“The war in Ukraine is welding all of Europe together”

2 March 2022

Li Bennich-Björkman

"Researchers, universities and journalists bear a heavy burden of responsibility to describe what’s happening in a source-critical, reflective way", says Li Bennich-Björkman,

Hello there... Li Bennich-Björkman. You’re the University’s Johan Skytte Professor of Eloquence and Government, affiliated with the Institute for Russian and Eurasian Studies. How does Russia's invasion of Ukraine affect democracy in Europe?

“First, it affects the future of democracy in Ukraine. This partly explains the Russian assault: it’s aimed at stopping democracy at its own borders. By extension, we can say that Russia also wants to impose its own authoritarian system in what it regards as its own area of ​​interest.

“On the other hand, I believe the war in Ukraine is welding all of Europe together – east and west, EU members and non-members – and we all realise how much is at stake. The EU itself is now taking collective decisions both on security and on defence and foreign-policy issues, acting as a single, collective whole.”

How does research help to provide a nuanced picture of the facts and what’s going on?
“It’s important, but the way I look at it is that it shows the importance of free research. Many of us have been researching Ukraine for a long time without that many people caring much about it. Now, suddenly, it’s worth its weight in gold that someone’s been studying it. The disinformation and propaganda war are very striking. Researchers, universities and journalists bear a heavy burden of responsibility to describe what’s happening in a source-critical, reflective way.”

What do you as a researcher, for your own part, think is most important?
“Two things. One is that this is no new war: it’s been going on for eight years in eastern Ukraine. It’s ONE attacker and not two stirring up trouble. It creates lessons for the future about how crucial it is to respond to this type of rogue regime promptly and robustly. The other key aspect, I think, is that there are a vast number of people in the younger generation, in Sweden and Western Europe, who say they’re surprised and shocked. I think it’s vital for us to think about the reasons why they haven’t had to experience this before. It’s because the EU has been so successful in uniting Europe. With the formation of the EU back in the day, wars like this became unlikely in Europe.”

What are the implications of Sweden now deciding to send arms?
“For Ukraine, it means a tremendous lot. They need military assistance. But obviously it’s a step that isn’t free from risks, even for a country like Sweden, since the opponent has threatened to retaliate in a big way against those who get involved.”