At its recent Vice-Chancellor’s Forum, The University of the West Indies (The UWI) brought together its International Relations experts as well as diplomats from major geo-strategic jurisdictions to share their viewpoints on the Russia-Ukraine War. The June 10 virtual engagement, themed The Russia-Ukraine War Geo-Strategic Perspectives: Interests and Implications was led by the University’s Sir Arthur Lewis Institute for Social and Economic Studies (SALISES). The academics and diplomats presented assessments on the war, its consequences and identified various international efforts to support Ukraine and mitigate the ripple effect of the crisis on the rest of the world.
Dr. Indira Rampersad, Senior Research Fellow at SALISES, chaired the Forum which included panellists: Her Excellency, Harriet Cross, British High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago; Dr. Theodore Tudoroiu Senior Lecturer, Department of Political Science, Faculty of Social Sciences at The UWI; Mr. Shante Moore, Chargé d’Affaires, United States Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago; His Excellency, Peter Cavendish, European Union Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago and Dr. Michal Pawiński, Lecturer, from the Institute of International Relations at The UWI, St. Augustine Campus.
In her opening remarks, Dr. Indira Rampersad set the context for the dialogue, posing a series of questions to the diplomats and academics, “What really prompted this war? Would it trigger a third World War with the concomitant bandwagoning or states alongside one camp or the other? Would it form the birth of other geopolitical and geo-strategic alliances as did the last two World Wars and the Cold War?” What are the implications for geostrategic interests and international politics, as well as in the Caribbean given that it lies in the backyard of the United States?”
Her Excellency, Harriet Cross, British High Commissioner to Trinidad and Tobago asserted that Russia has committed war crimes and that they will be held responsible, as the global impact lies entirely at its door. “And actually that’s not only a position that the UK holds…there’s an enormous amount of international unity on this,” she added. Her Excellency noted the clear positions against the war emerging from international bodies such as the UN General Assembly, the International Court of Justice, the Human Rights Council, the UN Human Rights Council and ICC International Criminal Court. She also addressed the significance of sanctions, the UK supplying military equipment to Ukraine as well as reducing its dependency on energy supplies from Russia.
Dr. Theodor Tudoroiu, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Political Science at The UWI, St. Augustine Campus, offered a presentation covering the causes and consequences of warfare and he also assessed different stages of the ongoing war to date. He suggests that the Russian objectives of the war are to serve the interests of President Putin, and that he would only stop when he can convince domestic audiences that his forces are victorious. According to Dr. Tudoroiu, the West faces a dilemma on the amount of arms it provides Ukraine; too little military support would allow Russia to defeat Ukraine, but too much support would lead to Russia escalating the conflict beyond Ukraine. He opined that the effect of Western sanctions will be evident in the medium to long term and that the end of the war cannot be anticipated. He also commented, “Everybody hopes ultimately there will be no new Cold War, but it seems to be going that way.”
Mr. Shante Moore, Chargé d’Affaires, United States Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago presented the position of the President Joe Biden Administration on the war. He outlined a three-part strategy advanced by the United States. “We have imposed powerful sanctions on Russia. We have bolstered NATO’s deterrence and defense on the eastern flank and we have provided robust military, humanitarian and other assistance to Ukraine, as it has bravely defended its territory and its freedom,” he said. He also stated that the government of the United States, together with its allies will continue to stand by Ukraine in its efforts to defend itself against Russia for as long as it takes.
Dr. Michal Pawinski, Lecturer in the Institute of International Relations at The UWI, St. Augustine Campus focused his presentation on the legality of the war from the UN perspective. He categorised Russia’s attacks as more severe and frequent than we have seen in recent years, given the frequency and gravity of the human rights violations that have been committed. “It is illegal and breaches the United Nations Charter,” he said. Dr. Pawinski noted that several politicians, members of civil society, news media and academics have been demanding that the Russian leadership is held accountable, but he begged the question of whether it is “empty talk” given the limitations of the UN Security Council and International Criminal Court in condemning these acts.
His Excellency, Peter Cavendish, European Union (EU) Ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago also expressed the EU’s disapproval of the war and noted that although Europe has managed responses to many crises worldwide, it has taken a series of unprecedented actions to mitigate the current crisis. He said EU financed a very large sum of money for arms and took unprecedented sanctions to seize Russian assets abroad with great secrecy and at short notice, to hinder the Russian leadership. It is also currently working on decreasing its energy dependency on Russia as well as solutions to food security. According to His Excellency, “Putin has already lost the political war, he’s lost the diplomatic war, he’s lost the propaganda war, and he cannot be allowed to win the military war.” “The EU is going to stay the crisis to the end,” he said.
Thanking the panellists at the close of the session, Dr Rampersad summarised that in keeping with The UWI’s commitment to sharing knowledge and facilitating conversations on issues that affect the region, the Forum sought to balance both objective and intellectual perspectives on the war together with that of the diplomats. “This is a very complicated, complex war with multiple dimensions, multiple players and multiple actors. It’s a transatlantic war in some respects,” she said. The consensus of the diplomats reflected strong condemnation of the war. She noted that there are not many countries that are overtly supportive of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and it is evident that those that do, have been particularly silent on their positions.
Dr. Godfrey St. Bernard, Acting Director of SALISES at the St. Augustine Campus delivered remarks on behalf of University Director, Professor Aldrie Henry-Lee. Following which, in his personal remarks he contextualised that the Forum is part of a wider programme being undertaken by SALISES, dedicated to looking at development issues from a multidisciplinary perspective, and signalled that another was in the works in July.
A recorded broadcast of The Russia-Ukraine War Geo-Strategic Perspectives: Interests and Implications can be accessed here.