On March 3, the Ukrainian Student Organization, or USO, in association with MSU’s Center for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies held a webinar featuring former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William B. Taylor.
The webinar was brought together by Yuri Tomkiw, president of USO.
“Ukraine’s ongoing struggle with Russia has taken a toll on many lives and you being here shows the support of the Ukrainian cause and your willingness to learn more about the true nature of the conflict,” Tomkiw said.
Taylor, alumnus of West Point University, served as an infantry platoon leader, a company combat commander in U.S., Vietnam and Germany and also served as a U.S. ambassador to Ukraine from 2006-2009. In 2019 he served as the chargé d’affaires in the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv and is currently vice president of Russia and Europe as the United States Institute of Peace.
“This conflict … has garnered the interest and attention of people around the world,” Taylor said. “The intensity of the resistance that Ukrainians feel to this invasion, you can feel it, and it is all over the world and people all over the world are in support of Ukrainians at this point.”
Russia previously invaded Ukraine in 2014, specifically in eastern Donbas and Crimea where Russian forces have been since then.
On Feb. 24 Russia invaded Ukraine once again and expected it to be an easy battle for them, according to Taylor.
Volodymyr Zelenskyy, president of Ukraine, has only been in office for two years. Prior to serving in office, he hadn’t had government experience but instead pursued a career in the film industry.
“Ukrainian nation, as I said, has rallied like I’m sure no one in Russia was expecting,” Taylor said. “The Ukrainian nation has pulled together behind their president. Some might have thought this was an unlikely hero.”
One of Taylor’s friends that currently live in Ukraine took his family to the western part of Ukraine to his father to then join the territorial defense sources against the Russian invasion.
“That’s one example of millions of Ukrainians who are defending their home, defending their land, defending their independence, defending their sovereignty and their freedom,” Taylor said. “And they’re rallying behind this president, President Zelenskyy, who again many people were not sure that this man was up for the job.”
Ukraine and Russia have several families, businesses and historical ties, and Ukrainians are clear that they are a distinct and proud nation separate, but related, to Russia over the past few centuries.
Taylor believes that President of Russia Vladimir Putin understands a past version of Ukraine, around 2001 when there was an active debate of democratic elections in Ukraine.
Then Ukrainians elected presidents from the east and back to the west six times, and many believed that Russia had a good electoral model while others thought that Europeans had a better model.
However, since the Russian invasion in 2014 Ukraine has seen them solely as enemies.
“The hatred for President Putin and the hatred for the Russian government now is palpable,” Taylor said. “If President Putin thought that he could drive on down to Kyiv in a day or if he thought that he would be received as a liberator or well received in the eastern part of Ukraine … he is wrong. He’s dead wrong.”
Russians don’t support the invasion and believe that when their soldiers die in Ukraine to return for burial President Putin won’t have an answer for the families on their death, according to Taylor.
“The economic sanctions that the West has unified to put on the Russian economy to make it more difficult for them to pursue this invasion and frankly to punish President Putin for his decision, sadly these sanctions will affect every Russian family, and they will bear the costs of their government’s decision, their president’s decision,” Taylor said. 15:33 “That anger on the part of the Russian people, that’s a problem for Mr. Putin.”
According to Taylor, the Biden administration has rallied great support from the United States, NATO allies and the EU.
In early March The U.N. General Assembly voted to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine with a total vote of 141 nations in support, five nations voted against and 35 nations abstained.
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Among the five nations were Russia, Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea and Syria.
As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues Taylor believes that the Ukrainian people will proudly continue to fight under President Zelenskyy.
“He has been reluctant to leave the capital of Kyiv,” Taylor said. “He wants to stay there and demonstrate that they are defending their capital — they are defending their land.”
Similar to Afghanistan driving out Russian occupiers in 1979, Taylor believes that Ukraine will do the same.
“The Ukrainians will fight,” Taylor said. “They will make it hell for the occupiers. They will kill a lot of occupiers. … They will expel the Russian occupiers, I am sure.”
According to Taylor, he also believes that Ukraine will become a member of the EU and NATO and “live a normal life as a normal European country in security.”
“This is a major change that we will be looking back on and talking about and seeing the implications of for years to come,” Taylor said.
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