The war in Ukraine is the biggest war in Europe since World War II. It has been extensively covered by the media in recent months and the amount of information and graphic images can feel overwhelming and distressing. Many students are eager to hear what their professors, especially those who specialize in European history, have to say about the war.
In light of this, the history department held a discussion between Professor Raffael Scheck and Professor Rob Weisbrot. The discussion centered around the Cold War history of Ukraine and Russia. The event was called ‘Historians Reading the News: Ukraine and Russia’ and took place in the Brewster Reading Room in Miller Library on April 15 from 12:30 to 1 p.m.
Students were encouraged to come to the discussion to listen, learn, and ask questions. Those who attended in person were provided with a Portland Pie pizza lunch, coffee, and donuts. The event was also live streamed on Zoom.
At the discussion, each professor shared their opinion on the extent to which the Cold War can be compared to the War in Ukraine and their views on Russia’s geopolitical strategy.
“The conversation dealt with the connections between the Cold War and the current crisis triggered by the latest and most violent Russian invasion of Ukraine,” Scheck said. “My idea was that the international dynamics increasingly resemble the tensions of the Cold War.”
Weisbrot proposed the idea that there is a line of similarity between the Cold War and the war in Ukraine. He argued that the Cold War has never truly ended, and that it established a pattern of thinking in which the West took a more moralistic perspective and the Russians took a stance that heavily valued their national security. He then offered insights into Russia’s geopolitical strategies and spoke about how Russia might view the conflict from their perspective.
“Weisbrot argued… that Russia sees Ukraine legitimately within its security hemisphere and has considered NATO’s continued existence and expansion as a threat and provocation,” recalled Scheck. “He pointed out that the United States has continuously ignored strong messages from Russia about respecting its hemispheric and security interests.”
Weisbrot made it very clear that he does not support or condone in any way the actions of the Russian government, but that he thinks that it is important for us to attempt to understand the way the Russian government views this conflict in order for a solution to be reached.
Scheck pushed back against and complicated some of Weisbrot’s arguments. He offered many interesting points of his own about the situation and the ways the conflict can and cannot be compared to other historical events.
“My position was that NATO has no interest whatsoever in threatening Russia and that NATO’s continuation and growth is largely a reaction to continuous Russian threats against neighboring countries, as evidenced by Finland’s and Sweden’s recent requests to join NATO,” Scheck explained. “I pointed out that all of the new members have asked themselves to join NATO, and that it is not an aggressive NATO expansion campaign that has brought them in.”
“We also had some discussions about the legitimacy of a separate Ukrainian national identity, which I defended,” he added.
Government major Will Hall-Tipping ’24 attended the conversation and found it very thought-provoking.
“I thought that the discussion was very informative, and I definitely plan on attending similar events in the future,” Hall-Tipping said. “I think it’s very interesting to hear my professors’ thoughts on current events.”
“I think the conversation was inspiring,” Scheck agreed. “We disagreed on some points, and we debated them openly and amicably.”
Any member of the community who wants to learn more about the war in Ukraine or any other event in the news from historians should consider coming to the history departments weekly Historians Reading the News events on Fridays from 12:30 to 1 p.m.
~Veronica McIntyre `24