BYU professor says people of Russia and Ukraine share unique bond, heartbroken over war

Feb 28, 2022, 5:37 PM | Updated: Jun 7, 2022, 2:54 pm
BYU Assistant Professor of Political Science Celeste Beesley, PhD. (KSL TV)...
BYU Assistant Professor of Political Science Celeste Beesley, PhD. (KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY – The U.S. and its allies ramped up financial sanctions against Russia on Monday. The unprecedented scope of the sanctions should devastate the Russian economy. An assistant professor at Brigham Young University who has studied in both Russia and Ukraine now fears for a divide between the two countries. 

Assistant Professor of Political Science Celeste Beesley, Ph.D. has been doing political public opinion research in Ukraine for the last dozen years and tells me it’s heartbreaking to see a divide where there had not been one. 

“These are countries that have historically had this special relationship,” she said. 

Families have members on both sides of the border. The Ukrainians and Russians look like each other, talk like each other, and attend similar church services. 

“It’s heartbreaking for the Russians who recognize how much this is not in their interest, that they don’t want a war with Ukraine, that they know this is going to hurt them that this is making their country an international pariah that their economy is going to suffer,” Beesley said. 

She feels for the Russian people. 

“They are protesting, and they are trying to get their governments to change. But, they have no power,” the professor said. 

She said it’s difficult to wield power against the government when protesters are being arrested.  

Beesley added sanctions will make Russia suffer. But, will that be enough to cause a policy change in Russia? 

“It’s hard to say whether the economic pain that sanctions bring is going to be enough to actually get Putin to change his mind because there isn’t somebody else who can force him to change his mind based upon the economic pain in the country,” she said. 

Prior to the invasion, Putin emphasized that Ukrainians were part of Russia. That was part of his rationale for moving in. 

“He said, they’re not just neighbors to us, they’re part of us universally, culturally, historically,” Beesley said. 

That also makes it more complicated when it comes to battle over borders. Typically, when countries go to war, she said, they see the enemy as the others, someone different from them. 

“Psychologically, for human beings, it’s much easier to fight someone who is the out group, rather than the in group. So, focusing on ‘Oh, they’re just like us’ is a weird way to go about trying to fight someone.” 

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BYU professor says people of Russia and Ukraine share unique bond, heartbroken over war