Eduvation Blog

Neutral Zones & Northern Flanks

Good morning, and happy Humpday!

For all you Wordle nuts out there, you should know that, in addition to being the International Day of Pink (against bullying and discrimination), today is National Scrabble Day. Personally, I’m looking forward to spending a good part of the day with the MarCom Leaders’ Guild.

But in this blog, I’m focusing on the geopolitical repercussions of Putin’s war on Ukraine. Yesterday, we looked at the impact on the NATO alliance and European politics, and the debate among experts about whether this could lead to “Cold War 2 or World War 3.” (We also considered the distinct possibility that WW3 actually began years ago, when Putin annexed Crimea.)

This is my 13th blog dedicated to the Ukraine crisis, which has superceded the COVID19 pandemic, in many ways, as a liminal moment for globalization and higher education. The implications for CdnPSE are still developing, but I’ll do my best to keep you apprised, as always. (You’ll find all my Ukraine issues here.)

Today, we turn from NATO and western European countries to those in Russia’s backyard, and across the Atlantic (and some implications for CdnPSE)…

Anxiety in Eastern Europe

Obviously, the immediate neighbours of Russia and Ukraine have most reason to be concerned about Putin’s invasion, and what it portends…

Russia’s Neutral Zone

Eastern Europe, from the Baltic states through Poland, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, has long been “the plaything of empires,” with borders repeatedly drawn and redrawn by external powers. The region serves as a neutral buffer between NATO and Russia, but Putin clearly would prefer to install governments that would turn them into satellite states (like Belarus).

Will Moldova be Next?

Anxiety is palpable in Europe’s poorest nation, Moldova, which shares 3 borders with Ukraine. Its airspace has been closed since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, and shelling there is audible. Like Ukraine, Moldova spent half a century as part of the USSR, and 1,700 Russian troops are already present in an “unrecognized breakaway province,” Transdniestria. A Belarusian map of Putin’s “invasion plans” included the occupation of Moldova, so Moldovans have good reason to fear they will be “the next victim of this war.” NATO’s insistence that they will not directly battle Russia over non-NATO territory is “almost an invitation for Putin to expand.” (As a former US ambassador to Poland puts it, “Biden drew a hard security line and Moldova is on the wrong side of it.”) Despite having a population of just 2.6M people, Moldova has welcomed more than 270,000 Ukrainian refugees – and on Mar 3, the country officially applied for EU membership. That move might eventually provide them with greater security – but for the moment, it likely only serves to draw unwelcome attention from Moscow.  TIME

Uneasy Baltic States

The Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia) are former Soviet Republics much like Ukraine, but they joined NATO in the early 2000s. Ever since, they have warned Europe that Russia posed a major threat, even before its annexation of Crimea, and now are emphasizing that Putin “will not stop in Ukraine.” Since the invasion, NATO has deployed thousands of troops to the Baltic states, and US and UK fighter jets – but the Baltic leaders want expanded “air policing” over the Baltic Sea, permanent NATO bases, and air defense installations like those in Romania and Poland. Lithuania’s parliament is calling for a NATO no-fly zone over Ukraine.  Washington Post

“There are moments in history when the great struggle between freedom and tyranny comes down to one fight in one place, which is waged for all of humanity.”Chrystia Freeland, deputy prime minister of Canada

For CdnPSE, the military and economic uncertainty in eastern Europe may disrupt transnational education programs and research partnerships, while currency fluctuations could affect the affordability of international tuitions here. But the threat of further invasions or extended conflict may also encourage more eastern Europeans to pursue PSE in the much safer environment of Canada.

Although that is not to say that Canada will remain untouched, of course…

True North Strong & Free

Although most analysts dismiss the likelihood of ICBMs falling on North America, there are nonetheless very real threats against which Canada must stand on guard…

