Perry World House hosted field and research experts on Feb. 28 for a panel discussion of the war in Ukraine, one year after the Russian invasion.
The panel — featuring State Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Robin Dunnigan, Georgetown University postdoctoral fellow Maria Snegovaya, and Brigadier General Peter Zwack (Ret.) — discussed how the Ukrainian war defied popular predictions and the impact it has on the political landscape.
Although the conflict is not yet over, the speakers discussed global changes that are already taking place. According to Dunnigan and Zwack, the Ukrainian resistance against the Russian invasion reignited democratic spirit, which dwindled after the Cold War.
“I think the world has been humbled by the Ukrainian courage … to fight for its freedom,” Dunnigan said.
Dunnigan emphasized during her opening remarks that the bravery of everyday Ukrainians inspired “bipartisan support” for their war effort in an era of politics characterized by polarization and legislative stagnation.
Similarly, Zwack said that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's efforts to boost Ukrainian morale and form alliances created a “Churchillian effect,” solidifying NATO in spite of recent diminishing national commitments to the transatlantic alliance.
“You’ve seen NATO not reborn, but reaffirmed,” Zwack said. “You’ve seen a different Europe.”
Moreover, Snegovaya described the Russian invasion as evidence of a persistent Soviet collapse. To her, Russian President Vladimir Putin's attack on Ukraine implies a continued sentiment of an “empire” that has yet to fade from the Russian political psyche even three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Though the speakers underscored the effectiveness of the Ukrainian resistance, they were cautious about conflating the first year’s surprising Ukrainian strength as evidence of future victory.
When discussing the mounting economic and human costs of the Russian invasion, Snegovaya reiterated the continued precarity of the conflict. Even with the seven years it will take for Russia to return to its pre-invasion GDP, Snegovaya cited that the war has annihilated “one-third” of the Ukrainian economy, compared to Russia’s “3%” drop.
Snegovaya added that while sanctions have certainly soured Putin’s hope for a swift victory, Russia’s superior armament production capacity could prove decisive as war rages on.
“Putin didn’t win, but he did not lose," Snegovaya said.
Similarly, despite her admiration for the “unprecedented” levels of U.S. and NATO support for Ukraine, current aid is “not enough,” according to Dunnigan.
Responding to an audience member’s question regarding the United States' deep financial entrenchment in the Ukrainian effort, Dunnigan presented the protection of democracy abroad as a key means of preserving it in the United States — to her, an invaluable pursuit.
“In a sense, Ukraine is fighting a war that matters for us," Dunnigan said. “I believe that every penny we are spending in Ukraine is an investment in our children.”
Going into the war’s second year, Zwack stressed mental flexibility as a driver of effective reaction.
“As we saw last year, we are going to have to expect the unexpected,” Zwack said.