Virginia Tech professor analyzes current tensions between Russia and Ukraine

Published: Feb. 10, 2022 at 12:13 AM EST
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ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ) - It’s no secret that tensions between Russia and Ukraine continue to rise as hundreds of thousands of Russian troops are stationed at Ukraine’s border.

”Over the last six months, a series of things have happened that have led the Russian leadership to conclude that its losing any kind of leverage it has over Ukraine, and needs to change the situation to prevent the “NATOization” of Ukraine, the further “NATOization” of Ukraine,” said Dr. Gerard Toal, a professor in government and international affairs at Virginia Tech’s campus in the Greater Washington area.

Dr. Toal has been researching and analyzing the Ukraine-Russia conflict in the region for years. He credits a large portion to the start of 2022′s tension, with a statement from NATO at a 2008 conference in Bucharest.

“NATO issued this statement saying, we’re not giving them a membership action plan, but someday they will become members of NATO. So that turned out to be the worst compromise in the world because it annoyed the Russians, but yet it wasn’t sufficient because there was no clear path for these states to join.”

Dr. Toal also spoke about a decision by Ukraine leaders in 2014, that has also played a role in recent tensions.

“Long story short, 2014, crucial date in which Ukraine makes a strategic choice to go to the west and Russia reacts by taking two parts of the territory of Ukraine. What that does is it leaves Russia with a part of Ukraine, which was historically a part of Russia, in Crimea. It’s overwhelmingly popular in Crimea that Russia would take it over. The Donbas is different. The Donbas is a place that Russia did not claim, but it is a place that allowed Russia to have a sort of territorial lever over the orientation of Ukraine. They then essentially switched policies. Previous policy was to back a pro-Russian leader within Ukraine. But then when a pro-Russian leader was overthrown, they switched into a policy of essentially having a separatist region within Ukraine that they believe could grant them a veto over Ukraine joining NATO.”

Now, with record numbers of Russian troops at Ukraine’s border since the Cold War, Dr. Toal said Ukraine ultimately would be on its own if Russia invades. But he doesn’t think it makes much sense for President Vladimir Putin to escalate the situation any further.

“For so many reasons it makes no sense that Russia would invade Ukraine. It’s a very risky move. It’s a move that is likely to lead to massive bloodshed. ...That weights terribly in Russia where there are lots of ties, lots of families. ...these are intimately connected countries.”

Dr. Toal said a lot of the situation now rides on diplomacy across the world. He outlined the best route the United States should take as the situation moves forward.

“That diplomacy involves transatlantic unity, solidarity with Ukraine, but clear understanding that the United States will not fight for Ukraine, but the United States will help and should help a particular country that is being invaded by another in order for a coercive imposition of a geopolitical change to take place.”

Dr. Toal also said, although the U.S. Russia relationship is at a historic low in the post Cold War era, a relationship is vital.

“We have to have a relationship with Russia. We have to recognize that Russia is a great power and a great civilization. It has legitimate security interests and it has, not least, the capacity to destroy our country with just a few missiles launched from submarines off the coast of the United States. Those are real harsh realities. We need to rediscover what our grandparents and parents knew, we live in a very dangerous world where nuclear weapons are available to great states. ...No matter how bad things get, we need to have a relationship with Russia.”

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