On November 2nd, the Miller Center hosted a discussion on the war between Russia and Ukraine, highlighting its implications for democracy in the region and abroad.
As part of UVA’s Karsh Institute of Democracy, democracy dialogues are produced to “strengthen democracy through civil debate.” For this event, former Virginia Congressmen Denver Riggleman and Tom Perriello gave their thoughts on the matter, being moderated by former White House correspondent Ann Compton.
Before holding office as a Republican in Congress, Riggleman served time as an Air Force Intelligence Officer. He spent years overseas in Romania and is particularly knowledgeable in the history of Yugoslavia, part of his studies en route to becoming a distinguished graduate in foreign affairs at the University of Virginia.
Perriello, a graduate of Yale Law School, was part of several landmark legislation during his time as a congressman. These include both the Affordable Care Act and the DREAM Act. He has also spent several weeks in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion as part of a volunteer effort.
Perriello began by commenting on his experience in Ukraine, being especially struck by the patriotism on display. “But I think you know, when you are on the ground there what you have a sense of is a great deal of pride in the country.” He believes that camaraderie has allowed Ukraine to resist Putin’s assault, despite the fact many countries were expecting Ukraine to fall very quickly.
As a former intelligence officer, Riggleman believes there are more threats to Ukrainian democracy than the conventional war. He explained, “… being able to be here to look at the Ukraine situation, how that’s a threat to democracy, and I think with everybody sitting here, we can say we have a democratic country with democratic institutions fighting an invader, and as Tom is over there helping on the ground trying to do these type of things I’m looking at this from an intelligence perspective. That’s not only the kinetic war that seems to be a threat to democracy. It’s the the cyber and information warfare that we’re fighting right now.”
Information was a key focal point of the discussion, with Riggleman and Perriello both agreeing that the amount of false information advertised to the populations of Ukraine and Russia is just as dangerous as the conflict itself.
Riggleman stated, “… and my biggest fear is that the social media ecosystem when it comes to a fantasy-based community we’re not winning.”
The discussion was concluded with a brief Q&A period in which a question was raised about China’s reaction to the war, asking whether or not they wanted Putin to invade Ukraine.
Riggleman said if he were in China’s shoes he would want Putin to invade and force the United States to divert massive amounts of resources to aid Ukraine in a drawn-out conflict. “I’d want it hard, I’d want massive resource drain from the United States.”