Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Your School. Your Paper. Since 1936.

The Suffolk Journal

Tensions heighten in international row over Ukraine

By: Pierre Bono

Over the past five months, Ukrainians have suffered a tremendous amount of domestic strife and now international pressure from Russia, which recently annexed Crimea after a quick occupation. The NATO countries of Western and Central Europe were scorned by former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych when he doubled back on a proposed agreement to further align Ukraine with NATO and Western economic and political interests.

Originating around a fundamental disagreement concerning the future of Ukraine and its geopolitical associations, tensions quickly began to escalate. Those within the country who saw closer ties to NATO and the west as favorable felt betrayed by those, predominantly in the pro-Russian government, who felt the same about strengthening ties with Vladimir Putin and Russia. Many were caught off guard when Yanukovych abruptly changed course from his plans and the tentative agreement to move forward with deeper ties to Western Europe and NATO. However, with his close ties to the Russian government, the case may have been that Yanukovych was reaching beyond his sphere of influence, which falls directly under the umbrella of Russia, the regional big brother. “It seems as though Yanukovych played the E.U. and Russia off each other to his own downfall,” said professor Roberto Dominguez of the government department.

The proposed association agreement offered Ukraine financial incentives to modernize its economic infrastructure to European standards and to “provide steps to incorporate Ukraine more earnestly into the economies of Western Europe by agreeing to standards of political cooperation, human rights, and free trade,” said Dominguez. In addition, the agreement would have eased travel restrictions between Ukraine and the West, also deepening ties.

As unrest grew and the increasingly strident calls for political upheaval continued, Russia extended its own economic life-line, offering to buy €15 billion worth of debt while at the same time lowering the price of Russian gas. This gesture resolved nothing and in all likelihood served to fan the flames of discontent within a populace which was rapidly coming to grips with the reality that their government was serving interests in direct contradiction to that of many Ukrainians, in favor of what appeared to be geo-political alliances with the Kremlin. In the wake of the Russian proposal, domestic tensions continued to escalate to ever more drastic levels, and violence on both sides of the crisis began to flare up. As the government’s position became untenable, Yanukoych fled the country and protestors seized federal buildings around the country.

Following the former presidents’ impeachment by the Ukrainian government, pressure increased to elect a new government. It appears as though the political instability in the region became too much to bear for Putin. Seeing Ukraine as a whole, slipping away from Russian authority it became imperative for Russia to move and secure its interests, and those of Ukrainians ethnically, if not politically, associated with Russia to the East. Moving quite rapidly, Russian forces swarmed into the Ukrainian region of Crimea, immediately occupying airports, naval bases and administrative buildings. Approximately 15,000 armed men, some uniformed others undistinguishable, imposed themselves by surrounding military installations and strategically important points throughout Crimea. Many saw this move by Russia as a sign of political defiance, and military heavy handedness. Following the incursion came international cries deriding the Russian government for taking steps characterized by Secretary of State John Kerry as reminiscent of the 19th century.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
speaks on the phone with his former Ukrainian counterpart Igor Tenyukh.
(Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Although presented as a show of strength, Dominguez views the incursion as a desperate move. “Crimea, although geopolitically important represents only a small part of Ukraine, which Russia has for most part effectively lost. These moves are more a sign of insecurity than anything else,” Dominguez claimed. “Ukraine has always been a question mark in the region, yet now more than ever, the government is inclined to be a NATO member,” he continued, intimating a desperate move to present weakness as strength, and consolidate regional influence.

Tensions rose, however, and further punitive measures were being organized against Putin, his political entourage, and their institutions. A referendum was quickly scheduled to vote on secession in order to legitimize the desire of both those in Crimea and Russia who want closer ties and security for the majority in the area who are ethnically Russian. The expediency of these matters has raised suspicions. “The OSCE was not allowed to monitor the referendum in Crimea. This indicates a fishy situation, coupled with the pace at which organization and voting took place,” said Dominguez, concerning issues of illegitimacy. Following impressive numbers at the polls, in which around 93 percent of voters were in favor of secession from Ukraine, tensions have reached their highest point.

Many of the problems now facing world leaders focus around the difficulties of organizing and maintaining international cooperation while simultaneously deterring further moves by Putin. If it comes down to it “China will continue to try and play both sides of the track,” said Dominguez, and “several states within Europe stand to be adversely effected by strains on Russian energy and investment.”

Lack of international solidarity may prove a significant hindrance to a resolution, when many on the opposing side to Russia have limited political capital to expend without overly exposing themselves. Economic sanctions have been levied on politicians and institutions on both sides. Issues remain across the board concerning the degree and scope of long term effects across Europe and what future steps may need to be taken. “In the long run this is not good for the Russian economy, although they are a more symbolic step. By targeting banks, which are the nerves that connect any economy, Russia will feel an effect,” said Dominguez in response to these recent developments. “These effects will not, however, reach the strength of the sanctions imposed on Iran.”

To further debate and assess the extent of action going forward, the G7, formerly the G8 prior to Russia’s removal, has met in Brussels and have planned meetings this summer. These meetings will inevitably prove crucial in the organization of a clear and enduring message to Russia. With regard to the U.S., “The presence of Obama is crucial, because cooperation is imperative between the U.S. and E.U. if they want to present themselves as an effective deterrent to Russia. Deciding where and how to apply leverage and guide matters back to normalization is the key to producing an amelioration of grievances with Russia,” said Dominguez. Going forward, issues between Russia and the West will need to be handled delicately so as not to cause further political degeneration within Ukraine, but also to counteract a steady trend toward Cold War style animosity. A recent Pew Study indicates levels of around 29 percent approval for a firm stand on Russia, while 56 percent maintain that the U.S. should avoid getting too involved. A balance will need to be struck between condemnation for Russia’s incursion and repossession of Crimea while also maintaining distance and restraint to guide the conflict back towards a state of compromise and cooperation. It does not seem like either side will get what it wants in whole, and thus they must both be reasonable in pursuing a realistic approach to resolving the underlying issues in the region that respect the grievances and concerns of both sides.

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Tensions heighten in international row over Ukraine