WKU students, faculty debate Russian leadership

Jessica Voorhees

Students and faculty gathered at Cherry Hall Tuesday night to engage in discussion on the question, “Is Vladamir Putin a threat to world peace?”
Michael McClellan, diplomat-in-residence, moderated the event, which was part of “Diplomacy on the Hill,” a semesterly series of discussions on international affairs in which outside speakers or experts at WKU talk about current events.
“We want to have a true discussion about the various perspectives of global issues,” McClellan said. 
McClennan said last year the series focused exclusively on Ukranian affairs, but this year it concentrates on “hot news topics” relative to Russia’s role in the world. 
The faculty discussion panel consisted of Marko Dumančić, assistant professor of the Cold War, Modern Russia and Eastern Europe, Alexander Lebedinsky, associate professor of Economics, who graduated from a university in Ukraine, and Roger Murphy, associate professor of political science with a focus on international relations, comparative politics and European politics. 
McClellan began the presentation by providing background information on Vladamir Putin’s childhood and rise to political prominence. 
Dumančić presented first on Russia’s worldview in a historical context to support his idea that Russia’s geographic expansion was a defensive measure to secure its sphere of influence, instead of many American’s view of it as offensive. 
“The US and Russia do not have shared similar interests when it comes to foreign policy,” he said. “In fact, the difference in how they conceive of their world leads to Russia being misunderstood especially by Americans as willful.” 
Lebedinsky disagreed with Dumančić through his statement that Putin is indeed a threat to world peace. 
He said Russia’s aggression led to a weakening of its neighboring countries, which proves economics did not play a role in their behavior, but rather national pride. 
Murphy’s position on the issue was in the middle of the two former responses. 
He agreed with Dumančić that Russia’s foreign policy was likely reactive, but he also agreed with Lebedinsky that Putin is “opportunistic and disruptive.” 
“Putin will play any weakness to improve Russia’s position,” Murphy said. 
He also presented on Putin’s outstanding public image in Russia.
Murphy said Putin has an 85 percent approval rating among Russians, although the rising nationalism and xenophobia in the country is creating a hostile public opinion elsewhere in the world. 
The panel opened the room to discussion after their presentations, and several students out of the 50 to 60 in attendance responded with questions and comments for the professors. 
Louisville senior Allison Shontz shared the perspective of Russian friend who said most people in his country support Putin but are unsure if his strategies will be beneficial in the long run.
Dumančić said Putin is a “cult without a personality.”
“He can be charming and incredibly intelligent, but he can also be brutish and downright crude,” he said. “In that sense, I think he projects Russian values an sensibilities.”
The event concluded after the question and answer session, leaving students the opportunity to formulate their own answer to the question of Vladamir Putin’s threat to world peace based on their now informed opinion on the topic.