage.

Reaching a comprehensive settlement will take considerable time and effort, but now is the time to start. As was true five decades ago when the Helsinki Accords ushered in a period of detente, no country will get all that it wants, and no country will capitulate to an imposed peace.

The final settlement will be far from ideal in the minds of many; critics will denounce it as appeasement. But the result will be better for all parties than any armed conflict could possibly deliver.

*Thomas Graham, a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, was the senior director for Russia on the National Security Council staff during the George W. Bush administration. 

From our partner RIAC

Alexander Dynkin is president of the Primakov National Research Institute of World Economy and International Affairs of the Russian Academy of Sciences and served as an assistant to former Russian Prime Minister Evgeny Primakov.

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Eastern Europe

Zelenskyy Could and Does Make Mistakes Too

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The war in Ukraine has transformed President Volodymyr Zelenskyy from a rather weak leader to a world-renowned one who has become a household name. Now a celebrity president, Zelenskyy has been delivering war aid and inspiring speeches on social media, while condemning Russia.

Although Zelenskyy has successfully created a positive image and has countless fans, he is not a god and might make mistakes.

Mariupol has been a hotspot of the war in Ukraine, a city trapped in Russian military territory and embattled on all sides. At the same time, an isolated Ukrainian garrison, which includes part of the Azov fighters that Russia calls “Nazis” and wants to eliminate.

The challenge is that the geopolitically savvy Russian President Vladimir Putin knows very well how to manipulate Mariupol’s garrison to create geopolitical opportunities. Therefore, he ordered not to attack the Azov steel plant in Mariupol but to use them as a bargaining chip. Shortly thereafter, then came the decisive moment. After more than 80 days of unexpectedly heroic fighting, the Ukrainian garrison finally ran out of ammunition and food. At the last minute, even their wives begged the Pope to intervene, hoping to save their lives.

If Putin agrees in good faith to stop the attacks on the Ukrainian garrison, further peace talks are possible. The world will take note of this, and Turkey is willing to provide ships and security to pick up the Ukrainian garrison of the steel plant, ensuring that they would not return to the front until the war is over.

At noon on May 16, the last chance came. The Azov regiment commander Denis Prokopenko, who is often engaged in media coverage, said that the Ukrainian garrison in the Azovstal factory had completed their task and successfully distracted the Russian army for 82 days and attracted a large number of Russian forces. His statement appeared to announce the end of the siege of the steel plant. On the same day, Russian media also mentioned that Russia and Ukraine had reached an agreement to evacuate seriously wounded soldiers from Azovstal to the Russian-occupied city of Novoazovsk. Reuters reported that about a dozen buses carrying the Ukrainian garrison had left the factory.

The world believes that negotiations between Ukraine and Russia to withdraw the garrison from the Azov steel plant appear to have achieved some kind of result.

On May 17, the General Staff of the Ukrainian Armed Forces first issued a statement saying that the Mariupol garrison “has completed its combat mission”. The commander of the Ukrainian army unit defending the Azovstal steel plant received an order from the highest military command “to save the lives of personnel”, the statement stated. The Ukrainian General Staff stated that 53 seriously wounded soldiers have been taken to medical facilities in Novoazovsk. Another 211 defenders have been sent to Olenivka through humanitarian channels and will be returned to government-controlled territory through a prisoner-of-war exchange process, and measures are currently being taken to rescue the other defenders who are still at the Azovstal steel plant.

Somewhat subtly, Azov regiment commander Denis Prokopenko said in a video statement that his soldiers succeeded in distracting the overwhelming enemy force, which allows the rest of the Ukrainian forces to restructure. He however also pointed out that, “the main thing is to realize whether all the risks have been calculated, whether Plan B has been worked out, whether you have fully dedicated yourself to this plan, which should combine fulfilling the task and ultimately preserve lives and health of personnel”.

Prokopenko also emphasized that, “war is art, not science”. “This is the highest level of command and control of troops, especially when your decision is approved by the top military leadership”.

