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Speaker: War In Ukraine Is About Democracy

Kathryn Stoner is pictured this week at Chautauqua Institution. Photo by Sean Smith/The Chautauquan Daily

CHAUTAUQUA — A Stanford University political scientist said the war in Ukraine is about democracy.

“That’s all this is about,” said Kathryn Stoner. “It is not about Russian security, militarily. It is not about NATO. It is about democracy. We have it. We have to fight for it. We have to be the example for people who are putting their lives on the line to get it.”

Stoner shared with an Amphitheater audience Wednesday her thoughts on Russia from her most recent book, “Russia Resurrected: Its Power and Purpose in a New Global Order” as part of Chautauqua Institution’s Lecture Series Week One theme: “What Should be America’s Role in the World?”

Stoner said she was not going to summarize her book, but give some important points pertaining to Russian power. She said the media as become impatient for the war to be over.

“And so there’s a lot of talk about how weak the Russian military is and how badly it’s doing. … But hopefully, I’m going to expand your thinking about what power is, what state power is, and convince you that Russia has more power tools, if you will, then you might think and more than enough to accomplish I think its goals in Ukraine,” Stoner said.

She said there have been conflicting perceptions here in the United States, and in Europe, about Russian power in the last decade. She noted that a lot of focus has been on China, but she contends that China moves differently in the international system than does Russia.

“I would say the last four months should have brought that into pretty sharp contrast for most of us,” she added.

Stoner said another perception is that Russia is not a peer power of the United States.

“John McCain (former Republican Senator who represented Arizona) said in 2014 when Russia moved in, to seize the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine initially, that Russia is merely a gas station masquerading as a country,” she added. “That really hurt Mr. (Vladimir) Putin’s feelings. Mitt Romney in a sort of want-to-be role here says it’s a gas station with nukes. True, (Russia) has nuclear weapons, actually has more nuclear weapons than us if you count both long-range and short-range together.”

Under Putin, she noted, since 2012, there have been other ways in which Russia has been able to build up and express its power on a global stage.

“One is by controlling society, the political system is really unfettered by well, an opposition or political parties are really accountability beyond that small circle of people who are dependent on Putin for their wealth and for their political position. So this makes a huge difference in terms of the way Russia has come to move in the international community in the Soviet system,” she said.

The professor said that the Russian military has the capability to wear down Ukrainian forces. She said it’s important for the United States and other countries to support Ukraine.

“And so another policy recommendation is that if we don’t support Ukraine, Russia will take it. They certainly have the capability and most importantly, under Mr. Putin’s authoritarianism, they have the will to do it, at least for now,” she added.

Stoner said Ukraine is the second-largest country in Europe with a population of about 44 million people, and a very big producer of grain. She said famine will happen unless Russia removes blockades from Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea.

“There will be famine in North Africa and possibly going as far down into Sub Saharan Africa because Ukraine with Russia are big grain exporters,” she said.

According to assembly.chq.com, Stoner is a senior fellow and Mosbacher Director of the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law, and of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, where she is also senior fellow at the Center on International Security and Cooperation. Previously FSI’s deputy director, she is also a senior fellow (by courtesy) at the Hoover Institution. Prior to Stanford University, Stoner was on the faculty at Princeton University for nine years, jointly appointed to the Department of Politics and the Princeton School for International and Public Affairs (formerly the Woodrow Wilson School).

At Princeton, she received the Ralph O. Glendinning Preceptorship awarded to outstanding junior faculty. She also served as a Visiting Associate Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at McGill University. She has held fellowships at Harvard University as well as the Woodrow Wilson Center. Stoner received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in political science from the University of Toronto, and a Ph.D. in government from Harvard University.

Deborah Sunya Moore, Chautauqua’s senior vice president and chief program officer introduced Stoner and noted that the Russian government has added Stoner to the list of now more than 1,000 American government, business media and academic leaders to be permanently banned from traveling.

“I have been going to Russia for 33 years,” Stoner said. “And evidently I won’t be going for a while, which actually makes me very sad because it’s a wonderful country, if you’ve been there. It’s a beautiful country. And it’s unfortunate that it’s probably not safe for you to go either. So we’re all in this together from that respect.”

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