Paulsen Programme

The Paulsen Programme is suspended until further notice.

Chair of the Board, Professor Dominic Lieven, recently gave a talk sharing a historian's perspective on the Ukrainian crisis. He first argued that the invasion of Ukraine was immoral, illegal and – even more important – very foolish. The attempt simultaneously to hive off Crimea and turn the rest of Ukraine into a Russian client state was beyond Russia’s power even if it had not been undermined by misconceptions about Ukrainian national identity. Next, he noted Putin’s reliance on essentially tsarist thinking about empire, nationhood and Ukraine, as well as the dangers in mining pre-modern empire for contemporary politics. Importantly, he discussed the past and present geopolitical importance of Ukraine to Russia and Europe, stressing that Ukraine’s importance today – though still great – was much less today than in 1900. This helped to place the present crisis within the comparative context of the end of empire. The talk saw the key to Putin’s invasion as lying in the rage and humiliation felt by him and much of the Russian elite at the loss of empire and all that entailed in terms of their sense of status, self-esteem and feelings of world-historical significance. This was not to deny either the genuine Russian interests involved or mistakes made by the West. Finally, it concluded by stating that Ukraine had lost Crimea and the eastern Donbas, and that Russia had lost Ukraine. Thousands more people would probably die before both sides recognised this reality. A prolonged war in which NATO supplied Ukraine had great dangers for escalation, especially as the reality of defeat faced the Russian leadership.