central square Kiev

War in Ukraine: Tilburg University scholars explain the consequences

Published: 07th March 2022 Last updated: 04th April 2022

The war in Ukraine has overwhelmed and shocked its inhabitants and the world. Peace in Europe is no longer a matter of course. First of all, the invasion appeals to our solidarity with Ukraine. In addition, it affects us all and on all fronts: personally, economically and socially. Our scholars contribute to explaining the backgrounds and consequences from, for example, the perspective of European values, the consequences of economic sanctions, quiet diplomacy by the church and the impact on international trade. On this page we collect their contributions.

How have we come this far?

The price for what can be called the "greatest geopolitical self-deception" of recent history is now being paid by millions of civilians and soldiers in Ukraine, argues Professor of Legal History Randall Lesaffer (in Dutch) on nederlandrechtsstaat.nl.

A new Cold War is the best we can hope for in the short term

How can it be, that one person cowers a people of millions? That question was asked by philosopher Étienne de La Boétie as early as 1576. His answer: It is only possible if the people themselves give him that power. It is not just the Russians who have given up freedom, argues emeritus professor and legal philosopher Bert van Roermund.

What ordinary Russians do in a small way, we in Western Europe have done in a big way: because raw materials were on offer, we were all too willing to let Putin believe that we believed that the price only had to be paid in money.

Meanwhile, what the Russians themselves think of the war is difficult to assess. Opinion polls are not reliable in autocratic countries, says Dr. Ammar Maleki in De Correspondent (in Dutch). He conducts surveys himself in his home country Iran.

In authoritarian regimes you have to choose between two evils: a representative sample in which people lie, or an unrepresentative sample in which people tell the truth.

Fighting spirit, values and prosperity

The Russian invasion seems to make Ukrainians more belligerent, but is that a correct conclusion? Social Psychologist Florian van Leeuwen participated in an online survey of more than 1,000 Ukrainian citizens during the third week of the war. A large proportion of them declared that they were prepared to take up arms to some extent. 

"This is not just a threat. Studies show that people's intent often correlates largely with their behavior. External or internal threat and aggression only increases the willingness to fight. That Ukrainians will defend their country fiercely is not merely a strategic message from Ukrainian leaders to deter Russian forces: these are the intentions indicated by ordinary Ukrainians themselves. The ferocity with which they will fight will increase proportionally to the terror directed against them." 

The researchers chronicled their findings in the blog Will Terror Deter or Motivate Ukrainian Resistance?

Broad welfare 

The modern view of prosperity is broad. We measure it not by economic growth but by things like peace, justice, good public service, good health and well-being. We ourselves gain prosperity if we help other countries such as Ukraine to maintain or increase their well-being, argues Professor of Labor Market Ton Wilthagen.

Ukrainian values

Is Ukraine Russian? Or is the country "one of us"? How independent can the country be between the superpowers? Putin justifies the war by arguing that Ukraine is closer to Russia than to Europe and that the two countries are separated only by an artificial border. Sociologist Tim Reeskens assesses this claim using data from the European Values Studies.

In research on cultural values, there is no denying the shared past of Russia and Ukraine, but Ukraine confides significantly more in European values than Russia

When it comes to our own values, Dr. Hans Siebers warns against the nationalistic basis of our refugee and migration policy: "Nationalism divides the world into 'nations' with borders in between. These borders are arbitrary and drawn according to political convenience. This creates the illusion that people on the other side of that border are culturally different and represent clashing values. This idea has caused world wars before and is also at the heart of Putin's speech justifying this war." 

Economic disruptions

The economic sanctions on Russia are an important means of pressure, but also have consequences for the Dutch purse. Meanwhile, Russia has been disconnected from the global payment system SWIFT.

Economist Harald Benink explained why this was the last remaining option for the EU and what the consequences are for Putin.  "Because a lot of bank assets are frozen, a very large part of that money is not available to Putin." In De Volkskrant, Benink explains Putin's reaction to demand a payment in Russian rubles for oil and gas bills. "Putin wants to embarrass the West and have their own sanctions undermined." 

