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GRCC hosts table talk for Ukraine-Russia crisis

(Photo Courtesy of GRCC ODEI)

By Elizabeth Halvorson

Grand Rapids Community College’s Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (ODEI) hosted a virtual roundtable discussion featuring GRCC professors on Wednesday, March 16 to unpack the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

GRCC’s ODEI Director, B. Afeni McNeely Cobham moderated the virtual event with conversations and comments from a panel of GRCC professors. The panel included Yan Bai, Mathea Righa, Gordan Vurusic, Robert Hendershot, and Susan Willams.

Each professor presented their thoughts on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as well as answered questions from participants.

Gordon Vurusic, professor of Language and Thought and former liaison officer between the Croatian government and the United Nations, spoke about a drafted compromise with 15 points, including a point of military neutrality for Ukraine, between Ukraine and Russia that is being negotiated currently.

“I think there is some light at the end of the tunnel,” Vurusic said. “Russian political leadership is offering to withdraw from all territories that they have conquered since February 24. So I think that’s where we are. I think there are serious negotiations about Ukraine possibly losing some territory, the territory they already didn’t fully control before the invasion and the neutrality of Ukraine in the bane of Finland, Sweden, Austria…But at the same time Ukraine is seeking security guarantees from the West, especially from the United States.”

Robert Hendershot, professor of History and specialist on TransAtlantic relations, specifically during the Cold War, gave his opening remarks on the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

“There are so many moving parts to the war in Ukraine,” said Hendershot. “A clash of values, attitudes, and perspectives, as well as a clash of arms. Russia is typically perceived as expansionists and aggressive and therefore must be contained and never appeased. Plus, stopping Russia from completely invading and taking over another country is necessary, essential to maintain the international system that the United States created after World War II.”

When asked for her comments, Susan Williams, professor of European History at GRCC, spoke on the challenge the United States has when dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“Unfortunately, we’re dealing with an unfavorable actor,” Williams said. “We don’t know what Putin thinks because he’s a despot in the quintessential meaning of that word. He keeps himself extraordinarily isolated, even from the people who are supposed to be advising him, so it’s extraordinarily difficult for us to game out what’s coming next, whether it’s in the war itself or in peace negotiations.”

In closing, Williams urged Americans to not give up their passion.

“I think one of the reasons why so many Americans are so passionate about this is because we saw the attacks on our own institutions for the past four years…and Putin was very successfully using his propaganda machine, using his troll farms and everything else to help seed that discontent in the West,” said Williams. “One of the things we can’t do is let our attention wane. If he (Putin) is allowed to succeed, we’re gonna see a lot of other authoritarian states take territory from working democracies.”

Just hours before GRCC’s discussion, President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine virtually addressed Congress Wednesday, March 16 and pleaded for aid, as well as new sanctions “every week” against Russia.

“Peace is more important than income,” Zelensky said. “In the darkest time for our country, for the whole of Europe, I call on you to do more. We need you right now.”

A few hours later, President Joe Biden announced $800 million in military aid for Ukraine.

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