Later on May 17, Zelenskyy said that “Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive”. He also mentioned “thanks to the actions of the Ukrainian military – the Armed Forces of Ukraine, intelligence, the negotiating team, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations, we hope that we will be able to save the lives of our guys,” Zelenskyy said further, recalling that among them were seriously wounded soldiers, to whom medical assistance is now being provided. He also stressed this point, “I want to emphasize: Ukraine needs Ukrainian heroes alive. This is our principle. I think that every adequate person will understand these words”.

Up until this point, I believe most people still think that the Ukraine-Russia talks are going well and executed.

Inexplicably, the Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister states that Russia would not implement the agreed agreements. Then, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko revealed “negotiations between Russia and Ukraine are not going on anymore,” accusing Ukraine of not agreeing to Russia’s conditions. Since then, Mykhailo Podolyak, an adviser to the Ukrainian President’s Office, confirmed that the talks have been suspended. The risks that what Prokopenko, the commander of the Ukrainian Azov regiment, feared most have fully emerged.

Negotiations between Ukraine and the Russia are currently on hold. Mikhail Podolyak, adviser to the Chief of Staff of the Ukrainian President, mentioned on Ukrainian TV. “Russia does not understand that the war is no longer waged according to the rules, schedule or plans of Russia in any sense, while the professional resistance of Ukraine only ramps up”. He firmly stressed that none of Russia’s goals can be achieved, and Ukraine will not trade territory for peace with Russia. “It is ideologically unacceptable for us to give something to the Russian Federation and pretend that it was some kind of easy war,” Podolyak said further. “We cannot afford any Minsk agreements. Therefore, we must de-occupy all our territories”. He said that a new Minsk agreement could be signed by another president, but not President, as it would only worsen the conflict in the next one or two years.

His remarks seemed to imply that President Zelenskyy rejected Russia’s negotiating terms and insisted on fighting to the end. The challenge is that the successive surrender of the Azovstal’s regiment has become unmanageable.

The Ukrainian garrison that was originally besieged by the Russians at the Azovstal steel plant has surrendered. Instead of being exchanged back to Ukraine, they were evacuated to areas controlled by Russian forces and pro-Russian armed forces. A Russian negotiator even called for the Ukrainians to be sentenced to death because “they do not deserve to live”. According to the Russian Defense Ministry, Ukrainian soldiers and the regiment surrounded by the Azov steel plant in Mariupol are still coming out to surrender. On May 18, 694 people surrendered, 29 of whom were wounded. Since May 16, the total number of surrendered Ukrainian garrison has reached 959, including 80 wounded.

As it stands, information on the entire negotiation over Azov steel plant is not transparent and deliberately fabricated or modified.

For example, who rejected Turkey’s participation? Was it Russia or Ukraine? Turkey has provided security, so is there no security in the negotiations now? Did the Ukrainian garrison want to surrender and Zelenskyy had to agree to surrender, or did the negotiations go wrong? Did the Ukrainian negotiators advocate for a deal with Russia, or did Russia later tear up the deal and frame the Ukrainian military presence? Did Russia tear up the deal because Zelenskyy refused to continue the negotiations?

None of these questions have clear answers. The only certainty is that Russia and Ukraine did negotiate, but no agreement is reached. However, the Azov steel plant militants had begun to surrender in large numbers.

Amidst such confusion, Zelenskyy is now having a hard time explaining that he had nothing to do with it. The Modern War Institute took note of the confusion in this diplomatic negotiation and can only assert that a diplomatic agreement has been reached.

So far, Zelenskyy has provided no further explanation for the negotiations, and this is unfair to the Mariupol garrison. Zelenskyy should instead make use of existing resources to achieve better conditions. From the negotiation process, he did not do so. Whatever his decision might be, there will certainly be negative impacts on Ukrainian society and even the morale of the garrison. Part of the reason apparently has to do with his overly optimistic view of the war in Ukraine.

All the chaos came at a price, the Russians continue to bomb the Azov steel plant simply because the Azovstal regiment is still fighting there.