Sanctions are a first step, but diplomatic negotiations with and between the two countries must take place

Sanctions also have implications for international trade and business supplies. Logistics professor Jan Fransoo is not worried about shortages of raw materials for the time being, but he does warn of logistical bottlenecks: "More and more electronics and parts are being transported by rail from the New Silk Road to Europe. I can't imagine that those trains will be able to continue running through Ukraine if the war continues. This will lead to disruptions in logistics chains in Europe, but especially in China."

ESG scores are not meaningfully capturing geopolitical risks and other aspects of firms’ foreign activities

Two Tilburg University researchers, Philip Joos and Jurian Hendrikse, together with Elizabeth Demers (University of Waterloo) and Baruch Lev (NYU) have undertaken some ESG-related analyses in relation to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. A firm’s ESG score refers to its environmental, social and governance activities in an attempt to do good for society and the planet. The results are surprising. European firms with subsidiaries in Russia have significantly higher overall ESG scores, “S” (i.e., social pillar) scores, and human rights scores than similar-sized European peer firms. Furthermore, they found that firms with higher ESG scores do not respond more promptly (i.e., in the form of ceasing operations in Russia) than lower-scoring firms. Given the well-known, widespread, and long-standing corruption and human rights abuses that characterize the Russian business environment, the evidence clearly suggests that ESG scores are not meaningfully capturing geopolitical risks and other aspects of firms’ foreign activities. To put it bluntly, investors who are relying on ESG scores to try to do good are being misled.

Read the entire article on the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance: The False Promise of ESG

International law and diplomacy

The Russo-Ukrainian war is the latest example of how international order has become the ‘rule of guns and lawyers’, Professor of International Law Nikolas M. Rajkovic argued recently in Opinio Juris. We are at a dangerous juncture, he says. The war represents an epochal breakdown in geopolitical peace and security, and the consequences will extend beyond Ukraine’s sovereignty and people. See this interview in Tilburg University Magazine: “The language of international law is no longer being used to build peace, but war.

We are confronted with—at least—two simultaneous crises: the illegal invasion of Ukraine and a geopolitical breakdown of systemic proportions

There are only four countries supporting Russian President Putin's attack on Ukraine. What's behind that? A deep-seated aversion to the United States seems a common denominator. Mirjam van Reisen, professor of International Relations, Innovation and Care, explains the motivation of Eritrea, one of the four.

Eritrea is suffering from very heavy US sanctions, but the country also benefits from Russia's veto in the UN. That could prevent allegations of human rights violations from reaching the International Criminal Court

The owner of Chelsea soccer club attended peace talks with Russia in Belarus at the request of Ukraine. It seems an unusual step to use someone without a political background as a mediator. However, the Church, or the Vatican, takes on this role more often. Even now, the Pope is working behind the scenes to organize humanitarian aid. "Quiet diplomacy" is what Professor of Church History Paul van Geest calls this in Dutch media (see Radio1 en Een Vandaag).

.In cooperation with Studium Generale law scholars gave a lecture on the legal backgrounds of the conflict. Dr. Ville Kari looks at the situation from the perspective of the international legal system, Prof. Conny Rijken discusses migration and refugee law, in particular the temporary protection status that will apply within the EU for the first time in history, and Prof. Elies van Sliedregt outlines the international criminal law consequences for government leaders at war.

Meet our experts

  • TSB - Tim Reeskens

    Tim Reeskens

    Associate Professor

    #Europeanvalues #sociology 

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  • Mirjam van Reisen

    Mirjam van Reisen


    #Internationalrelations #Refugees #Africa 

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  • Harald Benink

    Harald Benink


    #Publicgovernance #Banking #Economy #EU

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  • Ton Wilthagen

    Ton Wilthagen


    #Labormarket #Socialsecurity #prosperity

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  • Jan Fransoo

    Jan Fransoo


    #Logistics #Operations #supplychain

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  • Paul van Geest

    Paul van Geest


    #Churchhistory #Theology

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  • Elies van Sliedregt

    Elies van Sliedrecht


    #criminallaw #terrorism #refugees

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  • Conny Rijken

    Conny Rijken


    #humantrafficking #globilization #criminallaw

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  • Philip Joos

    Philip Joos


    #corporate governance #accounting #ESG strategies

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  • Jurian Hendrikse

    Jurian Hendrikse