Sussex experts respond to the conflict in Ukraine
By: Neil Vowles
Last updated: Thursday, 10 March 2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin has shocked and outraged the international community by launching an invasion of Ukraine.
Now the world watches on in horror at images of the violence being perpetrated in Ukraine and tries to make sense of what is unfolding and the consequences of the conflict which are reverberating around the globe.
Experts at the University of Sussex have been playing their part in broadening public understanding of the roots of this conflict, the wide-ranging fallout from the war and the international response to it and trying to assess what happens next.
Reaction to the outbreak of war
Dr Stefanie Ortmann, Lecturer in International Relations, gives insights into the Russian public's perspective on the war and how the conflict and subsequent sanctions are beginning to significantly impact their lives too.
Dr Kamran Matin, Senior Lecturer in International Relations, discussed how it was extremely unlikely that Western forces would get involved in military action in Ukraine and the impacts of the conflict that will be felt here in the UK.
Vice-Chancellor David Maguire also responded to the outbreak of the conflict, raising his concerns about how the war might be impacting members of the University community and offering reassurances that support is available for those who need it.
A War Like No Other
Pulling together publicly available resources, such as social media videos and photos, groups of reporters, activists, researchers and amateur enthusiasts have been working together to get a clearer picture of what is happening on the ground in the fog of war.
Mr Crow told Reuters that “(OSINT) has been really phenomenally deployed in a way that we haven’t seen before”.
As the international community sought to respond to Russia’s actions without resorting to military action, Prof Michael Gasiorek, Director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory, discussed the economic implications of sanctions and the challenges of making them hurt the intended targets.
Prof Gasiorek told the South China Morning Post: “A broader set of sanctions would have a substantial impact on the Russian economy – but this will hit the population at large."
The UK Government came in for criticism in some quarters for what was perceived as underwhelming restrictions on Russian economic activity here in the UK.
Prof Robert Barrington, Professor of Anti-Corruption Practice at the Centre for the Study of Corruption, explained in The Guardian that Boris Johnson’s proposals for a property register that would reveal the true owners of some of the UK’s most expensive property was a policy move that had been promised and not delivered under three different Prime Ministers.
Prof Barrington also criticised members of the UK legal profession who had earned considerable income from working for Russian oligarchs and could continue to receive lucrative business in exploiting loopholes in any new legislation targeting their extreme wealth.
He said: “For over two decades, London law firms have struggled with how to reconcile the commercial opportunities from globalisation and the end of the Cold War with their professional ethics. This week a stark warning is being sent to the legal profession: it's time to clean the stables.”
In a timely move, the Centre for the Study of Corruption published a new book within days of the invasion titled Understanding Corruption: how corruption works in practice.
Prof Liz David-Barrett, Director of the Centre for the Study of Corruption and one of the lead authors, said: "We can see a direct link between our research in this book and what is happening with Russia and Ukraine. We look at how former Soviet Union countries have been captured by corrupt elites, how they launder their money and reputations through centres such as London, and the impact on the victims.”
Prof Paul Nightingale, from the Science Policy Research Unit in the University of Sussex Business School, warned that blanket action against all Russian students studying in the UK would be counter-productive and would punish many who did not agree with Putin’s actions.
Prof Aleks Lewicki, Co-Director of the Sussex European Institute, also highlighted in The Washington Post how Russians living across Europe were being targeted with hate crimes and punishments for their country’s actions. She warned that the conflict was stirring up long-held discrimination of Eastern Europeans by their counterparts in the West.
The international response to the conflict has been influenced by the reliance of the global economy, and particularly Europe, on Russian energy.
Dr Max Lacey-Barnacle, a Research Fellow in Just Transitions in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex Business School, warns that Europe’s energy dependence on Russia could continue for decades if the EU pursues plans to significantly increase the proportion of hydrogen within its energy mix over the next three decades. Russia has ambitions to be a world-leading producer and exporter of hydrogen energy and would hope to establish itself as a key supplier to Europe.
To limit this risk, Dr Lacey-Barnacle argues the EU needs to commit to a clearer electrification pathway grounded in 100% renewable energy by the mid-point of the century.
Dr Roman Sidortsov, Senior Research Fellow in Energy Justice, explained in The New Statesman the challenges that energy companies such as BP and Shell would face in pulling out of huge projects in Russia and the likelihood that such decisions would lead to significant financial losses for the companies.
SPRU Associate Dr Paul Dorfman explained his concerns about the intensive fighting occurring in and around Ukrainian nuclear facilities warning that the power plants were not designed to withstand military assault.
The crisis in Ukraine has only served to highlight the need for countries to wean themselves off fossil fuel imports.
But as Benjamin Sovacool, Professor of Energy Policy in the Science Policy Research Unit at the University of Sussex Business School, explained to CNBC, energy policy has traditionally been low down on voters’ list of concerns and so politicians are not willing to risk political capital on changes that might bring short-term upheaval but long-term gains.
He also spoke with Nigel Farage on GB News discussing the prospect of the UK becoming completely self-reliant in energy. Prof Sovacool said transitioning from Russian oil and gas would take at least year and that the UK has options to diversify away from Russian gas which would not require domestic onshore gas production which would put the Government at odds with its own climate change targets.
SPRU associate Dr Paula Kivimaa explained to the BBC that the need to make quick decisions on ending Russian energy dependence was not necessarily conducive with clear long-term planning. Dr Kivimaa also told Time magazine that the Ukrainian invasion would be seen as a major turning point in global energy policy.
Personal and emotional impact
The conflict has been particularly troubling for members of our University community who have loved ones in Ukraine.
Prior to the outbreak of war, Dr Yuliya Kyrychko and Dr Konstantin Blyuss from the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences expressed their hope that President Putin would see sense and not launch the offensive he had been threatening for weeks which would put members of their families in harms’ way.
Law student Anna Maria Szalay explained her fears for her elderly grandmother Svetlana trapped in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv as a huge Russian force bore down on the city.
Anna told journalists: "I think the attitude there is just a lot of fear, and a lot of hope, because that is all you have."