SALT LAKE CITY — Sitting half a world away from where Russian troops have crossed into Ukraine, local experts in Utah are as confounded as most when attempting to describe the ongoing events that promise to upend peace across the globe.
“I’m horrified," said Majorie Castle, professor of political science at the University of Utah. “This is a huge blow to the international order that has been, that we have enjoyed for, honestly, 77 years.”
A former part of the Soviet Union, Castle said Ukraine's democracy rating was going up in recent years, yet it remains as mysterious to those in the U.S. as the countries that used to exist behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War.
“Ukraine is a nation, there are some ways in which Ukraine is a nation that may be unfamiliar to us. That is, for example, it includes people, loyal citizens whose first language is Russian, as well as loyal citizens whose first language is Ukrainian,” said Castle. “But it does not mean that they do not identify as Ukrainians.”
Castle said she wouldn't fathom a guess as to the mindset of Russian President Vladimir Putin, to which a nearby academic colleague agreed.
“Anytime you try to actually guess what Putin wants to do, you’re on a fool’s errand," said Dr. Frederick White, professor of Russian and integrated studies at Utah Valley University. "I would have thought that Putin would have left this as a frozen conflict as he has in other places in former Soviet republics.”
White believes the invasion is Putin's opportunity for Russia to get back the control over former republics it formerly held under Soviet leaders like Stalin, Khrushchev and Brezhnev.
“It’s been Putin’s long-stated goal to regain, in some way, influence over those areas. And with the expansion of NATO that’s occurred in places like Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, it’s made it very difficult for Putin to kind of regain, if you will, that former Soviet sphere of influence,” said White.
Castle called the scope of the Ukraine invasion "unprecedented" as European countries may now permanently have Russia on their doorstep.
“This is a particularly terrifying angle for the rest of Europe," said White. "If, as seems quite possible at this point, Russia establishes control over the whole of Ukraine, perhaps through installing a puppet government, Russia will, in effect, border Slovakia, Hungary and Romania, all NATO allies.”
As for as what will happen next, like White said, it's truly a fool's errand.
“It’s really anyone’s guess right now how far Putin’s willing to push this and whether he’ll eventually back off and retreat or he’ll maintain a presence in Ukraine.”