Ukraine's recent military success is welcome, but how the war Russia has waged will end is unclear
Dr. Peter Verovsek is an Assistant Professor in the History and Theory of European Integration at the University of Groningen. He specializes in European integration, memory studies, contemporary continental political theory, and the twentieth-century intellectual history.
What is your view on the latest developments in Ukraine?
As a European citizen, who greatly sympathizes with Ukraine, I welcome them, of course. As a Slovenian, someone who comes from a state that also had to fight for its independence from a larger power that wanted to continue to control it after 1989, I am in awe of what Ukraine has been able to achieve on the battlefield. General Valeriy Zaluzhny, the Ukrainian commander-in-chief, is a military genius whose strategy and tactics will undoubtedly be studied for years to come.
As a social scientist, however, I wonder what they mean for the future. Will this success cause Ukraine to overreach? Will it cause Putin to engage in more bombings of civilian areas, as we say this week in Zaporizhzhia? While I do not think Russia will actually deploy a nuclear weapon, they can still significantly escalate the war using conventional arms. In other words, I worry about what Putin will do now that he is backed into a corner. Previously, he could have retreated and claimed victory in Russia. Now, it is unclear if he can back away without endangering himself and his position after the fiasco of the "partial" mobilization and the rising criticism from right-wing bloggers and the rest of the Russian media.
Putin claims that there's no Ukrainian history separate from Russian. How would you respond to such a statement?
This statement is clearly disingenuous. While there are undoubtedly strong historical links between Ukraine and Russia, equating them is an oversimplification, at best. From a historiographic point of view, the fundamental problem is trying to superimpose modern notions of Ukraine and Russia onto past historical constellations, like the Kievan Rus. Imposing such nationalistic frameworks is clearly anachronistic, as those historical actors would not have thought of themselves as either Ukrainian or Russian, at least not as we view understand these identities today.
If anything, these claims testify to the fact that nationalism remains a powerful force for violence in the modern world, despite the desire of Western Europeans to think that nationalism has been overcome since the horrors of the Second World War. Some in the West - such as Francis Fukuyama - have used the bravery of many Ukrainians in this conflict to argue that liberal nationalism is still desirable. While that may be true, such Ukrainian sacrifice on behalf of the nation would not have been necessary without the powerful pull of Russian nationalism. In other words, nationalism is still at the root of this problem, even if it may occasionally help with social cohesion and communal solidarity.
What steps should Ukrainian leadership take to dispel Russia's attempts to revise history and question Ukraine's existence?
This is a tough question, as it is not just a question of fighting fiction with fact. The fundamental problem is the closed nature of the Russian media environment. Dispelling these attempts would require sweeping changes to the Russian public sphere, as well as the decriminalization of dissent in Russia. Only through open dialogue and debate can such revisionist claims be contested appropriately and put to rest, a process that would also require the cooperation of the educational establishment in the Russian Federation. Dispelling such questioning of Ukraine's very existence would thus require regime change in Russia. This development could lead to someone even harder-line than Putin taking power, rather than someone more liberal and democratic. It would require a period of reeducation and learning to live in a liberal, democratic political culture, as the West German experience after 1945 demonstrates.