Students gain insight on Russia-Ukraine conflict

Political Science Department holds panel to educate the community

The political science department at the University of Rhode Island hosted a panel to educate students about the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

On March 23, the URI political science department held the event, entitled “Russia-Ukraine Virtual Panel: What Comes Next?”

Ashlea Rundlett, an assistant professor of political science at URI, started the talk by explaining the purpose of the panel, which was to give students an opportunity to ask questions about the conflict. She also introduced the event’s moderator, Shawn Fennell, an international relations graduate student at the University, who asked the panelists questions about the issue.

Fennell introduced the panelists, Igor Tichonenko, a reporter for Voice of America, an international news network, Nicolai Petro, URI political science professor, Marc Hutchison, URI political science professor and department chair and Mary Thompson-Jones, a professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island.

Fennell mentioned that most of our understanding of the conflict is from news and social media. He asked the panelists what they thought was missing from the narrative. Hutchison said that China’s actions and lack of actions are not being discussed as much as they should be.

“China is a really kind of critical player that is trying not to play,” Hutchison said. “And they’re in a tough position.”

He said he thinks there’s going to be increased pressure on China to be more active because China has been the rising power. China’s trying to position themselves as the next world leader, but he said they are failing to build up trust, which could have implications for the international community as well.

Fennell also asked how they thought the conflict would end and what impacts would occur. Petro said the war would most likely be concluded through negotiation settlements, but he doesn’t think it would end the global conflict since American and British officials have already vowed to punish Russia and its allies after the conflict.

“So instead of a post-war settlement, we’re going to have something like Europe after World War One,” said Petro. “Nationalistic regimes unable to talk to each other because they’re in a permanent state of fear, that fear sustained by the respective social media ghettos.”

Fennell also mentioned how the cyber front has not been discussed much in the media and asked the panelists how they thought cybercrime with computers and technology played a role in this war.

“The interesting thing about this conflict, is how cyber has become part of an unprecedented intelligence sharing and publicizing both U.S. and the U.K. who are quite good at this also have shared intelligence and then agreed to go public and sort of trump Putin one step ahead of what he may or may not have been planning to do,” Fennell said. “And I don’t think we are used to seeing that kind of intelligence revealed, particularly in the middle of a hot war.”

Tichonenko mentioned that he is working on a story about cyber topics and added his input on the impacts of cyber warfare. He said that his team interviewed a former U.S. government official who resigned in protest because of the lack of cyber defense at the government level.

“And while he [the former U.S. government official] says that the United States has absolutely premiere, offensive cyber tools, so we can hit others really badly,” said Tichonenko. “We have not really developed very good defensive mechanisms in the cyber world.”

Fennell asked the panelists if they thought Russian forces would invade a NATO country and if they think a nuclear exchange could take place. Each of the panelists agreed that both outcomes seemed unlikely, but there is no way to concretely say no.