Name: Sara Norrevik
Title: Professor of Political Science and Public Administration at Buffalo State College.
A native of Stockholm, Sweden, Norrevik joined the faculty part-time in 2017 and earned his doctorate in political science from the University at Buffalo in 2020. His research interests include European Union foreign policy and politics. American Foreign Affairs, and she taught Russian politics. . Prior to her academic career, Norrevik served as a political adviser to the Swedish Ministry of Defence.
From your perspective, how long has Ukraine been vulnerable?
I think since 2008 with the aggression of Russia in Georgia. We saw what Putin was ready to do with the former Soviet states. Then, in 2014, Russia invaded Crimea. A few years after Putin came to power in 2000, it became clear that he had this ambition to establish a Russian empire. He wants to restore Russia’s influence, not only in the former Soviet Union, but throughout Europe. In 2007, Putin gave a speech discussing Russia’s humiliation during the fall of the Soviet Union.
What role does the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) play in this war?
NATO certainly has an important role to play. It should leave the door open for Ukraine and other countries to join and not be threatened by Russian claims about its security concerns. Eastern Europe is not a threat to Russia. Ukraine was occupied by both the Nazi regime and the Soviet Union. Most Ukrainians have grandparents who lived through those horrific times, the genocides suffered by all kinds of minorities. You can easily understand why Ukraine does not want this to happen again. It wants to be a free and democratic country.
Was Ukraine ill-prepared for this war?
Ukraine has been waging a war against Russian-backed separatists, irregular troops and even regular Russian troops in eastern Ukraine since 2014. The country is psychologically ready for war, which shows in the unparalleled fighting spirit of Ukrainians. Are they lacking in equipment? Absolutely. The Ukrainian government repeatedly asks Western countries to support them with heavy weapons. It is difficult to match the size of the Russian army. And that is why so many former Soviet republics that endured occupation and repression for decades have decided to join NATO. They knew that the threat of Russian aggression had not gone away.
Will increasing economic sanctions against Russia be effective?
These penalties are significant. In the long term, this will reduce Russia’s ability to finance the war. But realistically, even a complete Western ban on Russian gas might not be enough to deter Putin from continuing his aggression. It is still possible to impose secondary sanctions that target parties who do business with sanctioned entities. Secondary sanctions have been used against Iran and North Korea, for example. Yet however effective the sanctions, they can be imposed for “sanitary” reasons, to avoid association with Putin’s regime and its war crimes.
How will Europe and the United States deal with the economic effects of the war, including the flow of Ukrainian refugees?
There has been a strong show of support for Ukraine both in Europe and the United States Ukraine has been on the path to integration into the European Union since 2004, with eventual EU membership on the horizon. The important EU-Ukraine Association Agreement entered into force in 2017, allowing Ukrainians visa-free travel to the EU, further strengthening ties. Most people see the Ukrainian struggle as a struggle for the values that are at the heart of the European Union, against the oppression of an authoritarian occupier.
Recall that the most important achievement of the EU over the past 30 years is the integration of 10 Eastern Member States in the early 2000s. Their progress has been staggering compared to a country like Belarus, which chose another path. And that is why it is so important for Europe to support Ukraine now, especially by welcoming Ukrainian refugees.
Do you think this conflict could degenerate into a nuclear war?
Historically speaking, nuclear weapons have proven to be a powerful deterrent against all-out war. Even Putin understands that it would be suicidal to start a nuclear war. Yet nuclear weapons play an important role in Russia’s posture in international politics. When the Kremlin says its nuclear forces are on high alert, it does not mean that Russia intends to go nuclear in Ukraine.
Worryingly, Putin and his generals have shown great tolerance for the reckless behavior of their forces, not only in Ukraine, but during military exercises in its vicinity. In the worst case, such behavior can accidentally lead to an escalation of war. Furthermore, any gains Putin makes in Ukraine could encourage him to test NATO’s protection of its new members, increasing the risk of nuclear war. Thus, the probability of a nuclear war is increased, but it is still an unlikely scenario.