Student Led Discussion in Discovery Hall Tackles Russia and Ukraine Tensions

The discussion, led by Rowan University student Rory Newman, the Vice President of RCHGHR Student Association, talked about the tensions between Russia and Ukraine and background information. -Photo via

The Rowan Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights (RCHGHR) Lecture Series hosted a student led discussion with speaker SirMichael Cianci in the Discovery Hall on March 8. 

The discussion, led by Rowan University student Rory Newman, the Vice President of RCHGHR Student Association, talked about the tensions between Russia and Ukraine and the background of the conflict.

Cianci will be earning his master’s degree in International Relations at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in 2023. 

As the discussion began, Cianci explained the situation between the two countries. 

“With Ukraine, it’s not so much the creeping expansion of NATO, it really is this [dispute] that Ukrainians are Russians,” Cianci explained. Adding that there’s a “rich and wonderful shared history” but also a violent one that sees the suppression of Ukrainians. 

According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Kremlin wants an “end to NATO expansion, a rollback of previous expansion, a removal of American nuclear weapons from Europe. . .” The article also states that the Kremlin’s main goal is to “guarantee” that countries such as Ukraine, Georgia and Belarus will never “belong to a military or economic bloc” besides those from Russia. 

Cianci disagrees. 

“If you heard Putin talk about the Russian empire, Ukraine specifically was never allowed to leave the Russian empire and that it was a historical mistake. So, NATO is very much a cover. If the Russians didn’t want NATO to expand [there is more that they could’ve done and said],” Cianci said.

Cianci explained that Ukraine’s “pivot” to the United States was “much slower” due to pro- Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, who did not want Ukraine to go in that direction in 2010. 

Yanukovych was “ousted” and “overthrown” in 2014, Cianci said.

Cianci continued about Ukraine’s past, describing how they had a sense of independence that the Soviet Union wanted to take back, causing the Holodomor, a genocide of Ukrainians.

“It was an artificial famine, something like 3 million Ukrainians died. If it weren’t for the Holodomor or the Holocaust and the purges after the Stalin period, Ukraine would probably have a population of 100 million people today,” Cianci said. 

According to the University of Minnesota, Ukraine lost millions of people, some estimates reaching 7 million between 1932-1933. The deaths were caused by a “man-made famine engineered by the Soviet government of Joseph Stalin.” The targeted victims were “rural farmers and villagers who made up roughly 80% of Ukraine’s population in the 1930s.” Joseph Stalin felt “threatened by Ukraine’s strengthening cultural autonomy” which then led to the famine, according to the article.

Cianci moved on to talk about the protests. 

There have been “mass demonstrations” in prominent Russian cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, where peaceful protestors and journalists may face punishment of up to 15 years in prison pursuant to a new law. 

In an NPR audio, the host talks about the law. “Several Western news outlets say they’ve suspended reporting from Russia while they assess the law and the safety of their employees,” the host said. 

Cianci spoke about the United States’ involvement.

“I think supplying the Ukrainians with antiaircraft, antitank, and [weapons] is incredibly important,” Cianci said. 

“Russia today is the most sanctioned country in the world. There are more sanctions against Russia than there are Iran or North Korea, which is insane. The United States and our partners in Europe are going to make it so that Russia will be unable to liquidate something like $700 billion in reserves,” Cianci said. “This will hurt the Russian people. Beyond belief. For decades to come, Russia will be unplugged from the global economy and all the benefits.”

Cianci Described sanctions on Putin as “excellent” in putting pressure on him but believes the United States could do more to show they are willing to escalate. 

“Many of the troops didn’t know they were going to Ukraine. They were also fed lies by their leadership [being] told that they were going to be greeted as liberators and that the government in Kiev had actually surrendered to them and they’re also filled with these lies about fighting Nazis,” Cianci said.

When talking about nuclear escalation, Cianci doesn’t believe that threat level exists, stating he Russia is not “dumb.” 

Cianci believes that Ukraine has been doing “an incredible job at defending their country.”

“The military situation doesn’t look good for the Russians,” he said.

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