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Eastern Europe

A Weapon of War: Rapes in the Ukraine-Russia Conflict

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Warfare has always involved violent activity. It is the state-sanctioned, societally accepted form of murder determining which nation-state or non-state actor has power over an enemy. Like any area of society, however, warfare is governed by a series of laws and regulations (commonly known as the Law of Land Warfare) being codified in international law in 1899, 1907, and 1929 and by individual nation-states afterward. While these rules are often followed by at least one entity in a military conflict, there usually is a violation of the Law of Land Warfare in any military action.

While every violation is incredibly serious and important, one that often stands out in military conflicts is sexual assault or rape.

While it is one of (if not the) most abhorrent criminal actions known to man, rape has and always will be a commonality in warfare and violent conflicts. It is practically as old as warfare itself. According to Encyclopedia Britannica, “… [wartime] rape was long considered an unfortunate but inevitable accompaniment of war—the result of the prolonged sexual deprivation of troops and insufficient military discipline” with the Second World War being a prime example of wartime rape on both sides of the conflict. Until the prevalence of international law in the late 20th century, wartime rape was “mischaracterized and dismissed by military and political leaders—in other words, those in a position to stop it—as a private crime, a sexual act, the ignoble conduct of one occasional soldier, or, worse still, it has been accepted precisely because it is so commonplace”, according to academics writing in Johns Hopkins University’s SAIS Review of International Affairs.

Partly due to an increase in unconventional conflicts involving non-state actors, “the international community began to recognize rape as a weapon and strategy of war, and efforts were made to prosecute such acts under existing international law” including Article 27 of the Geneva Convention and multiple declarations by the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights, the Fourth World Conference on Women, the International Criminal Court, and the UN Security Council. These declarations and codifications further allowed for the protection of men, women, and children in combat zones from rape in addition to making crimes of sexual assault eligible to be considered as crimes against humanity or war crimes.

While international law is clear and the penalties for such actions heavy, nation-states and non-state actors can choose to disregard such laws. This is best exemplified in the current era with the Ukraine-Russia Conflict.

While most persons first heard of the rape of Ukrainians by Russian troops in mid to late April of 2022, roughly two months into the invasion, reports and developments on wartime rape by Russian troops was circulating heavily. The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), looking at information received and vetted between the 22nd of February and 26th of March, reported there were “heightened risks of conflict related sexual violence (CRSV)” in addition to “a high number of women and girls [who are feeling Ukraine] face high risk of human trafficking and sexual exploitation”. While these reports were based on secondary sources or “made by alleged witnesses”, it is worth noting that Ukrainian law enforcement and the Prosecutor General of Ukraine all began investigating multiple reports of sexual assault of Ukrainians by Russian troops and that, generally, victims of rape may not report for a variety of reasons.

Other international entities, including Human Rights Watch, the New York Times, and BBC News, all reported further allegations of rape by Russian soldiers in Ukraine, yet these were relatively overshadowed by the news of active combat.

One of the first major outlets to report on this was The Guardian on 4 April 2022 which documented reports from victims and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) on rape in Ukraine. Interviewing Kateryna Cherepakha, the president of sexual assault charity La Strada Ukraine, “We have had several calls to our emergency hotline from women and girls seeking assistance, but in most cases it’s been impossible to help them physically. We haven’t been able to reach them because of the fighting … Rape is an underreported crime and stigmatised issue even in peaceful times. I am worried that what we learn about is just going to be the tip of the iceberg”.

Throughout April and into May, rapes in Ukraine were reported on more heavily as victims, Ukrainian officials, and every day Ukrainians were speaking up. This drew the attention of many international entities including the International Criminal Court which launched “a war crimes investigation”, citing the rapes as being a key piece of evidence, and the European Parliament which condemned the use of rape as a weapon. The UN’s special representative on sexual violence in war also received “reports, not yet verified” concerning the sexual assault of men and boys throughout Ukraine stating “It’s hard for women and girls to report [rape] because of stigma amongst other reasons, but it’s often even harder for men and boys to report … we have to create that safe space for all victims to report cases of sexual violence”. The UN as a whole has demanded the allegations “be independently investigated to ensure justice and accountability”.

