‘Very sad situation’: Local political scientist explains tension behind Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

SPOKANE, Wash. — As the world watches Russia invade Ukraine, this tension’s been brewing for years. Ukraine isn’t the only country at stake as democracy around the world could be threatened.

Stacy Taninchev is the Associate Professor and Chair of Political Science at Gonzaga University. She is an international relations scholar who specializes in the interaction of different countries within intergovernmental organizations. That expertise is helping her understand the complexity behind the crisis.

“This is a very sad situation for the people of Ukraine,” Taninchev said.

Thousands are fleeing, and Russia is gaining ground. However, Taninchev says a lot has changed over the years. Ukraine became its own nation in the early 90s. Back then, Russia still played a major part in influencing the country. Today, the people want otherwise.

“When Ukraine shifted towards being more democratic and more pro-West and more wanting to be part of NATO and Western institutions, that is sort of a threat to Russian interests,” she said.

That threat intensified back in 2014 when Russia invaded and took over the Crimean Peninsula. Dr. Taninchev says Russia wants to take over more of the country and re-establish Soviet Control.

“Not like necessarily recreating the Soviet Union but actually installing another leader who is very favorable to Russia and can basically be controlled by Russia.”

World leaders have tried to control this situation with sanctions to the economy, military and elites, but it didn’t prevent this invasion. It’s a tactic Taninchev says is hard to make work.

She says the targeted sanctions President Joe Biden and other world leaders are using will hurt Putin, but when you start hurting the people of Russia by cutting them off from the rest of the world, that’s really when dictators start to back down.

“It’s difficult to use sanctions effectively,” she said. “That is the big conundrum, the debate about sanctions because when we use those kinds of sanctions, we hurt the people of the country, but when we don’t use them, the sanctions we use are less effective.”

As world leaders come together to figure out more ways to stop the invasion, she doesn’t support moving U.S. troops on the ground as that could lead to a level of devastation no one is ready for.

“I feel like this is the closest we’ve come being concerned that whatever move we make, we might end up in another Cold War situation or worse, a World War III type situation,” Taninchev said.

RELATED: Russia-Ukraine: What to know as Russia attacks Ukraine

RELATED: ‘Prayers are for you’: Local Ukrainian man worries about his family as Russia moves into his home country