Stetson Law Experts Weigh in on Ukraine War

Four panelists participate in a virtual webinar about Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Clockwise from top left: Stetson Law Professors Jason Palmer, Roy Balleste and Luz Nagle; Wayne State University Law School Professor Charles Brower

In a far-reaching conversation that took place Wednesday evening, international law experts did a deep dive on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, from why it’s happening to its potential lasting impacts on global stability.

Stetson Law Professor Jason Palmer moderated the virtual panel. Stetson Law Professors Roy Balleste and Luz Nagle shared insights on the war’s cybersecurity and international human rights law aspects, respectively, while Wayne State University Law School Professor Charles Brower shared historical and overarching legal perspective on the conflict.

The panelists offered thoughts on the implications of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now nearing its sixth week, informed by their areas of expertise.

Why it’s happening and what it means

Among the international experts who spoke, there was no debate over why Russian President Vladimir Putin is attacking Ukraine.

“Putin truly believes that the breakup of the Soviet Union was the greatest catastrophe in the 20th century,” Brower said. “The invasion is nothing less than designed to reassert Russia’s status as a great power […]”

Nagle said she laments how the war is shaking the foundations of international law, but says such occurrences strengthen her resolve.

“The war is an absolute attack on the foundations and core values that underpin international law, the rules and institutions created to prevent another war,” she said. “Looking at the horrors of the invasion, many doubt the worth of international law, and the work of international lawyers. And I confess: I have. But I also remember why I went to law school and why I work in the international legal arena.”

An uncertain future for Ukraine & beyond

Nagle said the conflict has displaced nearly 6.5 million people internally within Ukraine alone. Many basic needs – like food, water, and clothing – aren’t being met, and there’s a huge need for psychological help and medicine for widespread conditions like hypertension, diabetes, cancer, respiratory disease, and covid-19.

“They need a lot of humanitarian assistance,” she said.

As for the many refugees displaced outside Ukraine, human rights abuses are rampant. And though there are laws against it, the system is overwhelmed.

“We have a protocol against human trafficking. And as we expect the United Nations is very involved, Interpol is involved in trying to determine who is engaged in human trafficking,” Nagle said. “Yes the system is overwhelmed, neighboring countries are overwhelmed, but the international community is doing their best.”

As for cybersecurity, Balleste said Putin’s notorious prowess for organizing cyberattacks and far-reaching misinformation campaigns in the digital space is being met with surprisingly adept opposition.

“In this situation, he miscalculated because what has happened is that pretty much every freelance hacker in the world has taken the umbrella of Anonymous and has directed their attention to Russia, and has disrupted satellite communications, banks,” Balleste said. “Pretty much everything he’s been doing to the world, Russia’s getting in return now through Anonymous. And so he’s bogged down in cyberspace.”

Balleste added that he hopes one outcome will be “more crystallization of international cyber law for the benefit of all nations,” he said, “because the alternative would be more disruption.”

For the rest of the world, the effects could be far-reaching if Putin’s attacks on longstanding global institutions and the West itself are successful.

Brower said he has no doubt that Putin is a war criminal, but the real challenge is holding him accountable, which requires investigating and documenting his crimes, effectively establishing him as a global pariah through indictment, and, eventually, prosecution. He said prosecution may seem unlikely, but so, too, did the prosecution of WWII’s worst actors – before it ultimately happened.

“If you don’t imagine it and if you don’t plan for it, it’s never going to happen,” he said.

Stetson Law students weigh in on the crisis

At the start of the panel, leaders from Stetson Law’s Republican and Democrat student organizations shared thoughts from discussions held within their respective communities on what the U.S. response should be and why.

“It is our belief that in the weeks and months moving forward, it’s important that the U.S. doesn’t aggravate this situation any more than it needs to,” said Emily Lehman, president of the Stetson Law Republicans. “And it is our hope that as the peace talks continue, the two countries can come to an agreement.”

Lehman and Stetson Law Democrats president Elizabeth Kellar said they and their respective peers support sanctions to varying extents and oppose U.S. military involvement in the conflict. And despite the divisive political climate, the students said the matter transcends politics.

“No matter what side of the aisle you fall on, when innocent civilians being targeted and people are starving and losing their homes and families, like in Ukraine, or in Yemen, or Syria, etc. then you should care about those lives being lost,” Kellar said.

View a full-length recording of the panel discussion on Ukraine.