News Release

Ukraine War: How We Got Here, How to Get Out


Professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island, Petro was a U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Ukraine from 2013 to 2014 and is the author of the forthcoming book The Tragedy of Ukraine: What Classical Greek Tragedy Can Teach Us About Conflict Resolution. He has regularly written for The Nation.

He just wrote the piece “A True Solution to the Tragedy of Ukraine” for The National Interest. Petro writes: “There are multiple levels to the conflict in Ukraine.

“At one level, it is a conflict between the United States and Russia over whose sphere of influence Ukraine belongs to. As Carl Gershman, then president of the congressionally funded National Endowment for Democracy put it in 2013, ‘Ukraine is the biggest prize.‘ If it could be pulled away from Russia and into the West, then ‘Putin may find himself on the losing end not just in the near abroad but within Russia itself.’

“At another level, however, it is a conflict between Russian and Ukraine elites over whether their relations should be friendly or antagonistic. In Russia, antagonism is fueled by the fear that the Far Right, which has grown in influence since 2014, will drive Ukraine into becoming an ‘anti-Russia.’ In Ukraine, antagonism is fueled by the fear that friendly relations with Russia will prevent the emergence of an independent Ukrainian national identity. As former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko put it, ‘if Russians and Ukrainians are one people, then the Ukrainian people do not exist.’ These mutual fears have prevented any meaningful dialogue.

“From my perspective, this internal conflict is the most important one, because resolving it would remove the main source of domestic tension that foreign actors have used to stoke the other two levels of conflict. It can only be resolved, however, by dialogue, compassion, and mutual reconciliation among Ukrainians themselves.

“Why did Russia invade now? Because at every level, Russia’s strategy to date had ended in failure.

“Finally, and most importantly, it is also a conflict within Ukraine, between its historically more Russophile east and its historically more Russophobe west. This conflict over who gets to define Ukrainian national identity and its future has been going on for at least 150 years and has erupted in serious military hostilities inside Ukraine three times: during World War I and II and after the 2014 Euromaidan. Each time, violence erupted because external powers sought to tip the scales in their favor.

“In the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, meanwhile, Ukraine had turned its back on Russia. After Ukraine amended its constitution in February 2019 to make NATO membership a mandatory goal for all future governments, it effectively became a NATO military bulwark even without NATO membership. It was being armed to NATO standards and receiving NATO equipment and training, while Britain agreed to create and supply new naval bases in the Black Sea.