A University of Arizona Russia expert called Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on Thursday, Feb. 24, both “predictable and avoidable.”
“I’m just shocked at the timing,” said UA professor John Willerton, who teaches the politics of Russia and other former Soviet Union countries through the School of Government and Public Policy.
In an interview the day before the conflict escalated on Thursday, Willerton, a self-proclaimed “Russia apologist,” said the conflict between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukraine, which was part of the former Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991, was “not about Putin recreating the Soviet Union.”
“He’s mostly protecting ethnic Russians,” Willerton said, citing Putin’s claims that Russian-speaking citizens in Ukraine have complained they were being treated unfairly.
Those claims led Putin earlier this week to recognize the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk, both of which make up the larger state of Donbas in Ukraine.
The invasion on Thursday came after world leaders, including in the United States, imposed stiff sanctions on Russia in an attempt to dissuade Putin from invading.
“This is, in essence, the Cuban Missile Crisis in reverse. We didn’t want Russian missiles 50 miles away,” Willerton said. “What is the status of NATO advisors in Ukraine? What are they doing?”
One of Putin’s demands is that NATO stops adding new members into their coalition, specifically naming Ukraine or Georgia, which was also part of the Soviet Union before it was broken up. Russia does not want western influence so close to its own nation and wants the west to respect Russian sovereignty.
With the invasion in full swing, many are left wondering what the next step, if any, will be beyond occupying Ukraine.
“I’m still skeptical and the jury is out on whether they take the whole country,” Willerton said. “In the end, it’s all about power.”
*El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism.
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