AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s a way for University of Texas students to learn about U.S. foreign policy in real-time; but as Russia declares a military operation is underway in Ukraine, you can benefit from their expertise too.
Dr. Patrick McDonald and Dr. Robert Moser, government professors at UT, have been teaming up with the production crew at the school for a YouTube series they’ve called “International News Now.”
The two have been putting together videos on the biggest stories relating to foreign policy for the better part of five years. Now, the focus of those videos has turned to the conflict over Ukraine — and you can watch them on YouTube for free.
KXAN talked with the pair Wednesday to help address some of the questions we’ve been hearing surrounding Russia’s move on Ukraine.
Why is Putin so interested in Ukraine?
Russian President Vladimir Putin has made it a priority to regain territory lost at the end of the Cold War in an attempt to make Russia stronger and the West less dominant.
“What this current crisis over Ukraine is really about is the American-led democratic hegemony that has spread over eastern Europe since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, and whether that’s going to remain intact, or whether, because Russia objects to it, Russia can use force to rollback that infrastructure,” Moser said.
Ukraine leadership has indicated interest in becoming a part of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), which would jeopardize Putin’s goal.
Earlier this month, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy suggested that NATO membership is a distant dream for his country simply because of opposition from Russia and certain members of NATO, not because its public isn’t interested.
If Ukraine becomes a member of NATO, it would have NATO backing and protection — it would make Ukraine untouchable by Putin unless he wanted to start a full-blown war with the United States and its allies.
“Putin would rather alter the composition of the government in Kyiv, so they reorient their foreign policy away from the European Union and NATO, and back towards Russia,” McDonald said. “That’s the long-term political goal.”
Why does the United States government care?
McDonald broke that down into two answers: Russia is challenging the foundation of international legal practices and it’s challenging the United States to define its role in international affairs, especially when it relates to NATO.
McDonald explains that by Putin threatening to invade Ukraine, he’s challenging the principles of sovereignty established after the collapse of the Soviet Union, something the Biden administration has taken a strong stand against.
“It’s long been the position of the United States that these things should be, if they’re going to be renegotiated, they should be done peacefully,” he said. “And so we have a situation here where there’s a foundational challenge to one of the principal legal components of the international system, whereby Russia is trying to alter political communities that have been set and were negotiated peacefully at the end of the Cold War.”
But perhaps even more pressing is not what’s to come in the next few weeks with Ukraine, but the role the United States plays in protecting NATO countries moving forward. Putin is testing the waters, so to speak, to find out how much ground he can cover before the United States and its NATO allies are truly willing to wage a war.
President Biden has made it abundantly clear over the last couple weeks that the United States will not send American troops into Ukraine, but that it would engage Russia should they attack a surrounding NATO country.
“I read this as a warm-up in terms of larger changes that could happen in the next 10 or 15 years, whereby [Putin’s] trying to figure out and frankly, the Biden administration is too, where’s the American public on this? Where’s Congress on this?” McDonald explained.
The role the United States plays in this conflict could also inform its role moving forward in the eyes of the international community.
“China — in particular, as a rising power — is going to also use its power to increase its influence in its region, and perhaps use force if necessary to incorporate neighboring countries right now, like Taiwan, into its fold,” Moser said. “And that’s what the United States and the Biden administration is trying to navigate and to, quite obviously, stall or halt to maintain the current status quo.”
Why is Biden talking about this so much?
There’s an information war happening between Biden and Putin and they’re both trying to get their own public, and the world, on board.
Putin’s talking points aim to make Russia the victim — to legitimize its looming invasion of Ukraine. The Russian president’s stances have made it seem like Russia is defending itself against an expansion of NATO and western allies and that it’s fighting back against what it’s described as a nationalist, perhaps fascist, regime in Ukraine.
“You’ll hear this term false flag operation, which is simply the idea that Russia is actually somehow manipulating or engineering an attack,” Moser explained.
The Biden administration has warned American journalists and the public about a false flag operation, but not provided significant amounts of evidence to show that’s actually happening.
You can watch more from “International News Now” on its YouTube page.