“Confrontation with NATO is Russia’s greatest fear”

“Confrontation with NATO is Russia’s greatest fear”

FASoS meeting on the war in Ukraine


MAASTRICHT. “My greatest fear is that in a couple of weeks’ time, the war in Ukraine will become normal for the rest of the world. The sky above them remains safe, they can visit family and friends and go to work. Every now and again, they will ask: how are things there now?” This is what Ganna Bazilo says, a Ukrainian alumna from Maastricht University, at a meeting on the Russian invasion. She spoke via a video connection to a full Gymnasium at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences on Tuesday evening.

Bazilo was in Ireland, visiting family, when Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February. Her parents are in still in Kyiv where she lives. “I have hardly eaten or slept these past ten days, always waiting for a message from them. The people there are staying calm, because they don’t know what else to do. I know you have all seen how people who tried to leave were killed by the Russians. People are scared of staying and scared of leaving.”

It is with bitter irony that she looks back on the letter of motivation that she wrote when she applied to the master’s of European Studies. “I said that my biggest dream was for Ukraine to be allowed to join the European Union. Now my dream is closer by then ever before, but at what cost?” Just like the other speaker from Ukraine this evening, Bazilo hopes that NATO will change its mind about a no-fly zone above Ukraine. “People in the air-raid shelters hardly follow international politics, they just want a chance not to die.”

Indecisive NATO

“Our image of NATO is that of a strong determined organisation, whereas the EU is often described as weak and indecisive. In the past few weeks, we have seen that it is exactly the other way around,” says fellow countryman and former fellow student Iulian Romanyshyn. For the past months, he has been teaching at the NATO Defense College in Rome, an international military academy. “The EU has taken unprecedented steps and measures that have never been seen before, while the NATO has not been able to agree on a single action.”

Romanyshyn believes that the fact that the United States decided to recall its soldiers, who were there in connection with NATO training the Ukrainian army, at the beginning of February, was a fundamental mistake. “Confrontation with NATO is Russia’s biggest fear. The fact that it was immediately decided to refuse direct military support to Ukraine, was music to the ears of the Kremlin. After all, maybe Putin can no longer think rationally, hidden away in his bunker. But his generals can and they realise all too well the consequences for Russia. If the almighty Russian army is having so much trouble with the Ukrainian armed forces, what could the collective NATO troops not do.”

According to Romanyshyn, NATO must take a firm stand against Putin. “Frighten him away, show that you are prepared to fight. Overtrump his nuclear bluff.” He would like to see a no-fly zone. “Not above the whole Ukraine, that is no longer feasible, but, for example, above nuclear power stations and the west of Ukraine, which is where many people have fled. It is also a pity that nothing has come of the plan by neighbouring countries to supply fighter jets.” Less direct confrontations would also help, said Romanyshyn. “Doing nothing is not an option. This is a hybrid war, take Russia as an example. Think of the cyber-attacks on strategic targets such as their electricity network.”

Two blocks

Other speakers discuss the situation from various academic perspectives. Thomas Conzelmann, professor of Political Sciences, focuses on the geopolitical changes that have been set in motion. “We see a return of thinking in spheres of influence. Russia casts its gaze on the other neighbouring countries – that, because they are smaller and less powerful, will lose independence and sovereignty. Russia is also strengthening its ties with Central Asian countries. On the other hand, you see countries such as Sweden, Finland and Austria are considering joining NATO. My expectation and fear are that matters will become more polarised, two blocks against each other.”


Mariëlle Wijermars, lecturer of Cyber Security and Politics, shows how Russia influences its own population. “They are not only bombarded with propaganda, they have been hearing for years that the West has been carrying out an information war against Russia. That is why they are mistrustful of all foreign sources.”

Add to that the fact that Russia has been creating obstacles for independent journalists. Last week, a law was introduced that makes it illegal to distribute information about Ukraine that has not been approved by the government. Anyone who does so, risks a 15-year prison sentence. “This resulted in a massive exodus of both foreign and Russian journalists. For the Russian population, it has now become even more difficult to have access to independent sources. For us, it has become more difficult to know what is going on in Russia.”

Despite everything, there are Russians who openly protest against the war. “The counter now stands at 13,750 detainees. This often goes hand in hand with a lot of violence. In addition, the population is suffering because of the sanctions. Various products, such as sugar and grain, are already being rationed. I know that it is difficult, but I would like to ask everyone to also look at this side of things, to show solidarity with the Russian population.” 

Author: Cleo Freriks

Photo: Joey Roberts

Tags: ukraine,russia,putin,war,eu,nato,europe,fasos,instagram

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