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University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School hosts an expert briefing on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

March 16, 2022

The panel included the Law School’s William Burke-White and Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Philip Nichols of Wharton, and native Ukrainian Victoria Kaplan LLM’15.

On Tuesday, March 15, the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School hosted an informative and insightful expert briefing on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, touching on various topics from the historical context underlying the conflict and economic repercussions to NATO military participation and humanitarian aid.

Moderated by Carolina Brandão LLM’22, the panel featured Professor of Law William Burke-White, Perry World House Professor of Practice of Law and Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, Philip Nichols of the Wharton School and the Russia and East European Studies program in Penn’s School of Arts & Sciences, and Victoria Kaplan LLM’15, a native of Ukraine and an associate in Dechert’s global finance group.

Burke-White laid the framework for the discussion by providing the historical underpinnings of the current conflict while interspersing his personal recollections of a childhood spent partly in Russia. Although Burke-White doesn’t envision direct Western military participation in the conflict, he noted that “everything short of that seems to be on the table” and questioned whether the U.S. and NATO has an “off-ramp” from military conflict should Russia’s invasion spill over into NATO territory even in a “mistaken escalation.”

Burke-White also explored China’s role in the ongoing conflict, predicting that Xi Jinping will “continue to give Russia room” but also inflict some “constraints on Putin” and eventually be a part of “some version of a solution.”

Nichols addressed economic considerations surrounding the conflict referring to the removal of Russia from the SWIFT banking system as a “phenomenal sanction.” He also discussed the long-term implications of businesses’ divestment in Russia, noting that if they truly divest, they may face “nationalization” of their assets in Russia and eventually receive little to no compensation. He predicts that returning to business in Russia for some companies may prove complicated depending on how Russian sentiment sways regarding President Vladimir Putin’s aggression.

Regarding Russia’s state-sponsored misinformation campaign, Nichols would like to see a “publicly funded, noncommercial information [source] that transcends borders.” On the question of who would fund that, Nichols suggested that the European Union would be a good candidate.

Turning to humanitarian issues, Zeid expressed hope that human rights’ violators would be held accountable, possibly in a “Nuremberg-like tribunal,” though he noted the potential disadvantage that it could “reek of selectivity and victor’s justice.” Moreover, pursuing justice “too quickly,” i.e., before Putin is in custody, could potentially create “a bargaining chip,” he observed.

Zeid envisions that the UN “will be involved at some point” in the resettling of refugees throughout Europe and beyond. He noted that the “double human rights standard” is undeniable when considering the “stark difference” in the treatment of Syrian refugees compared to those from Ukraine.

Kaplan, who moved to the U.S. in 2014 and has a young daughter who speaks Ukrainian (and does not understand Russian), provided an intensely personal perspective of the current situation in Ukraine, sharing tales of loved ones’ children being sheltered in basements. She expressed her belief that NATO troops on the ground within Ukraine’s borders would be undesirable – referring to the conflict as “Ukrainians’ war” – and advocated for an “official refugee system or open borders” to aid Ukrainian citizens.

The panel concluded with a call from Burke-White that the group reconvene in a few weeks to revisit the ever-shifting situation in Ukraine.

“I am deeply sorry with what is going on in Ukraine, and I wish this war ends soon,” said Brandão. “The Law School has been giving us students incredible support, especially in understanding the international implications and consequences of Russia’s invasion, and it is an honor to be able to amplify Victoria’s voice, as well as the insights of our professors.”

Watch the panel discussion: