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In Conversation: Ambassador of Ukraine and Former UK Ambassador To Russia

On Thursday 12th May, the Oxford International Relations Society hosted a  discussion on the developments in Ukraine. The panel featured Vadym Prystaiko, the current Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK, and Laurie Bristow, the former British Ambassador to Russia. This high-demand event was attended by 150 people, filling the MBI Al Jaber Auditorium at Corpus Christi College.

The society described the invasion of Ukraine as “one of the most significant political developments in recent decades” which “promises to radically restructure the political situation in Europe and across the world.” Delving into the issues surrounding the ongoing crisis, the panel explored the factors which led to the invasion and considered how the situation is likely to progress.

The event was opened by an address from the Host and Co-President of the Oxford IR Society, Jan Camenzind Broomby, who accurately promised that the panel discussion would yield two very different yet equally insightful perspectives into the war.

Vadym Prystaiko also served as the Ukrainian ambassador to Canada and as head of the Mission of Ukraine to NATO. Laurie Bristow priorly served as British Ambassador to Afghanistan during the fall of Kabul in 1989, and previously as British Ambassador to Azerbaijan. 

The panel discussion underlined the significance of the invasion as a geopolitical turning point, emphasising that how it is handled will have far-reaching effects. The invasion, it was suggested, is inextricably connected to other crises facing the globe, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis. Furthermore, there  exist  serious impacts on the global economy and political economy, aggravating the food and commodity crisis which is falling most heavily on the world’s poorest population. 

Towards the end of the panel discussion, an audience member asked a question relevant to many of our readers: ‘can academia play a role in finding a solution to this crisis?’ This question was met with a resounding yes, and another (rhetorical) question: in light of the invasion, do we need more or fewer people with a better understanding of this region and its history? The importance of experts was emphasised, along with an increasing need for those who can ask the right questions and insist on the right answers. In addition, some argued that universities such as Oxford are well placed to keep channels of communication open with individuals in Russia during a time when discourse is becoming increasingly difficult.