AP Comparative Gov’t Guest Speaker Offers Insight on the War in Ukraine

Students in Kurt Wahlgren’s (second from the right) AP Comparative Government class pose for a picture with their guest speaker, Natalia Schratwieser (far right), who spoke to the class before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

By: Ainsley Walling

As the conflict began to grow between Ukraine and Russia last month, many relieved tension by joking about possible World War III or Cold War II scenarios. Social media platforms highlighted this dark humor, but it largely downplayed the situation and discredited the fear many Ukrainians were experiencing then, and even more so now, amidst Russian aggression. Prior to the invasion on February 24, an estimated 30,000 Russian troops were stationed in Belarus. Belarus shares a 665-mile border with Ukraine, making them a strategic ally to Russia. As Russian President Vladimir Putin pursued an aggressive presence on the border of former Soviet-state Ukraine, the rest of the world anxiously questioned his true motives and the possible consequences of potential outcomes. 

Kurt Wahlgren’s AP Comparative Government and Politics class were able to find some insight into this situation through Shorecrest parent and volunteer speaker Natalia Schratwieser. Having grown up in Ukraine during its Soviet occupation, Schratwieser provided the class with a unique perspective. After giving some background on her childhood growing up in Ukraine, the discussion quickly turned to a Q & A about the Russia-Ukraine conflict. The students questioned Putin’s motives, worst-case outcomes, and possible United States intervention.

The most obvious motive is that Putin wishes to extend Russia’s territory and influence over a greater part of Europe. Senior student in the class Nathan Brown explained that “Russia has sort of always wanted Ukraine; they will always want a lot of the areas that were previously the Soviet Union.” The former Soviet Union had vast territorial control over surrounding satellite states, including Ukraine.

In an address to Russia, Putin described Ukrainians as “Colleagues, comrades, close ones, relatives, those who are tied up with us in family and blood ties.” Putin is using this false sense of national homogeneity as an excuse to invade and absorb Ukraine as part of Russia. It is widely believed that Putin’s goal is to reclaim former Soviet territory to expand the power of Russia. Schratwieser interpreted that, “Putin really would like for Ukraine to follow more pro-Russian politics and forgo aspirations of joining NATO and EU… Putin just wouldn’t leave Ukraine to develop on its own.”

Speaking before the invasion occurred, Schratwieser believed, “The build-up of the forces on the Ukrainian border almost [didn’t] make sense…except to bring the West to the negotiation table with Putin – he got their attention.” By that, Schratwieser was referring to preliminary actions from the U.S. in an attempt to diffuse the situation. U.S. President Biden had agreed to enter into direct talks with President Putin as long as Russia did not invade Ukraine. U.S. White House officials admitted that a Biden-Putin summit was a futile thing to wish for, and that has been proven right. Ignoring pleas from countries around the world, Putin invaded Ukraine, attacking many of their cities, killing an estimated 15,000 people so far, and creating billions of dollars of damage to the country. 

On the topic of negotiations, Mr. Wahlgren noted that “the U.S. has to abide by contractual alliances that they have previously entered. With this said, some type of negotiation should be preferable to a conflict between nuclear powers.” However, hopes of possible negotiations are waning, as the invasion continues to ravage Ukraine. Many countries, including the U.S., have pursued sanctions against Russia but with little success. Sanctions allow these countries to stand in support of Ukraine without getting directly involved in the military conflict.

Russia provides a significant portion of the worldwide supply of oil, making that an easy target for sanctions. Other restrictions facing Russia include trade and travel as well. The U.S. and European countries in the EU have pledged to pursue oil from other countries in hopes of tanking Russia’s economy due to a drop in exports. As expected, there are some repercussions on daily lives apart from the government. Consumer prices in Russia have jumped as the value of the Russian ruble has decreased. Outside of Russia, countries imposing sanctions are facing record-high gas prices. 

Other than these various sanctions and restrictions, Ukraine has received donations from relief efforts run by corporations and humanitarian organizations, as well as arms and military supplies from supporting countries.

It’s not just government and large-scale organizations contributing to the Ukrainian effort, though; Shorecrest seniors Tomek Moritz and Grace Salter managed to mobilize support within our community. Tomek and Grace collected monetary donations from the student body to buy relief supplies for Ukrainian refugees. Over Spring Break, Tomek ventured to Poland and used the money raised to purchase items most needed by the centers supporting refugees. These items included food, personal hygiene products, and fever-reducing medications.

Tomek explained what inspired him to do this, saying, “I am Polish so the conflict in Ukraine was very close to me… I’ve been to Ukraine many times, and so I feel bad for the people there.” Tomek urges Shorecrest to “stay updated on the situation in Ukraine and [be] on a lookout for future opportunities to help. The situation in Ukraine is changing from hour to hour, so we need to be able to adapt and try to do the most we can to help Ukrainians in their struggle to protect independence.”

The events in Ukraine in the wake of the Russian invasion have shown how volatile and ruthless war can be. It is important to stay up to date on situations like this so that we can help as much as we can. Natalia Schratwieser talking to students and Tomek and Grace collecting donations are perfect examples of how Shorecrest can remain supportive of those who need it most. Ukrainian independence and thousands of lives are at stake, which does not beg the World War III jokes many have been making.

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