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Ukrainian-American University of Arizona professor calls for broader context in discussing ongoing war

Pavlo+Krokhmal%2C+University+of+Arizona+professor+of+systems+and+industrial+engineering%2C+speaks+at+the+peace+rally+in+Old+Main+on+March+29.+Krokhmal+is+from+Kyiv%2C+Ukraine%2C+and+shared+his+perspective+on+the+Russia-Ukraine+war.
Marison Bilagody

Pavlo Krokhmal, University of Arizona professor of systems and industrial engineering, speaks at the peace rally in Old Main on March 29. Krokhmal is from Kyiv, Ukraine, and shared his perspective on the Russia-Ukraine war.

On Feb. 24, at approximately 5:00 p.m., the bells of St. Nicholas Cathedral in downtown Kyiv tolled over the last peaceful hours that the city would see for some time yet. Approximately 750 kilometers away, the Kremlin broadcasted a brief, chilling speech, wherein Vladimir Putin, Russia’s sitting president, announced the commencement of a “special military operation” in Ukraine.

Within minutes, explosions rocked cities across Ukraine, and the invasion was underway. For the first time in over half a century, Europe was facing a major internal war.

The Daily Wildcat spoke with Pavlo Krokhmal, professor of systems and industrial engineering at the University of Arizona who had previously expressed concern regarding a lack of context in discussions of the war, specifically with reference to an El Inde Arizona article published in the Daily Wildcat on Feb 24.

The Feb. 24 article was based on an interview with John Willerton, a professor in the School of Government and Public Policy.

“I am not advocating for Russian views,” Willerton said in an email in response to the initial article. “Presentation of an adversary’s views [often] comes to be seen as advocacy for their views.” 

He went on to express regret for the frustration generated, but declined to comment further on the situation or his own views.

Krokhmal considered the lack of context in the article to be unacceptable and found the blindness to the rhetoric used to be unjustifiable. 

The claims made by the article “range from misleading to just plain wrong,” Krokhmal said. “[It] puts the blame on Ukraine for this war … although he doesn’t say it directly and explicitly … [Willerton implied that] if Ukraine were to comply with Russia’s demands, this war would not happen,” pointing out the title, which characterizes the war as “predictable and avoidable.”

“If history teaches us anything … pacifying the aggressor … just does not work,” Krokhmal said decisively, pointing to Europe’s history of aggressive autocrats with whom appeasement efforts have failed. “This is, in my view, not a local conflict between parts of the former Soviet Union … this conflict represents more than that … Putin’s Russia issued a challenge to the West to the free world.”

While Krokhmal expressed appreciation for the efforts made by the West in supplying aid and weapons, as well as for their condemnation of the invasion, he insisted that the West should take the invasion as more than some far-away war that does not involve them. 

“[Russia] still has this kind of medieval mindset of empire … that greatness comes from territories,” Krokhmal said, framing the very real possibility that the war in Ukraine is unlikely to be the limit of Russia’s ambitions.

“Much less attention is paid to what is happening inside Russia. They were viewed by the West as a democratic country with democratic institutions, democratic aspirations … . With Putin ascending to power in 2000 … a lot of changes started to happen,” Krokhmal said, referring to post-USSR Russian politics and bringing attention to the complexities of Russian politics that have led to the current moment.

RELATED: Here’s how you can help the people of Ukraine

“Putin himself repeatedly said that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century,” Krokhmal said. “Russian elites and intellectual elites are talking about, well, how to restore the greatness of Russia, how Russia arises from its knees,” Krokhmal said, referring to a set of rhetorical tools that are often leveraged by nationalistic leaders.

“This type of rhetoric and propaganda intensified … starting with events which led to the annexation of Crimea,” Krokhmal said, referring to the 2014 annexation of the southernmost region of Ukraine by Russia.

“In [the] Soviet Union, they didn’t call Germans Nazis … . They call it fascist Germany,” Krokhmal said, further noting how blind Russians often are to the idea that the current Russian government satisfies all the definitions of the fascist regime.

Germany, this “fascist” enemy of Russia, lost World War II, but “they are more prosperous, living better than [Russians] … the standard of living [in Russia] is nowhere near the standard of living of Western nations … [which] has been portrayed as the fault of the West,” Krokhmal said, referring to the current state of affairs in Russia, where their GDP remains far below the European average.

“Ukraine has maintained a neutral status up until 2014, when Russian Federation first annexed the Crimean Peninsula and then instigated and directly supported military actions in the Donbas region of Ukraine, all of which came after Russia provided security guarantees to Ukraine and its territorial integrity as one of the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum,” Krokhmal said in an email to President Dr. Robert C. Robbins a few weeks ago, pushing back against Willerton’s suggestion in the Feb. 24 article that the invasion was somehow justified by NATO expansionism.

Krokhmal was quick to point out Russian hypocrisy in claiming a desire to protect ethnic Russians. 

“They still believe that the Russian language is some kind of [a proxy for] national identity or political preferences, which is completely wrong … there are Russian-speaking cities in the east of Ukraine Kharkiv and Mariupol that are just being leveled right now,” Krokhmal said.

“What is going on is an attempt to destroy destroy Ukrainian sovereignty, to destroy the Ukrainian state,” Krokhmal said, insisting that it is not an attempt to “protect ethnic Russians” as Putin claims.

“There is a … good-hearted narrative [in the West] that there is an evil Putin and the Russian people are kind of ‘taken hostage’ by Putin … which is, apparently, only partially true,” Krokhmal said. “Russian propaganda has been poisoning the Russian population for decades and now a significant portion of the population is in support of this invasion … [the problem] is not just one person, it’s just a collective mindset of a large part of the population.”

“The Soviet Union collapsed [as] I finished high school,” Krokhmal said, recalling the fall of the USSR in the early ’90s. “Nobody really believed in the superiority of the socialistic system.” 

Krokhmal contrasted this attitude with the present-day propaganda of Putin’s Russia. 

“They put forward a new breed of this poisonous rhetoric and … [there are] a lot of people in Russia who have bought into [it],” Krokhmal said.

Krokhmal said it is critical that we understand how Russia was brought to the point that this war was possible, and to understand this, we must understand the context of the war beyond just Putin and the immediate plight of Ukraine. 

“If, God forbid, they will be able to achieve [their] goal in Ukraine,” Krokhmal said, “what will be next?”


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