Lewiston, Maine, U.S.A. – Experts who discussed the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine Wednesday in a forum held at Bates College offered thoughts on the state of the war and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s possible motives.
The president of Bates College, Clayton Spencer, told the digital and in-person audience how the actions of Russia were “shaping the world order before our eyes.”
Discussing what he called “Putinapologetics,” Dennis Browne, a retired professor, described the key reasons used by Russia and Putin sympathisers to justify the February 24 invasion.
In Putin’s view, the actions of NATO, American interference in the Russian sphere of influence, an illegitimate government in Kyiv and alleged genocides taking place in the Donbass region made the “special operation” necessary, Browne said.
He said polls taken in Russia claimed 71% supported Putin and 70% believed the “special operation” in Ukraine was justified. Although Browne disputed the legitimacy of these polls, he said it would not be ridiculous to assume public support of the Ukrainian invasion was “at least 50/50” in Russia.
Marina Filipovic, a lecturer in Russian, spoke about the censorship of the media within Russia and “taboo words” that the people or the press could not use. Examples include “war” and “invasion”, which are forbidden when referring to the ongoing fight in Ukraine, instead only allowing “special operation.” Hitler and Nazi were also banned in any context relating to Putin. Violators can be sentenced to 15 years in prison.
Filipovic said dissident media such as TV Rain and Echo of Moscow which faced harsh persecution for their reporting, have been shut down and their reporters forced into exile.
Ukrainians are also concerned about how the war is portrayed.
Cheryl Stephenson, a lecturer at Bates, spoke of the idolisation of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and his nation’s soldiers, pointing to a government tweet of a Ukrainian fighter backlit like Jesus Christ.
Professor Jim Richter said Putin’s echo chamber led to his underestimation of Ukraine and the international response to his invasion.
Asked if Putin would be held accountable for his actions, Browne said the Russian president would slip past any repercussions.
At the end of the forum, panellists were asked what the outcome of the war would be. Richter said the answer was unclear and Stephenson said the war was beyond the point of anyone winning.
All four of the experts said Putin is unlikely to attempt invasion beyond Ukraine, citing the high economic cost, poor performance of his military in Ukraine, corruption within the Russian government and faulty equipment.
Owen Ferguson is an Associate Editor with Youth Journalism International.