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Stopping Russia is not just about the risks to Ukraine. It's about the type of international system all of us get to live in for the next decade or two.

Updated: Jan 31

Jordan Gans-Morse is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Northwestern University and the Faculty Director of Northwestern’s Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies (REEES) Program. 

His ongoing research focuses on corruption, the rule of law, property rights, and political and economic transitions.  He is the the author of Property Rights in Post-Soviet Russia: Violence, Corruption, and Demand for Law (Cambridge University Press). Other publications have appeared in leading journals, including the  American Journal of Political Science, the American Political Science Review, Comparative Political Studies, the Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization, the Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, and World Development. His commentaries have been published in the Chicago Tribune, The Hill, The Moscow Times, US News & World Report, and The Washington Post: The Monkey Cage. He received his Ph.D. from UC Berkeley in 2011. During the 2016-2017 academic year, he served as a Fulbright Scholar teaching and conducting research in Ukraine.

His current projects include research on the effectiveness of anti-corruption information campaigns; the factors that affect citizens’ willingness to give bribes; the effects of international exchange programs on attitudes toward democracy, corruption, and related political issues; and the potential of transparency initiatives to contribute to the development of the rule of law.

In October 2022, you launched a course Slavic 390: Ukraine’s Long Fight for Independence — Literature and Politics in Central and Eastern Europe”. Could you touch upon the importance and relevance of this course?

This was a very unique course created directly in response to Russia's full-scale invasion. It was a team-taught course, a collaborative effort between Ambassador Ian Kelly (formerly US ambassador to Georgia and to the OSCE, currently an instructor at Northwestern), the historian Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, and myself. Our goal was to jumpstart an effort to think about the region from a non-Russia perspective and to respond to very high demand among students for information about Ukraine. For the first half of the course, Yohanan provided a condensed overview of Ukrainian history from Kyivan Rus through Perestroika. In the second part of the course, Ian covered international relations/foreign policy issues, and I offered a political scientist's view of domestic politics and economic transformations in Ukraine. Nearly 80 students enrolled.

Keeping in mind that the typical US student, even at a top university, knows very little about Russia or Ukraine, it very much was apparent to me how distinctive of an experience it is for the students to be introduced to the region via a course that places Ukraine rather than Russia at the center of attention. This, unfortunately, was a one-time course offering, but I have also significantly revised the Post-Soviet Politics course that I regularly teach such that Russia and Ukraine receive near equal weight.

What is your view on the latest situation in Ukraine?

I am deeply saddened and frustrated by the state of politics in the United States and Europe and the challenges this is creating in terms of sustaining support for Ukraine. In my opinion, a critical opportunity to help Ukraine obtain a decisive victory was squandered by the lack of urgency, especially throughout winter and spring 2023, on the part of Ukraine's allies. The Israel-Palestine conflict also has drawn international attention away and created divisions within the coalition supporting Ukraine. I'm not an expert on military affairs, but it now seems far more difficult for Ukraine to expel Russia from the Donbas region and Crimea fully. Reconquering, at least the Donbas to me, seemed like the one clear-cut resolution to this war that places Ukraine on solid footing moving forward. With all this said, I know that there are many brilliant, dedicated people, both in Ukraine and among Ukraine's allies, thinking about solutions, militarily and otherwise, so I try to remain optimistic. 


Is there a risk of Western allies pushing Ukraine to seek compromise with the Kremlin? 

There absolutely is a risk of Western allies pushing Ukraine to compromise. At least until recently, however, my sense was that outside pressure would have minimal impact on Ukrainian leaders' decision-making -- with or without outside support, the vast majority of Ukrainians seemed committed to a maximal victory. But the longer a military stalemate goes on, the more likely it will be that internal division within Ukraine will emerge. At that point, one would think that Ukraine's leaders will become more susceptible to outside pressure.

Unfortunately, it's not at all clear to me how Putin can be trusted to adhere to any compromise agreement. Along with many Ukrainians, I believe that such an agreement simply will give Russia time to rebuild military strength and attack again, most likely at a point when Ukraine's allies are even more distracted by their own domestic politics or by conflicts in other parts of the world. Meanwhile, supporters of a ceasefire or other compromise deal seem to ignore the consequences of their proposed policies for the millions of Ukrainians living in occupied regions. It's not just land or territory that's being traded -- it's people. And people in occupied territories will not be allowed to speak Ukrainian, go to Ukrainian-language schools, or express their national identity without risking torture, imprisonment, and death. Even those who have less of an attachment to a Ukrainian national identity will face significant repression. As we saw in the DNR and LNR, these regions are likely to be governed by dictatorial regimes far worse even than that under which most Russians now live. And they will face the very real possibility of being forcibly mobilized by the Russian armed forces in future conflicts with Ukraine. 

How can Putin be stopped in Ukraine? What are risks for Ukraine and the world if he succeeds?

As much as I'm an advocate for non-military solutions whenever and wherever possible, this is a moment in history where it's hard to see any stable, peaceful outcome resulting from anything other than a decisive Ukrainian victory -- other than, perhaps, an unlikely collapse of Putin's regime. Going back at least to Russia's invasion of Georgia in 2008, the West has repeatedly tried policies that avoided confrontation with Russia. We can debate whether these were the right choices then. But what's absolutely clear to me is that knowing what we now know, more of the same, is clearly not the right policy. Russia has to be put in a situation where it can see that even by its own straightforward, self-interested calculations, it simply doesn't pay off to continue attacking Ukraine and where Russia's leadership recognizes that future aggression against other countries will elicit a sufficiently robust response as not to make that pay off either. Beyond continued US support, this requires Europe to get serious about this post-post-Cold War era we've entered and develop a capacity to protect itself and its neighbors if the US becomes an unreliable partner. Helping to create Ukraine's defense production capacity is also critical, but that is part of a longer-term solution. Right now, Ukraine needs the defense industries of Europe and the US to be on war footing, just as Russia is.

This is, of course, not just about the risks to Ukraine. It's about the type of international system we all get to live in for the next decade or two. Is it going to be one in which every country with a more powerful neighbor has to live in fear, especially if an aggressive dictator takes power in that neighboring country? Or one where the general expectation is that the costs of inter-state violence outweigh the benefits. And for US politicians and citizens who take solace in the US being a strong country that is unlikely to face invasion in a dog-eat-dog world, history shows that when world order disintegrates, the US, one way or the other, ends up having to eventually get directly involved to protect its interests. It's far better to help Ukraine now and clarify that the US and Europe are not yet willing to give way to the type of world order Russia seeks to create.

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