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Ukraine-Russia War Explained: History

Jonathan Rose puts the crisis into historical perspective

March 2022 – On February 24, 2022, Russian troops invaded neighboring Ukraine in an escalation widely condemned by governments across the globe.

We’ve asked Drew University faculty experts to help put the crisis into perspective.

Here, we’ve spoken with Jonathan Rose, William R. Kenan Professor of History and convener of the Caspersen School of Graduate Studies‘ graduate program on History and Culture, who has helped explain the historical implications of the war.

Can you put this situation into perspective from an historical standpoint?

Vladimir Putin is really a throwback to the Czarist era, a Russian imperialist who aims to dominate the non-Russian nationalities of Eastern Europe. Let’s remember that the old Russian empire included the Baltic states, Finland, and half of Poland as well as Ukraine.

The Ukrainians, on the other hand, remember the manmade famine that Stalin imposed on them in the 1930s, killing at least three million—the Ukrainian holocaust—which helps to explain why they fought so tenaciously.

Where are we now?

It’s difficult to say whether Putin’s nuclear threats are serious or just designed to intimidate Joe Biden, whom he perceives as a weakling. But terrible wars can break out as a result of miscalculation.

What does history tell us about where things could go from here?

When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, he didn’t expect to fight British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who had caved in so many times before. Hitler was stunned when Britain declared war—that was not the war he wanted. So, we should be careful not to stumble into another war that nobody wants.

While the Russians will probably win a military victory on the ground, I predict that this war will quickly become a cyberwar. Hackers inside and outside Ukraine will bombard Russian military and financial websites relentlessly until they collapse, and what can Putin do about that? How can you drop a nuclear bomb on a hacker?

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