Despite repeated warnings from the White House, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 shocked the world. Why did Putin start the war—and why has it unfolded in previously unimaginable w...
American Academy Lecture
Russia’s War against Ukraine: A Conversation with Serhii Plokhii
Despite repeated warnings from the White House, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022 shocked the world. Why did Putin start the war—and why has it unfolded in previously unimaginable ways? Ukrainians have resisted a superior military; the West has united, while Russia grows increasingly isolated. Serhii Plokhii, a leading historian of Ukraine and the Cold War, offers a definitive account of this conflict based on his new book, The Russo-Ukrainian War: The Return of History (W.W. Norton, May 2023)—its origins, course, and the already apparent and possible future consequences. Though the current war began eight years before the all-out assault—on February 27, 2014, when Russian armed forces seized the building of the Crimean parliament—the roots of this conflict can be traced back even earlier, to post-Soviet tensions and imperial collapse in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Providing a broad historical context and an examination of Ukraine and Russia’s ideas and cultures, as well as domestic and international politics, Plokhii reveals that while this new Cold War was not inevitable, it was predictable. Ukraine, Plokhii argues, has remained central to Russia’s idea of itself even as Ukrainians have followed a radically different path. In a new international environment defined by the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the disintegration of the post–Cold War international order, and a resurgence of populist nationalism, Ukraine is now more than ever the most volatile fault line between authoritarianism and democratic Europe.
Serhii Plokhii is the Mykhailo Hrushevs’kyi Professor of Ukrainian History at Harvard University and the director of the university’s Ukrainian Research Institute. A leading authority on the region, he has published extensively in English, Ukrainian, and Russian. Plokhii is the author of several influential monographs, including Yalta: The Price of Peace (2010), The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union (2014), and The Gates of Europe: A History of Ukraine (2015). His books have won numerous prizes and awards, including the Lionel Gelber Prize for best English-language book on international relations, Pushkin House Book Prize (London), Antonovych Foundation Award, and Ambassador of New Europe Prize (Poland).