Ever since Russia invaded Ukraine, the world has paid close attention to the situation, watching it unfold on social media and the media.
The invasion has brought a lot of uncertainty and worry even to those not in Ukraine, leaving many wondering if it could eventually turn into a third world war.
International policy experts from Illinois State University offered their perspective on the conflict.
Professor Joseph Zompetti gives courses in political communication. He said that move by Russian President Vladimir Putin was something leaders had worried about for some time.
“People have long feared that Putin has imperial or adventurous ambitions,” Zompetti said.
Since Ukraine’s independence in 1994, Zompetti explained that US relations with Ukraine have been good, compared to strained relations with Russia.
Teaching Assistant Professor Sherri Replogle teaches courses in international relations. She said Russia had probably been planning this invasion for a long time.
“I think [Putin] thinks the United States is weak enough because we’ve been through 20 years of war and a contested election, that he feels he can get away with this,” Replogle said.
In response to the Russian invasion, President Joe Biden issued several sanctions against Russian exports and senior officials. However, these sanctions will also have economic impacts on the United States.
“Because Russia is such an important country in the global economy, anything that happens to its economy will have ripple effects around the world,” Zompetti said.
The price of energy is a major concern for many people, as Russia is one of the largest oil exporters in the world. Replogle said a price hike is almost inevitable.
“Once the energy increases, everything increases because everything is based on energy,” Replogle said.
Zompetti explained that there is a way to offset this potential price hike. If other major exporters, such as the United States and Saudi Arabia, increase their supply, prices are not expected to rise as much.
While it’s unclear whether Biden will ask American companies to do so, Saudi Arabia has already said it won’t.
“They directly benefit from this conflict. So it’s conceivable that other oil-producing countries are really getting richer while the rest of the world is suffering,” Zompetti said.
Besides gas prices, residents of the Bloomington-Normal area may be affected in other ways.
Russia is a major exporter of nickel, and as supplies are delayed or even stopped altogether, Zompetti said this will likely affect Normal’s Rivian plant, as electric cars need nickel to manufacture.
“Any export technology tariffs and sanctions that are going to be imposed on Russia also have implications for these civilian dual-use technology purposes,” Zompetti said.
With all the potential side effects for the rest of the world, this may make some people wonder if the penalties are worth it. Replogle said that while sanctions may not be able to stop Russia, they could at least slow it down.
“What we’re trying to do is create as high a cost as possible for Russia,” Replogle said. “We can’t stop him and what he decides to do. But what we’re trying to do is make it much harder for him to do that with these penalties.”
Since the United States has made it clear that it does not plan to get involved militarily, sanctions are one of the few options it has that Zompetti says won’t do much.
“A lot of these sanctions and tariffs and embargoes and all those sorts of things are generally more symbolic and political than they are actually effective weapons,” Zompetti said.
However, due to the economic impact these sanctions will have, concerns have been raised about possible retaliation by Russian intelligence services.
“In response even to our sanctions, [I’m] they are kind of expected to do cyberattacks, which they are already doing, but cyberattacks could be really devastating to our financial systems and our power grid,” Replogle said.
Zompetti said these possible cyberattacks from Russia could be enough to push the United States into military action.
“Yes [Putin] engaged in a cyberattack on the United States, we could call it an act of aggression and maybe even an act of war,” Zompetti said. “If that happens, things could go wrong very quickly.”
As a rule, sanctions are not enough to stop a military aggression of this magnitude. However, Zompetti explained that sanctions can work if they affect citizens so badly that they revolt against their government.
“It’s unlikely to happen in Russia, because Russia has an insular, controlled and tight grip on society.” said Zompetti. “Even Russians who can see through this or have access to Western media, their power is very limited.”
Zompetti also expressed concern about the growing misinformation, saying there had been several fake social media posts portraying Ukraine or other Western powers as the aggressor, attempting to justify the invasion of Russia.
“The Russians have become very, very adept at infiltrating and manipulating the algorithms of these social media platforms and using them to their advantage.”
Zompetti encouraged people to expand their media consumption and “get out of their echo chambers.” He said the best way to fight misinformation is to constantly question what’s online.
Since the start of the conflict, many people began to wonder if it could evolve into World War III. Although Replogle and Zompetti agreed that it was unlikely to reach such a scale, they disagreed on when the Russian invasion would end.
Replogle said she believes Russia will stop after annexing Ukraine.
“I kinda doubt he would push further than Ukraine because that would be a situation where things could get out of control,” Replogle said.
On the other hand, Zompetti said he feared Russia would invade other non-NATO countries, as Western powers were unlikely to get involved militarily for those either.
“I’m afraid it’s not limited to Ukraine, but I don’t know for sure what Putin’s endgame is here. It’s part of the fear and part of the reason it’s so scary is because we don’t know what this guy is up to,” Zompetti said.
Zompetti said he believed Putin was trying to bring Russia back to the size and power of the Soviet Union.
“[Putin] has this distorted sense and this glamorous ideal of what the Soviet Union was like at one time, so I think it all fits a particular trajectory of Russian expansionism and adventurism. Which means Ukraine is just a stepping stone if that’s the case,” Zompetti said.
It leaves Americans wondering if there really is anything they can do to help. Zompetti said there might be a more effective option than penalties.
“I think if the world keeps reprimanding him, it will be much more effective than economic sanctions,” Zompetti said.
“I think [Putin] is driven by his ego and his inflated sense of who he is, so I think if the world continues to decry his actions in this way, hopefully it might deflate that ego where he might change course,” Zompetti continued. .