Colorado professors explain the Russia/Ukraine conflict

Published: Feb. 24, 2022 at 10:28 PM MST
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - The conflict between Russia and Ukraine can be confusing for people. especially when it is happening continents away.

That’s why we sat down with professors at multiple universities here in Colorado to explain it.

Steven Pittz is a professor of political science at UCCS. He says tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been high for awhile.

“Russia views Ukraine as a geopolitical buffer, you might say a piece of territory that it needs to have to be safe,” he said. “So as NATO has expanded since the fall of the Soviet Union, from Romania and Poland, to the Baltic states, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, Russia feels as if the west is encroaching on its territory.”

In addition, Ukraine is rich in resources.

“Ukraine, number one, is known as sort of the bread basket of Europe. So if you imagine our bread basket, Nebraska and Iowa, Kansas...lots and lots of agricultural production in Ukraine. They also have important minerals.”

He adds the invasion can have ripple effects.

“It’s destroyed the equilibrium, the security equilibrium that we’ve had. Clearly something’s changing. I mean, so it is, it’s a big moment for sure.”

John O’Loughlin is a geography professor at CU Boulder. He specializes in spatial and territorial aspects of conflict and has studied Ukrainian geopolitics for a long time. He says seeing something he always feared would happen is tough.

“Its just a very sad day, kind of a sinking, sickening feeling,” O’Loughlin said. “You watch this disaster brewing and you can’t do anything about it. Its a sense of hopelessness and helplessness.”

Much of the helplessness stems from the unknown. After Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared to make threats to countries that interfere with the military operation, many are wondering what will happen next globally.

“This is different because of the scope of the potential extent of this conflict. The Russia/Ukrainian conflict, and further, of course. The conflict between Russia and the west,” O’Loughlin said.

If you go online, social media is full of people fearing a World War III. Experts say although it is too early to say for certain, that is unlikely.

“I think a lot of Americans are asking could this, are we on the eve of a nuclear war, or World War III? I think the odds of that are extremely low,” Kenneth Osgood, a professor of history at Colorado School of Mines said. “Both Biden and Putin recognize that they don’t want this thing to blow up into World War III.”

The experts says right now the U.S. is focusing on hitting Russia where it hurts: with potentially tougher sanctions.

“I don’t think Putin and the Russians will have enough resources, militarily or economically, to prosecute a much bigger war than this,” Pittz said.

“Although there’s no clear end game, it’s clear the us to signal its resolve to oppose this act of aggression. The sanctions that are being put in place are really, really important. They will exert some pain for Putin for doing this,” Osgood added.

The sanctions also might cause higher prices here in Colorado and across the U.S.

“The American people also need to recognize that a little bit of suffering in terms of paying ten cents more at the gas pump, is really a price worth paying when it comes to international peace and security,” Osgood said.

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