Today I attended a presentation at Liverpool Hope University’s Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies entitled ‘Russian-Ukrainian conflict: An ‘unexpected’ crisis‘. One guest and two staff speakers for about an hour then 20 minutes of Q&As.
The main talk was by guest Dr Vsevolod Samokhvalov (university lecturer, research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, policy analyst and journalist). He told us about the two main narratives: the Russians invaded or it was the West’s fault. Both are reductionist; he said the real situation is messier than messy. He went on to explain the cultural history, how the Ukraine, Belorussia and Russia are closely related – “One nation divided by history” to use Putin’s words. Sevastopol is culturally important to Russia as part of the Black Sea Region going back to ancient Greek times. The region is ethnoculturally nationalistic Russki. What the Russians really want is recognition by Western Europe. The revolution in Ukraine was inevitable; the invasion of Crimea was an opportunity albeit “worse than a crime – a political mistake“. Vsevolod gave us reasons for why this occurred, but this is a summary, not an essay. Buy his book.
Next was Dr Natalia Vibla (Lecturer in Criminology at Liverpool Hope University). She spoke of the human rights tragedies: over 10,000 killed (a quarter of them civilians) and 25,000 injured since 2014. Some 25,000 people have been displaced. There are hundreds in captivity and torture is being used by both sides. Potential objectors are being accused of terrorist plots and typically get 20-year sentences.
Finally was Dr Taras Khomych (Lecturer in Theology at Liverpool Hope University). He gave us the history and structure of the Orthodox church in Ukraine and the reaction of the various sections: unity, with the exception of the Orthodox Russian Church. It has been a strongly religious country since post-Stalin. The churches supported the protesters, as did the Jewish and Moslem leadership. Protesting was seen as a pilgrimage from Russian fear to Christian dignity. Many Russian Orthodox Church members left, and a number of Russian Orthodox Church parishes changed to other sections of the Eastern church. Tartar Moslems offered the use of their mosque to Orthodox Christians, which was accepted.
Much of the following Q&A was about Russian fears and intentions. Also questions about whether this was a new or continuing Cold War. I think the consensus was Putin saw the opportunity to re-unite Russkis as part of his right wing ethnocultural nationalistic agenda and no further expansion was likely.
This morning there was a report on the radio about the armed forces needing more money to face the Russian threat. BBC: “Army chief calls for investment to keep up with Russia“. Telegraph: “Britain cannot keep up with Russian military advances, head of Army to warn as he makes case for more funding“. In the context of today’s talk, that seems to me either the armed forces or NATO asking for funding for themselves. Scaremongering to supplement the arms industry and their own ends.
The Guardian seems to agree in their analysis: “Does the UK really need to increase its defence spending?” – no.