Arctic Sovereignty

In early March, Canada’s defense minister told CBC that we are dealing with a “global threat environment” and need to “defend the North American continent.” General Wayne Eyre, chief of Canada’s defense staff, elaborated on Russian military activity north of Canada, and agreed “it’s not inconceivable that our sovereignty may be challenged.” Russia has reoccupied formerly-abandoned Cold War bases, and implemented its own anti-access denial zone strategies. Climate change will make the north more strategically important over time. To deter some future Russian occupation in the north, Canada will need to “project force to the extremities of the country.” (NORAD has been publicizing training operations in Whitehorse, Yellowknife, and Labrador, to “confirm our ability to respond to threat aircraft as well as cruise missile type threats.”) Canada has been fortifying “NATO’s northern flank,” and needs to upgrade its northern radar systems, which date back to the Cold War. The mandate letters for Canada’s ministers of foreign affairs, defense, and northern affairs emphasize the need to work together to “defend Arctic sovereignty.” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was “a wake-up call,” says uSaskatchewan prof Ken Coates: we’ve taken Arctic sovereignty for granted, and “kind of assumed that nobody else wanted it.”  Global  |  Globe & Mail  |  CBC  |  |  CTV  |  CBC

“As the Arctic continues to open due to climate change, Canada will face challenges to our sovereignty and amplify concerns related to our continental defense and our ability to effectively operate and compete.”Jody Thomas, deputy minister of defence, Canada

Circumpolar Collaboration

The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum of 8 nations (including Canada, the US, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Russia) for cooperation on circumpolar issues like climate change, sustainable development and biodiversity. (It does not address security issues.) Since the 1990s, it has continued its work despite previous conflicts and tensions (including Russia’s annexation of Crimea), but last month, 7 of the 8 member countries announced they would boycott scheduled talks in Russia this May, due to its “flagrant violation” of Ukrainian sovereignty and territory. (Apparently multinational cooperation in the Arctic has been disrupted by the invasion of Ukraine, just as collaboration on the International Space Station appears threatened.)  CBC  |  National Post

uArctic is a creature of the Arctic Council, and has issued a statement expressing “deep dismay and concerns” over the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While uArctic “will continue to work long term,” it “will respect the Arctic Council decision” to pause its work, and “apply this in our organization as appropriate.”  uArctic


For CdnPSE, I would expect renewed focus (and federal funding?) for Arctic and circumpolar research programs, and those related to northern radar and defense efforts. As climate change opens up more northern resources for exploitation, and increases the need to defend Canada’s sovereignty, new tensions and opportunities will also arise in Inuit relations and the development of the northern territories. Expect to see more investments and partnerships at Yukon U, Aurora College, and Nunavut Arctic College, among others.

American Politics

As the world’s largest military force and economy, America plays an outsized role in the sanctions on Russia, global energy policy, and NATO activities in Europe. But Putin’s war on Ukraine has also had ripple effects on US politics…

Biden the Wartime President

After the tumult of Trump’s presidency, and as vaccines and therapeutics promised to subdue the COVID19 pandemic, the presidential term of Joe Biden was widely expected to be understated and uneventful. As I outlined back in Jan 2021 (“Biden Time”), Biden would reverse Trump’s isolationist moves, rejoin the Paris Climate Accord and reaffirm American support for the UN and NATO. But Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has suddenly turned Biden into a “wartime president,” and his global negotiation of unprecedented sanctions against Russia has surprisingly positioned him as “leader of the free world.” As Carleton U prof Andrew Cohen remarks, foreign policy is Biden’s “happy place,” and US leadership has suddenly become significant again. As columnist Lawrence Martin says, Putin has given Biden’s presidency “new life” by shifting focus from domestic failures (a lingering pandemic, stubborn inflation, and congressional deadlock) to “a leadership role on the international stage confronting the march of authoritarianism.” Biden’s poll numbers saw a modest uptick after the State of the Union address, particularly among Democrats. And Biden’s self-effacing persona fits perfectly with the need to craft a global alliance, and allow European leaders to serve as NATO spokespeople. Biden “knows the dangers of bluster,” and has countered Putin’s provocations with clear assurances that the US will not strike Russia.  Ottawa Citizen  |  Globe & Mail  |  The Atlantic

“In the battle between democracy and autocracies, democracies are rising to the moment, and the world is clearly choosing the side of peace and security.”Joe Biden, US president, State of the Union address

