NASHVILLE, TN – A researcher at Vanderbilt University says the invasion of Ukraine raises serious questions about the future of NATO and the security of Western Europe. The following interview with Professor Samar Ali was conducted on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. It has been edited for length.

What are the possible outcomes of the war in Ukraine?

We’re seeing it evolve on a daily basis. We see there are talks going on, we see a ceasefire. We see the war stop between Russia and Ukraine, that’s one option. Another option is that Russia goes further and invades a NATO country which would trigger Article 5, and the worst-case scenario, which we absolutely want to avoid at all cost, would be a nuclear war.

You can be smart and crazy so there are a lot of questions about Putin which we’re dealing with right now. I think that’s what everyone is trying to decipher as to whether or not this is someone who has lost his mind or someone who has miscalculated.

Samar Ali is Research Professor of Political Science and Law at Vanderbilt University. Ali studies conflict resolution. She clerked for Judge Gilbert S. Merritt of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and clerked for Justice Edwin Cameron on the Constitutional Court of South Africa. Ali was Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s assistant commissioner of international affairs and practices law at Bass Berry & Sims, a Nashville law firm.

Is there anything about Russia’s support of separatists in Crimea and the Donetsk region that are justified because of Ukraine chauvinism towards its Russian speaking population?

I think we should be thoughtful and careful about the rhetoric that we use. That said, I don’t think there is any justification for the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Could the war end if Ukraine recognized the autonomy to the two separatist regions and declared Ukraine neutral like Switzerland, which is not a NATO member?

It’s a very good question but not for us to decide. That’s a broader question as to how large NATO should get. There are really two questions. Should Ukraine join NATO or should it remain neutral like Switzerland and what’s a better position for Ukraine and for the rest of the world?

That gets to the purpose of NATO and that includes how big should NATO get. It grew from 12 to 30 countries. Should Ukraine be 31? Russia asked to be part of NATO a couple of years ago. Should Russia be part of NATO? We determined that it should not be.

The broader question is: what is the purpose of NATO in the 21st Century? I don’t think we’ve had that conversation in depth. And we’re having a conversation about NATO that is still centered around its original formation and things have changed. This is a reorganization of the world order. We need to discuss what is NATO’s purpose in this new world order. And that would lead to Ukraine’s position in NATO.

Is there a way to get a ceasefire that would involve withdrawal of Russian forces and still allow Putin to save face?

If we see this war end sooner rather than later, don’t forget the role that disinformation and propaganda have been playing in this war. Putin has been using them as tools. I think Putin will definitely sell whatever outcome to the Russian people as a win.

And I think Ukraine has already won in many ways. Zelensky has shown great courage and they have held on and pushed back on Russia as long as they have. That already demonstrated strength and made Putin look to the rest of the world as weak and having miscalculated. So, I think it will be difficult to see an immediate end to this war in 2022.  I don’t think Russia will give this up without the condition that Ukraine will not become a NATO member in the foreseeable future.

An update: The on again off again talks between Ukraine and Russia will go nowhere unless the U.S. takes an active part in the negotiations, according to Noam Chomsky. Chomsky is Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT and currently Laureate Professor at the University of Arizona.

In a recent interview, Chomsky said Zelensky has signaled that joining NATO is not an option for Ukraine. That has not been widely reported in the West.

“He also insisted, rightly, that the opinions of people in the Donbas region, now occupied by Russia, should be a critical factor in determining some form of settlement,” Chomsky said. 

Putin has not accepted Ukraine’s proposals for a ceasefire and agreed to withdraw Russian troops because the U.S. continues to insist on Ukraine’s sovereign right to join NATO. Chomsky said the war is not likely to end soon because the U.S. “is not willing to try”.

For more about the war in Ukraine go to: https://tntribune.com/brave-ukraine-fights-the-russian-bear/

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