On March 2, 2022, Professor of Political Science Professor McBride gave a Zoom lecture on the current Russia Ukraine conflict. The lecture was about an hour long, with approximately 20 people in attendance, including some alumni.
Pi Sigma Alpha, the Political Science Honor Society, hosted this lecture in hopes to educate people on why this conflict occurred, following the invasion of Ukraine by Russia on Feb. 24, 2022. This lecture served dually as a space for students to ask questions about the still ongoing conflict. Professor Mike McBride — better known as Doc by his students — specializes in Soviet and Russian history and politics, human rights, and the United Nations. Professor McBride specifically wanted to give this lecture so people could be “aware and informed of the ongoing situation in Ukraine,” as many people do not understand how international conflicts work, or even start. This insightful talk helped students understand the conflict’s exact history leading up to Feb. 24.
At the beginning of the talk, Professor McBride discussed the scholars Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy, who are the authors of the book Mr. Putin. Both of these scholars believe that Dictator Vladmir Putin sees himself as the following:
A statist. Derived from the word “statism,” which means that the state has control over every aspect of life, from the economy to social authority, a statist is a student of previous rulers.
A historian. Hill and Gaddy both named him a historian because he was a part of the KGB, or English Committee for State Security, foreign intelligence and domestic security agency of the Soviet Union during its fall in 1991.
A survivalist. Putin grew up in St. Petersburg, and had a very difficult upbringing there, which is why he was named a survivalist by the two theorists.
A case officer. Putin is more concerned with dominating power, control, and loyalty rather than creating ties or alliances with the surrounding countries.
Professor McBride explained that these terms were used throughout Mr. Putin to describe why Putin may have decided to invade Ukraine in the first place. Hill and Gaddy theorize that Putin invaded Ukraine with the intent of being more controlling than he already is, especially over a country that used to be a part of the Soviet Union. Both scholars believe this may have been because of his childhood in St. Petersburg, or his role in the fall of the Soviet Union.
Following his discussion of Hill and Gaddy’s Mr. Putin, Professor McBride brought another book into the conversation — The Code of Putinism by Brian Taylor. The contents of this book emphasize the need that Putin has for great power and respect. Professor McBride explained how Putin may have also hoped that this crisis would drive a wedge between the U.S. and European nations. In actuality, it has done the opposite, as many countries, including the United States, have turned against Russia in the past month, as they have aligned themselves with Ukraine.
The second part of this lecture focused on Russia and Ukraine’s entangled history. Professor McBride explained that Ukraine used to be a part of the Russian Empire in the 19th and 18th centuries. However, the Russian Revolution resulted in a civil war, in which Ukraine gained independence from the years 1917 – ‘21. However, Ukraine, and many other countries near Russia, were taken over by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union maintained control over Ukraine and Belarus — which is bordered by both Russia and Ukraine — through communist control, and that created a substantial divide within Europe.
Professor McBride explained that the U.S. and 11 other Western nations created an alliance — called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization — when these nations began to fear that the Soviet Union would continue taking control of territories. NATO quickly formed into a military alliance of 30 countries; if one country is attacked, there will be retaliation from all. The Soviet Union responded by creating the Warsaw Pact. However, in 1991, Ukraine gained independence, and other countries followed, which marked the end of the Soviet Union. This deeper understanding of the history between both countries allows for overall contextualization as to why Russia invaded Ukraine.
The lecture pivoted slightly to Ukraine’s separation from Russia, even though Ukraine became a sovereign state back in the early 1990’s. Despite everything, Professor McBride explained, Russia still managed to maintain control over some of Ukraine’s political leaders. In 2013, President Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s pro-Russian President, refused to have closer ties with the European Union. In response, there were mass protests that resulted in many deaths at Kyiv’s independence square. Yanukovych then fled the country, and, in response, the Russian military began to encroach onto Crimea and take control of their airports and government buildings. Putin claimed that he was protecting ethnic Russians from “extremists,” who he also blamed for the overthrow of Yanukovych.
The lecture wrapped up with a discussion about how the United Nations and the U.S. are currently responding to the conflict. The UN has been creating legislation to give more life support to people affected by the crisis, as Ukraine is not technically part of NATO. However, Professor McBride said that NATO has been providing military support to Ukraine on the basis that Russia may continue trying to attack other countries after Ukraine. Currently, the U.S. is the largest humanitarian donor for Ukraine, having given millions of dollars to support Ukraine since 2014. The U.S. has also placed sanctions on Russia, which means that all financial connections between the U.S. and Russia’s Central Bank are prohibited. It was extremely educational to learn the history between Ukraine and Russia leading up to this conflict. Pi Sigma Alpha, who hosted Professor Professor McBride’s lecture, would like to thank everyone that was in attendance, as they are “extremely grateful to have had Professor McBride discuss the current situation in the Ukraine and hopes those in attendance were given more insight and depth into understanding this crisis.”
As the Russia-Ukraine conflict is both years in the making and has come to an extremely violent head, knowing the who’s, what’s, and why’s is vital. Knowing how to help is vital. The Quaker Campus recently spoke to Ukrainian Professor Alexander Grabarchuk — in an article entitled “Whittier Voices: Born in Ukraine” — who provided her own insight about the Russia Ukraine conflict, as well as resources for the Whittier College community.
Photo Courtesy of Efrem Lukatsky/AP