Throughout this military endeavor, Russia has denied allowing the rape of civilians (or any such war crimes) to occur, these denials being bolstered by various American and Western podcasters and questionable news sites. While Russia and other Putin apologists can try to deny such war crimes or illegal violations of the law of land warfare is taking place, others experienced in the field of sexual assault and human rights have contested this. Hugh Williamson with Human Rights Watch (HRW), speaking to CBC Radio, said HRW was “being very cautious … It’s taken us some time to piece it together, to make sure we are absolutely sure it is true and verifiable. We’re not saying this is very widespread, but we worry that it could be”.

While it is still quite difficult to ascertain what exactly is occurring in Ukraine, given the fact that a full on war is being exercised, it is likely to believe that some manner of war crimes, including sexual assault, is occurring. The fact that Russia has historically engaged in misinformation campaigns, knowingly spread false information in regards to the Ukraine crisis, and in the past engaged in war crimes throughout Eastern Europe in the post-Cold War era all indicate strongly that Russia can and will do whatever possible to try and conceal any negative news or obscure any real actions occurring.

Looking at this from a legal perspective, the case for Russian culpability in regards to war crimes and particularly sexual assaults in Ukraine is already being made. With the UN’s special representative on sexual violence in war accurately asserting “Today’s documentation is tomorrow’s prosecution”, proving such crimes will be difficult. Speaking to Dara Kay Cohen, a professor at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, NPR reported, “It is very rare to ever have smoking gun evidence that rape was ordered from the top down … There is some degree of accountability, but it is rare. But I think that that does not imply, however, that we shouldn’t be doing our best to collect all of the documentation that we possibly can in order to potentially hold perpetrators accountable”.

Proving or disproving sexual assault in wartime is a difficult task, even more so given the fact that the armed conflict is still occurring. It is without question that there is animosity between the Western world and Russia, which makes there a certain degree of speculation about how prevalent these assaults are. However, at this point, one must look at the facts on the ground.

It is very well documented that multiple Ukrainians are reporting assaults from a wide variety of locations and their stories all follow a similar tone common in military conflicts. The forensic information already collected by independent Ukrainian doctors, prosecutors, and the UN who examine the bodies of those deceased indicates multiple assaults by Russian troops. Intercepted telephone calls from the family of Russian soldiers to the soldiers currently taking part in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine also indicate a condoning of such illegal and brutal activities.

At this point, it is undeniable that these reports are impossible to ignore with the forensic, eyewitness, technical, and historical evidence all painting a sinister picture of rape in Ukraine.

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The Media Fog of War: Propaganda in the Ukraine-Russia Conflict

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The current conflict between Russia and Ukraine has once again opened up the old wounds of east vs. west, continuing the long-established tradition of distrust and sometimes even open hatred from these two centers of power. This can be seen across the spectrum of media outlets in the west along with their counterparts in the east, as both sides push forth propaganda and favorable coverage so as to always show their side in a favorable light. With western media outlets, their coverage of the war has been very positive for the Ukrainians while showing the exact opposite when considering Russians. Western media quickly picks up Ukrainian propaganda pieces and repeats them for their audiences at home, who then take to social media to gloat over Russian losses and embarrassments. 

Stories like the “Ghost of Kyiv,” the Ukrainian soldiers on Snake Island, and others which have later proven to be inaccurate or not based in truth spread like wildfire across media outlets (Thompson, New York Times, Washington Post, etc). Certainly, a story about a Ukrainian fighter pilot shooting down several Russian jets is noteworthy and a country facing assaults from a greater power needs to boost morale every chance it gets. However, the willingness to circulate the Ghost of Kyiv tale across western media outlets displayed a clear bias for the Ukrainian side of the war in the west and, even though many have poked holes in the myth of this mysterious fighter pilot, people still disregard its “fake newsiness.” Thompson pointed out that some users on social media shared a willingness to believe in the propaganda, even knowing that it was made up: “if the Russians believe it, it brings fear. If the Ukrainians believe it, it gives them hope,” remarked one user on Twitter. This set a dangerous precedent as truth became a casualty in the war in favor of people wanting to simply find stories that would support their favored narrative and consequently ignore more accurate reporting.   

