Panel discussion explores conflict between Ukraine, Russia, America in Crimea

By Jeffrey Robinowitz, staff writer ||

Last Thursday, Joel Eigen, don of Ware College House, invited students and faculty to attend a panel discussion entitled “Crisis in Crimea,” which was designed with the intention of providing both contemporary and historical perspectives on the situation. The members of the panel were Abby Schrader, professor of history; Jon Stone, assistant professor of Russian and Russian studies; and Jennifer Kibbe, associate professor of government.

Stone expressed hopes that those who attended the panel would leave with an appreciation for the complexity of the situation and a better understanding of the politics and culture of identity at play in the region.

In her presentation, Schrader highlighted the historical relationship between Russia and Crimea, citing the fact that Russia has reclaimed the territory numerous times in the past.

“This is a new chapter in an old story,” she said.

Schrader also pointed out that polling information from previous presidential elections in Ukraine clearly demonstrate that Northern and Western parts of the country are pro-European, while Southern and Eastern Ukraine — which contains Crimea — are pro-Russian.

When asked why the citizens of Crimea may want to reunite with Russia, Stone noted that they are more deeply linked with Russia than Ukraine.

“Many people in Crimea feel more linguistically and culturally connected to Russia than to Kiev,” he said. “Until 1945, [Crimea] was officially part of Russia — although, since, at the time, both Russia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union and before then the Russian Empire — it was a fairly academic distinction.”

Likewise, Kibbe mentioned the past links between Crimea and Russia as motivators of the Crimean people, but she also pointed out the potential economic gains they could receive from returning to Russia.

“For them, it’s a combination of the historical reasons, sympathies,  and, for some, at any rate, an eagerness to receive the higher Russian state benefits,” she said.

She continued, adding that the U.S. and European Union (EU)would have been acting foolishly if they had not expected Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation, to react to a threat to Russia’s strategic interests.

When questioned about the level of influence U.S.-enacted sanctions could have over Russia’s Crimean policy, Kibbe explained that, while the short-term implications are minimal, the long-term consequences could be much greater.

“Those sanctions won’t influence Russia’s behavior in terms of getting Crimea back, but those sanctions and carefully titrated additions could well affect his future behavior — if not through their direct cost, quite possibly through their indirect cost of deterring investment in an uncertain Russian economy,” she said.

Kibbe dismissed the idea of armed conflict breaking out in Eastern Europe, but noted that dangerous language used by Putin could have serious repercussions.

“I really don’t think it will come to that — I think the U.S. and EU are working hard to restrain both sides and work on some kind of compromise solution — like a federal system for Ukraine,” she said. “The big risk, I think, is of the radical nationalist rhetoric that Putin has unleashed having an effect on the ground beyond what he can control.”

Although small-scale conflict is a possibility, Kibbe discounted the notion that this crisis would directly escalate into a second Cold War.

Stone emphasized the importance of this event in defining Europe and examining Putin’s policies.

“This event is a major reshaping of the geography and balance of power in Europe and potentially much of the globe,” he said. “It is a telling look at how Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, will utilize the immense economic, political, and military resources at his disposal and shows us a shifting attitude towards the U.S. on the world stage.”

First-year Jeffrey Robinowitz is a staff writer. His email is jrobinow@fandm.edu.

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