Biden’s Gaffes

Although president Biden has demonstrated considerable restraint in managing the Ukraine crisis, he has always been prone to impulsive comments to reporters that prove awkward for his press secretaries. Several times, Biden has spoken from the heart to criticize Putin – prompting immediate damage control from the White House. On Mar 17, Biden told reporters “I think he is a war criminal.” (The White House explained that Biden was “speaking from the heart.” The Kremlin called the comments “absolutely unacceptable and inexcusable.”) On Mar 27, after spending the day with Ukrainian refugees in Poland, Biden called Putin a “butcher” and passionately burst out, “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power!” (Officials “clarified” that Biden meant Putin should not be allowed to exercise power over neighbouring countries, not that he was calling for regime change in Russia.) But Biden’s criticisms of Putin make a diplomatic end to the war in Ukraine less likely, position the US and NATO as the enemy in the Russian media, and make it more difficult to lift sanctions on Russia in the future. Observers worry that Biden’s outbursts “handed Putin a propaganda gift,” and could make future diplomacy between the nuclear superpowers difficult, if not impossible.   CNN  |  CTV  |  New Republic

In Contrast with Trump

As Biden and other world leaders frame the war on Ukraine as a confrontation between democracy and autocracy, even his staunchest Republican adversaries have been forced to distance themselves from their party’s leading candidate, Donald Trump. Throughout his term as president, Trump was unabashed in his admiration of Putin, and inexplicably sided with Russia over his own intelligence agencies. MAGA supporters loudly proclaimed they would rather become Russian than Democrats. Trump was impeached (the first time) for withholding ~$400M in military aid to Ukraine, and attempting to blackmail Zelensky for political “dirt” on Hunter Biden. As Russia invaded Ukraine in February, prominent Republicans denounced Putin as a “gutless, bloodthirsty, authoritarian dictator” – but astoundingly, Trump praised Putin as a “genius” in several interviews and speeches. (He was briefly echoed by Steve Bannon and Tucker Carlson.) Former VP Mike Pence seemed to disagree, telling FOX News “no one in the GOP should be praising Vladimir Putin. He’s a former KGB officer and a dictator and a thug.” A former Trump official observed, “Putin played to [Trump’s] vanities and did it superbly. The same thing with Kim and even Xi.”  Globe & Mail  |  Washington Post

The Newly United States

Although headlines disagree whether “Putin is healing America’s partisan divide” or “heroic Zelensky unites divided Americans,” it is clear that the sense of a “common threat” has brought Americans together. (Polar opposites of the US news media, MSNBC and FOX News, are united in praising Zelensky’s heroism.) Polls in late February showed 80% of Americans, Democrat and Republican alike, viewed Russia as “unfriendly or an enemy.” (This was simultaneously “the highest level of animosity toward Moscow since the Cold War” and the most united Americans have been on foreign policy since 9/11.) About as many (83%) support the economic sanctions, but just 42% would support military intervention. (After painful conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US electorate prefers military withdrawals to deployments overseas.) Washington insiders recall that the original Cold War created remarkable bipartisan agreement and massive federal investments in everything from interstate highways and higher education to DARPA and the space program. But within months of the Berlin Wall coming down, Washington was overcome by partisan divisiveness and bickering that has intensified for decades. With the Cold War’s end, “perhaps we had nowhere to turn except on each other.”  Washington Post  |  The Atlantic  |  Newsweek  |  Newsweek

“Looking back, I can’t help but wonder if the Cold War had held America together—gave us common purpose, reminded us of our interdependence. With its end, perhaps we had nowhere to turn except on each other.”Robert Reich, prof of public policy, UC Berkeley


Perhaps, Russia as a common threat will help Congress overcome more of its partisan deadlock. Putin’s vilification may weaken Donald Trump’s chances at re-election in 2024. A second Cold War might usher in more significant investments in higher education, research, infrastructure and even space exploration. (Certainly, cyber defenses are more critical than ever.)

For years now, American politicians have been preoccupied with China as the greater economic threat than Russia. The Ukraine crisis is poised to unite Russia and China like never before – potentially splitting the world order in two. Stay tuned…




Microcredentials have been flourishing in Australia for years, but this new guerrilla marketing campaign is especially notable…

Microcredentials Open Doors

Bond U launched a “street-level” marketing campaign for its microcredential programs, featuring installations of 4 tiny “micro-doors” around Brisbane, containing QR codes that link to an “interactive digital experience” with further information about the door locations, and a behind-the-scenes video with the doors’ artist, Mace Robertson.  YouTube  |  Mumbrella  |  The Stable  |  Ad News  |  Bond U microsite




As always, thanks for reading!  

I’m always on the lookout for innovative ideas about the future of higher ed, so please do drop me a line if you spot something you find thought-provoking, at your institution or anywhere else.

Stay safe and be well!



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