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‘A year of miscalculations and the West’s debt to Ukraine’

Northwestern professors can comment on the first year of the Russia-Ukraine War

  • Updated: February 17, 2023 – Quote from Dassia Posner on artistic censorship added

EVANSTON, Ill. — Jordan Gans-Morse, a political scientist at Northwestern University and an expert on the former Soviet Union, said, “Had Russia's invasion gone as planned, we would already be living in a world in which dictators again find it permissible to impose their will on weaker neighbors by force.”

Professor Gans-Morse and other Northwestern experts are available to speak with media about the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and discuss topics including defending state sovereignty, shifting global alliances and the human toll of war.

The experts can be reached by contacting Stephanie Kulke at or Max Witynski at

The West’s debt to Ukraine

Said Jordan Gans-Morse, faculty director of the Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies Program: “One year ago, on Feb. 24, 2022, Putin initiated a new world order. For the first time since the end of the Cold War, the dynamics of interstate relations are centered around geopolitics and great power competition, rather than the globalization of the 1990s or the threat of terrorism in the 2000s. Had Russia's invasion gone as planned, we would already be living in a world in which dictators again find it permissible to impose their will on weaker neighbors by force.

“The consequences would have been immense, affecting everything from the territorial integrity of NATO members such as Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to China's calculations about its policies toward Taiwan. The rest of the western world should recognize how indebted we are to Ukrainians, who so far have repelled Putin's unlawful invasion but at the cost of immense suffering. It is also vital to remember that the war is not over. Putin's defeat is by no means guaranteed, and Ukraine more than ever needs continued support from its NATO allies.”

Gans-Morse is an associate professor of political science at Northwestern where he conducts research on corruption, the rule of law, property rights and political and economic transitions, with a focus on the former Soviet Union. He is the author of “Property Rights in Post-Soviet Russia: Violence, Corruption, and Demand for Law,” and in 2016-2017 was a Fulbright scholar in Ukraine. He can be reached at

Lessons of war come at a terrible price

Said historian Michael Allen: “History teaches that it is easier to start a war than to win it; that it is easier to invade a country than it is to exit; and that once a nation is mired in a quagmire, rival powers will seek to bleed it dry. Vladimir Putin failed to learn these hard lessons from the Soviet Union’s failed invasion of Afghanistan in the 1980s. The Ukrainian people, together with their European and American allies, must now offer him remedial instruction on these hard truths. Unfortunately, his education comes at a terrible price in innocent lives.”   

Allen is an associate professor of history. His research interests focus on U.S. political and diplomatic history. He is the author of “Until the Last Man Comes Home: POWs, MIAs, and the Unending Vietnam War.” His current work-in-progress, “New Politics: The Imperial Presidency, The Pragmatic Left, and the Problem of Democratic Power, 1933-1981,” treats evolving left-liberal relations to presidential power in the postwar era. He can be reached at

The laws of war

“People underestimate the damage to the soul and national psyche that bad wars can cause. The laws of war are designed to protect innocent people and the souls of soldiers,” said Karen J. Alter, professor of ethics in international affairs and the politics of internal law.

“One year in, we see Ukrainian people fighting for their country, a just cause that they appear to be fighting in just ways. The long destructive tail of this war is going to be about war crimes. To be sure, Ukraine will have many shell shocked and traumatized people and children. The social damage inside of Russia may be worse. Putin has relied on militia forces, especially the Wagner group, that has unleashed soldiers who do not respect the laws of war, and who have committed horrible war crimes. 

“In addition, prisoner soldiers will return with expunged criminal records, but a new set of problems. Eventually the extent of the crimes of Russian soldiers will come to light. Ukraine will emerge from this war with deserved heroic stories, unified in their goal of rebuilding. The Russian people will emerge with a litany of atrocities associated with Russian sons, brothers and people. Fixing Ukraine's buildings and economies may be the easier issue. The social damage of Putin's total war strategy will live inside of Russia for generations.”

Alter is the Norman Dwight Harris Professor of International Relations in the department of political science and co-director of the Research Group on Global Capitalism and Law at Northwestern. Alter’s research focuses on the construction of global economic rules regulating trade and money, and on the determinants of politically sustainable capitalism. She can be reached at

Support for Ukraine is not truly global

“Though one year has passed since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people have conducted a valiant defense of their homeland, unfortunately, we are not closer to the war’s end, than we were at the beginning,” said Olga Kamenchuk, expert on Russian public opinion. 

“This year was a year of miscalculations: Moscow underestimated the resistance of Ukraine to its unprovoked invasion; the West was mistaken in the strength of the Russian economy and its global impact. While the Russian government managed to exert total control over its media and silence domestic dissent and influence opinions in Asia and Latin America, it failed to bring its message to the western public. The West mobilized support for Ukraine amongst its public but failed to break through Russian domestic propaganda and in the Global South. There is substantial international support for Ukraine’s fight for freedom, but it is not truly global.”
Kamenchuk is an associate professor of research and instruction with the Institute for Policy Research and the School of Communication at Northwestern. She has more than 15 years of professional polling and public opinion research experience in the former Soviet Union and is a leading expert on Russian public opinion. Her scholarship focuses on international public opinion and strategic public diplomacy. She can be reached at

Russian sanctions

“The sanctions against Russia have the twin goals of showing that a broad coalition of countries opposes its invasion of Ukraine and of disrupting the resources Russia needs to continue the war,” said Ian Hurd, an expert on international law and organizations.

“It is easy to see the success of the first, as it has drawn a line between governments that oppose the war and those still willing to do business with Putin’s Russia. The second is a more long-term and nuanced issue — it appears that Russia’s manufacturing sector has been greatly slowed by its inability to access many imports, and this may impede its war effort. But income from petroleum exports appears to have increased rather than decreased due to the rise in the price of oil, which helps Putin’s position. The isolation of Russia from trade and financial markets puts it in a precarious position, but the knock-on effects on military capacity come slowly.”

Hurd is a professor of political science in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern. The author of “How to Do Things With International Law” (Princeton University Press), Hurd’s work focuses on public international law, the theory and practice of international organizations and international relations theory. He has published on organization theory and international institutions, the politics of legitimacy at the United Nations, UN reform, labor standards and the International Criminal Court. He can be reached at

 Artistic censorship 

“Putin has crushed the very things that make Russian culture so rich: pluralism of thought and creative innovation,” said theatre historian Dassia Posner
“In pursuit of the unattainable myth of Russian greatness that fuels the unprovoked war in Ukraine, Putin has crushed the very things that make Russian culture so rich: pluralism of thought and creative innovation. The results of this are especially clear in the arts and education. Theaters have been liquidated or merged, artistic leaders and professors fired, students expelled, and dissenters arrested. Even so, innovation and dissent can never be entirely controlled. Many small acts of daily courage are difficult to see through the new Iron Curtain. Aesopian language—seemingly innocuous references that carry coded meaning—is reemerging, though productions are shut down if statements are too overt. Émigré communities are again creating new artistic centers abroad.” 
Posner is an associate professor of theatre in the School of Communication at Northwestern, with a courtesy appointment in Slavic Languages and Literatures. Her research focuses on experimental Russian and Soviet theatre practice, the history of stage directing, translation, dramaturgy and puppetry. She is the author of “The Director’s Prism: E.T.A. Hoffmann and the Russian Theatrical Avant-Garde,” and co-editor of the award-winning “Three Loves for Three Oranges: Gozzi, Meyerhold, Prokofiev.” She is currently working on a book that reclaims the erased legacy of the Moscow Kamerny Theatre and its Jewish-Ukrainian director, Alexander Tairov. Posner can be reached at