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Professor Constantine Arvanitopoulos at a book presentation at the Ianos Bookstore in Athens with the editor of the Elefteros Typos Newspaper, and Nasos Athanasiou journalist and Parliament member with the SYRIZA party. (Photo provided by Constantine Arvanitopoulos)
BOSTON – Dr. Constantine Arvanitopoulos, holder of the Constantine G. Karamanlis Chair in Hellenic and European Studies at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and former minister of Education of Greece spoke to The National Herald about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. In his analysis he addresses Putin’s thinking and his miscalculations and examines the dead end into which he has led himself and his country.
Asked if he expected this war Dr. Arvanitopoulos said, “Putin never hid his aversion to the post-Cold War settlement. He has constructed a narrative that demonizes the West and victimizes Russia. According to this narrative, the dissolution of the Soviet Union amounted to a colossal geopolitical catastrophe. He accuses the West of having deceived and encircled Russia with the expansion of NATO. He initially revealed his revisionist ambitions against the post-Cold War status quo during his speech at the Munich Security Conference in 2007. It was a warning for what was about to follow.”
Dr. Arvanitopoulos added that, “Putin tested the resolve of the West in Georgia in 2008, and Crimea in 2014. The West’s inaction and America’s hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan emboldened him. Putin misperceived America’s pivot to Asia, Trump’s derogatory statements against NATO, and Europe’s search for strategic autonomy as signs of decoupling and disarray between the two sides of the Atlantic. Furthermore, the domestic problems of the western democracies gave him the false impression that the West is in a process of irreversible decline. His misperceptions led him to an unprovoked and unjust war, and a serious strategic blunder.”
Regarding the outcome of the war Dr. Arvanitopoulos said, “Putin’s miscalculations have turned the tide of this war. He never expected the fierce resistance of the Ukrainian people and their leadership. He underestimated their will to fight for their freedom, their national sovereignty, their territorial integrity and their democracy. He, also, did not expect the unity and the strong reaction of the West. With his naked aggression he has managed to galvanize Transatlantic relations, to revitalize NATO, and to reaffirm America’s commitment to NATO and the security of its European allies.”
Noting that “Putin expected to be in Kyiv in three days,” Dr. Arvanitopoulos said “now he is stuck in a long and catastrophic war, facing a humiliating defeat or a Pyrrhic victory.”
When we asked how seriously the free world should take Putin’s threats about the possible use of nuclear weapons, Dr. Arvanitopoulos answered that, “his haste to place Russia’s nuclear arsenal on alert is indicative of two things. First, his lack of confidence in the efficacy of his conventional forces. Subsequently, he thought that with this nuclear bullying he could bring about the immediate capitulation of the Ukrainian people and their leadership. Furthermore, Putin’s nuclear scare was meant to ensure that NATO and the West would not put boots on the ground in Ukraine. Had President Biden reciprocated, by putting the U.S. nuclear arsenal on alert, we would be at the brink of nuclear war. The nuclear umbrella of the United States and the West, however, constitute a formidable and credible nuclear deterrence guarantee against any thoughts Putin might harbor towards nuclear escalation.”
Asked if he was nevertheless concerned about the expansion of the war to other countries, he said “the United States, the European Union and NATO made clear from the outbreak of this war that they would not put boots on the ground in Ukraine because that would mean World War III. At the same time, however, they made strong deterring statements regarding the sovereignty of European member states of NATO. If Putin dares to continue his naked aggression against a NATO member, that would automatically lead to the activation of Article 5 of NATO… and World War III. Russia’s diplomatic isolation, however, the operational weaknesses of the Russian armed forces, and NATO’s deterrence posture make this scenario rather improbable.”
TNH asked Dr. Arvanitopoulos about his worst fears, and he said, “I have two concerns regarding this war besides the atrocities against civilians, and the terrible loss of human life. The first is that Putin is trapped in a war that cannot easily win but, on the other hand, a war he cannot lose. For reasons that have to do with his legacy, as he conceives it, and the very survival of his regime. His entrapment and his turning Russia into a diplomatically isolated pariah state make him dangerous. They could lead to miscalculations – or the ‘Sampson Syndrome’. My second concern has to do with China and where it stands on the war against Ukraine. I do believe that China will be cautious and almost equidistant in this conflict. China will try to appear sympathetic to the Russians without crossing the red lines laid by the West. China would not risk, at this point, its diplomatic isolation and a harsh regime of economic sanctions. If, however, its tactical and ephemeral convergence with Russia turned into a strategic alliance, that would mean a new cold war between democracies and authoritarianism. A cold war of the ‘longue duree’, more complex and challenging for the West than the previous one.”
He also addressed the consequences for Greece, saying, “Greece belongs to the West. It is a member of the transatlantic institutions and a nation that gave birth to western democracy and civilization. We share common values and common interests with the West. We are clearly against Putin’s naked aggression and violation of Ukraine’s national sovereignty and territorial integrity. In this existentialist struggle of democracies against authoritarian despotic regimes, it is crystal clear where we stand.”
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