The political struggle in Ukraine motivated scholars and academics of UWM to organize a panel discussion about the ongoing geopolitical shift in power. The event titled ‘Ukraine: From the Euromaidan to Russian Military Intervention’ was hosted by the American Geographic Society in the Golda Meir Library.
The five participating scholars included: Shale Horowitz and John Reuter from the Political Science, Neal Pease and Christine Evans from History, Joe Peschio from Foreign Languages and Literature and Jeff Sommers from the department of Africology and Global Studies.
The motive of the debate was to speculate the cause and effects of the Russian military occupation of Crimea and the Western media’s depiction of the political movements in Eastern Europe, thereby educating the general public about the crucial historical factors that contextualize and frame the socio-political turmoil in Ukraine.
According to the International Action Center, there has been no Russian invasion of Crimea. Russia has a military base in Crimea, a predominantly Russian ethnic area, and is legally allowed to station up to 25,000 troops.
“Crimea has historically been a vacationing spot for Russians,” said Joe Peschio. “It is like visiting an exotic place without leaving the country.”
Influential Russian poet and author Alexander Pushkin extensively traveled around parts of Danube and Crimea. He described Crimea as an “oriental place.”
While Russia claims to be protecting ethnic Russians from Neo-Nazi groups in Crimea, the United States seized the opportunity to cover up the US backed coup to overthrow the democratically elected government of former president Viktor Yanukovych — now in exile.
In early December 2013, president Yanukovych walked out of an agreement to seek closer trade ties with EU. Subsequently, Yanukovych’s cabinet sought closer co-operation with Russia. It urged 800,000 people to gather at the Independence Square in Kiev – the largest since the Orange Revolution – to protest Yanukovych’s decision.
On February 20, the protests took a violent turn and Kiev saw its worst day of violence in nearly 70 years. The openly racist, pro-Nazi Svoboda party became the dominant force in the protests. 85 people died in the first 48 hours, while hundreds were injured in clashes between the police and anti-government forces. Ukraine’s chief Rabbi, Moshe Reuven urged resident Jews to flee from Kiev.
In early February the US Congress and the Obama administration decided to implement deep cuts in the SNAP food assistance program. The Senate voted 68-32 to slash $8.7 billion from food stamps, resulting in an average of $90 per month loss in benefits per family. Weeks later, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced $10 billion in US foreign aid to opposition efforts in Ukraine.
Shale Horowitz noted that a persistence of democracy in Ukraine serves as a threat to Vladimir Putin’s power in the region.
“The protests in the east might be a strategy by Putin to stir up the population,” said Horowitz.
However, Horowitz also pointed out that opinion polls in Russia depict a Russian population not in favor of a complete take over of Ukraine.
Although Russia has violated the sovereignty of an independent nation, Jeff Sommers said the Russian action is a result of the longstanding encroachment by NATO forces in East after the Warsaw pact.
The US dominated NATO alliance has expanded aggressively into Eastern Europe within the last 20 years, adding 12 countries to its roster so far. NATO continues to have considerable influence in Afghanistan.
“There has been a history of hostile political rhetoric in the United States towards Russia since 1991,” said Sommers.
John Reuter, in his speech about the crisis in Ukraine, also touched upon the problem of a divided electorate.
In mid-March, the Crimean referendum was held in eastern Ukraine where exit polls showed 93 percent of the population in overwhelming support of joining Russia and seceding from Ukraine.
The US and EU condemned the public referendum, calling it illegal as many Crimeans loyal to Kiev boycotted the referendum. The UN General Assembly approved a resolution “affirming Ukraine’s territorial integrity and calling the referendum that led to Russia’s annexation of its Crimean peninsula illegal.”
A recent article by NBC news reported that despite dire warnings from US military and intelligence officials, Russia has not stationed any military troops along the border with Ukraine. However, Secretary General of NATO Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the NATO is not seeing a Russian troop pullout from the border with Ukraine.
The Ukranian parliament passed an austerity bill that was required by the IMF to grant $18 billion in aid. Winner of the May 28 election in Ukraine will face the tough challenge of enforcing harsh economic reforms similar to those implemented in Greece and Detriot. According to Vasily Koltashov, an economist at the Institute of Globalization and Social Movements in Moscow, the IMF’s austerity measures were harsher than those implemented in Portugal and Greece.
The EU and United States agreed to a staged approach in response to the situation. The European Union, Russia’s top trading partner, suspended talks on closer economic cooperation between the EU and Russia. EU also froze assets of 33 Russian and Ukranian individuals. The United States imposed similar sanctions on 11 individuals while announcing further sanctions on individuals of the Rossiya bank.
The academics at UWM unanimously agreed that a Russian annexation of Ukraine will be geo-politically costly for Russia. Horowitz stressed that Putin’s primary goal is to remain in political power. However, Neal Pease pointed out that the crisis in Eastern Europe also involves the interests of surrounding nations like Poland, because a part of Ukraine used to be independent Poland.
“Poland was the first country to recognize an independent Ukraine in 1991,” said Pease. “The country also harbors a deep rooted fear about Russia’s imperialistic interests in the region.”
Photos by: Srijan Sen and American Geographical Society Library