Major developments in Russia-Ukraine conflict raise alarm among experts

Political science professor Javier Morales-Ortiz likened the Russia-Ukraine conflict to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

The Russia-Ukraine conflict is heating up. An exploded pipeline, an annexation ceremony and a massive mobilization of Russian reservists have led to President Joe Biden’s warning on Sept. 29 that the world faces the highest threat of nuclear war since the Cuban Missile Crisis.   

In a ceremony on Sept. 30, following months of conflict and a referendum process decried as   fraudulent by the West, President Vladimir Putin of Russia annexed four regions in Eastern Ukraine. Two of the regions, Luhansk and Donetsk, have been largely controlled by Russian separatists since 2014, while the two others, Zaporizhia and Kherson, have only been under occupation since the invasion by the Russian Federation.    

In a promise to protect the newly annexed regions by any means necessary, Putin viewed its residents as his own people.   

“We will protect our land with all the forces and means at our disposal and will do everything to ensure the safe life of our people,” Putin said at a televised annexation ceremony.  “This is the great liberation mission of our people.”   

Undertones of a nuclear threat have loomed since the beginning of the conflict but show more real world potential following Russia’s annexation of the territory and Putin’s suggestion that he would use all means available in its defense.    

Javier Morales-Ortiz, an associate professor of political science and international relations in the Department of Politics & Global Citizenship, compared this situation to the Cuban Missile Crisis.    

“There’s a level of panic,” Morales-Ortiz said.  “This is the second time in history that we have great powers with a nuclear capability where their foreign policy interests are clashing. The first time was the Cuban Missile Crisis.”   

The Cuban Missile Crisis, Morales-Ortiz said, was resolved when cooler heads prevailed and the breadth of the consequences of a nuclear situation was realized. However, he believes a similar sentiment will prevail in this conflict.    

“I believe that Putin has a pretty good idea of the Pandora’s box that he will open if he uses nuclear weapons,” Morales-Ortiz said.    

Following an attack whose blame is disputed by both Russia and the West, the Nord Stream Pipeline, an underwater pipeline carrying Russian natural gas to Europe, began leaking into the Baltic Sea. The European reliance on Russian natural gas and the leverage it would give Russia has been a matter of controversy since even before the Nord Stream leaks.   

Predating this attack, Russia was cutting off its supply of natural gas to pressure Europe into relinquishing support for Ukraine. With the pipeline now being disabled, Russia loses the leveraging power given to them by the pipeline, which caused Putin to blame the West for the attack.   

“But sanctions are not enough for the [the West] they [the West] switched to sabotage… having organized explosions on the international gas pipelines of the Nord Stream… they actually began to destroy the pan-European energy infrastructure,” Putin said at the televised annexation ceremony. “It is clear to everyone who benefits from this.”   

Prior to annexing the four territories in Southern and Eastern Ukraine, Putin began a mobilization of 300,000 reservists to help their efforts on the front. Morales-Ortiz said the mobilization is causing an unexpected problem within Russia.   

“Russians are fleeing; I think Putin is having a domestic problem that he did not foresee when he enacted that order calling for 300,000 reservists to join [the war effort],” Morales-Ortiz said.