William Wohlforth on the Battle for Ukraine

News subtitle

Global security scholar lauds the outpouring of support from the Dartmouth community.


The failure of Vladimir Putin’s plan to sweep into Ukraine and install a puppet government has forced the Russian president into the use of brutal, indiscriminate, prolonged military force, William Wohlforth, the Daniel Webster Professor of Government, said at a public forum Wednesday on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“There is a battle underway, a battle for Ukraine, a battle for the world order, a battle for European security, and we don’t yet know its outcome,” Wohlforth said. “We don’t know how long, how hard the Russians will fight. How long, how hard the Ukrainians can fight, and whose side is going to be able to suffer the most before throwing up the white flag and agreeing to a deal.”

The webinar, “Russia-Ukraine Crisis: What are the implications?” was sponsored by Dartmouth Alumni Relations and the new Dartmouth Initiative For Global Security at the Dickey Center, where Wohlforth is faculty director.

It remains to be seen if sanctions and Ukrainian resistance can keep up long enough to force Putin to pull back, he said.

“The Ukrainians are doing the fighting, they’re doing the suffering, they’re shedding the blood, and they’re earning through that, the defeat of Putin’s ‘plan A.’ Right away, a victory. What we can do is seek to assist in the emergence of any bargain,” Wohlforth said, noting that the world is unusually in accord in condemning Russia and in seeking a solution. 

At Dartmouth, students, faculty, and community members are also coming together to find ways to offer aid, Wohlforth said, directing people to a list of resources on the website of the John Sloan Dickey Center for international Understanding.

The event was one of many actions and public discussions at Dartmouth in the week following Russia’s attack on Ukraine. Also last night, Associate Professor of Russian Studies Stuart Finkel, Associate Professor of History Udi Greenberg, and Associate Professor of German Studies Yuliya Komska held a panel discussion and public forum on “The War in Ukraine: History and Now” sponsored by the history department.

On Tuesday, Wohlforth joined a Dartmouth Political Union meeting that also included representatives of the Ukrainian Student Association at Dartmouth sharing their thoughts and speaking about their families’ experiences following the Russian attacks. 

In addition, Dartmouth’s senior leadership group issued a statement on March 1 “standing with Ukraine,” condemning the Russian attack and offering continued support for Dartmouth students, faculty, staff, and alumni who are affected by the conflict. On Feb. 25, there was a rally for Ukraine on the Green where faculty, students, and community members came together to organize support for Ukraine, with another scheduled for Friday.

Wohlforth said for him, the response of the community and hearing personal stories from the conflict moves these issues beyond an academic discussion.

“I just want to stress that it’s very difficult when you talk about a crisis like this in an abstract way about policy and statecraft and security, and you’re sitting next to a person whose family is in a bomb shelter, whose brother has taken up an AK-47 and gone to the barricades to fight the Russians, it’s intense,” Wohlforth said. “That’s an experience I can hardly imagine.”

Bill Platt