RUSSIA’S INVASION OF UKRAINE in February 2022 has proved to be a defining event of our era. Whatever path the crisis eventually takes, its impact on everything from energy markets to the realignment of global power to the understanding of human rights and war crimes will be immense. Harvard Kennedy School faculty have added their expertise to inform those seeking to make sense of a brutal conflict.
Ash Carter, the Belfer Professor of Technology and Global Affairs and director of the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, thinks that although the timing was unexpected, nobody should be surprised that Russian President Vladimir Putin took such a step, since he has long made plain his grievances with the West. “I think the Western family of nations came too late to a realization of what we have in Vladimir Putin,” Carter said in April at an event sponsored by the Institute of Politics.
“We in America are shocked by what we see on our screens, but we’re not in Europe, where I think the real true feeling is that this is the biggest upheaval to the security and political order since World War II. So we’re talking about a large ground-based war in continental Europe with a credible threat of the use of nuclear weapons. This is transformative.”
“Hard power still matters in world politics. The idea [was] that major war was almost sort of burned out of Europe, that it was never going to happen there, that some combination of the European Union, NATO enlargement, the spread of markets, and economic interdependence was going to make this a vast zone of peace. And I think what the European countries have now discovered is that it would’ve been nice if it turned out that way, but it didn’t.”
Fredrik Logevall, the Laurence D. Belfer Professor of International Affairs at HKS and a professor of history in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, was born and raised in Sweden. Following the invasion he marveled at the extent to which Nordic countries, and also Germany, had united in standing up for the Ukrainians against Russian aggression. Much of that support was attributable to the leadership of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, with his clear and honest messages to his people and to the world. That unity, Logevall said at a March HKS event,
“underscores the degree to which Putin miscalculated here—and the degree to which this alliance has been strengthened in the short term.”
“A lesson that does carry over from the past on sanctions is that they tend to be effective when they’re multilateral, and especially if they’re enforcing some agreed-upon norm or rule.”
“Clearly, the intense shock of the current Russian invasion may well prove critical in changing attitudes and behavior, spurring many Ukrainians into action who might never have contemplated bearing arms before.”
“As the war drags on and Western sanctions increase, there is also a danger that secondary sanctions will spill over and harm China. Providing Putin with a face-saving off-ramp could address this and the other dangers the war poses. And it would deepen Russia’s growing dependence on China and boost China’s own global image and standing.”
“The single most important thing we can do to end war crimes is to have an early peace in this war. The biggest cause of human-rights violations in the world is war—international war and civil war. So we don’t want to prolong the war. If there’s a peace agreement, the Russians will clearly ask for amnesty and immunity for their crimes.”
“Fighters who believe in the cause tend to not abuse civilians to the same extent. We know in Ukraine right now, some Russian fighters have no idea what they’re fighting for and may not believe in the cause very strongly.”
Dara Kay Cohen
Professor of public policy, in an April HuffPost interview
With her mixed Russian and Ukrainian roots, Julia Minson, an associate professor of public policy, retains her childhood impression of Russia as a dominant military power shaped by memories of World War II and a place where the KGB once frightened people into silence and suspicion until the Soviet Union collapsed. She collaborated with a Norwegian computer scientist to get accurate information to Russians. In an April op-ed in TIME magazine, Minson wrote,
“We try to understand how you can talk to people who dramatically disagree with your view of the world in a way that doesn’t blow up into a screaming match—and actually leads to persuasion and ongoing dialogue.”
Faculty portraits by Martha Stewart