Ukraine's Unnamed War: 2014-2022 | Jesse Driscoll

Thursday, April 11, 2024
3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

William J. Perry Conference Room

About the Event: Naming the Russo-Ukraine War has been controversial since 2014.  Why did Russian diplomats deploy the term “civil war” as a preferred descriptor until 2022 — and why did Ukrainians insist that the phrase be taboo?  We assess four complementary logics for the use of the “civil war” descriptor by Russian diplomats before Russia’s full-scale invasion of 2022.  First, calling the war “civil” implies military non-involvement by Russia.  Second, explanations putting causal weight on Ukrainian domestic variables allow Russia to blame the violence on Western intervention (e.g., the CIA coup, color revolutions, NATO expansion, etc.) or well-rehearsed tropes about Ukraine’s unfitness as a state (e.g., a “fascist coup,” east-west cleavages in the pre-2014 Ukrainian state, stereotypes of Ukraine as a corrupt/“weak”/non-democratic polity, etc.).  Third, the narrative accesses legal precedents, especially Responsibility to Protect (R2P) and self determination as justifications authorizing Russia’s use of force. Fourth, favored internationalist mechanisms developed for settling civil wars privilege the United Nations Security Council, the OSCE, and other consensus forums, thus redirecting energy to forums where Russians enjoy a veto.  This not only functionally de-linked Crimea (“peaceful self-determination”) from the war in the Donbas (“violent and tragic, requiring costly/sustained collective action…”), but also reified Russia as a great power with UNSC veto.

About the Speaker: Jesse Driscoll is Associate Professor of Political Science and the Faculty Chair of the Global Leadership Institute at the School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California San Diego. He is the author of Warlords and Coalition Politics in Post-Soviet States (Cambridge, 2015), Doing Global Fieldwork (Columbia, 2021), and Ukraine’s Unnamed War: Before The Russian Invasion of 2022 (Cambridge, 2023, with Dominique Arel).  He received his PhD in Political Science from Stanford University in 2009.

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