Propaganda can be a useful tool for any country fighting to protect itself, but it can also lead to the spreading of falsehoods abroad and even lead some westerners to become inspired to take up arms in a conflict they probably should not get embedded within. Over 20,000 foreign fighters have signed up to fight for Ukraine in an International Brigade after President Volodymyr Zelenskyy issued a call for help. Many of these people have little to no combat experience but were persuaded to fight for Ukraine so that they could be on “the right side of history” or combat injustice in a conflict that has been lauded as a brave underdog battle between the aggressor state Russia – longtime enemy of the west – and the small “noble” nation of Ukraine (Llana, Christian Science Monitor). Propaganda tales amplified by the media are largely responsible for bringing these foreign soldiers into a complex situation that they are not prepared for, ultimately risking an exacerbation of the war rather than a resolution of the conflict.

Stories like these have fortified in the minds of western audiences a strong dislike for Russia, its citizens, and its military. On social media channels, people were quick to put up symbols associated with Ukraine, most commonly, the Ukrainian flag, to show their support for its struggle as many, especially those in America, seemed to instinctively root for any underdog in a war. Support for Ukraine, though, naturally leads to discrimination toward Russians. Disregard for the suffering of Russian soldiers, a willingness to ignore the reasons for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the ostracizing of Russian citizens from the rest of the world – whether physically via travel or economically via sanctions – will have negative repercussions for the international community for years to come. Many celebrate every victory that Ukraine scores against Russia, heedless of the human cost of the war in general. This may very well deepen the divide between east and west before the war ends and force many average Russian citizens into a retributive hatred for those in Europe and North America who treated their country so harshly when they themselves were powerless to stop or prevent the Ukraine-Russia war.  

Russian businesses have also been subject to discrimination in the west. Companies like Starbucks, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, General Electric and McDonald’s all announced that they were temporarily suspending their operations in Russia due to its invasion of Ukraine (Williams, Fox10 Phoenix). Sanctions laid down on Russia in an effort to stagnate its economy also extend to banks, legislators, and even oligarchs but will leave a much more powerful and profound effect on the general populace. This punishment will trickle down to Russian citizenry who have played no part in the conflict at all but will suffer the most from these economic sanctions, simply because they live in the aggressor country.  

This negativity against Russia and its people already existed prior to the Ukrainian-Russian war, but was reignited by the conflict. Many people in the west find it easy to fall into the camp of attacking the long-standing “enemy” due to the history left behind by the Cold War, by the psychologically-imprinted suspicion of those across the sea who threatened us with nuclear weapons for so long. In places like the U.S., there almost seems to exist a willingness to not hear the other side’s point of view, a refusal to acknowledge the sufferings of very human foes who are not so different from their adversaries. The question of why many Americans would even feel the need to take a position in a conflict that has little bearing on their everyday lives could have more than one answer. The need to cheer on an underdog in a pitched struggle, the old hatred left over by the Cold War, or possibly a need to satisfy the age-old good guy vs. bad guy complex which has been hardwired into many people’s minds through television, movies, literature, and other parts of our pop culture. For many, there exists a need to satisfy one’s own moral superiority, a need to establish good from evil. The recent conflict between Ukraine and Russia has given many the outlet they seek for this vindication.  

The question of whether this treatment of Russia is justified or not lies primarily with an individual’s perception of the country as a belligerent at the international level or a nation trying to clearly define where its sphere of influence begins and ends. Russia invading Ukraine and starting a war rife with human tragedy on both sides was not done simply because Russia as a state is a villain or it gets its kicks by starting wars randomly. A deeper examination of the “whys” surrounding Russia’s invasion is desperately needed, where the proffered reasons are given legitimate analytical consideration. So far, this type of analysis has not been done. Ultimately, why it matters is because reaching into that understanding may help prevent a country like Russia in the future from feeling the need to invade at all.  

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