Political unrest in the European nation Ukraine has been making world news since November 2013. On Nov. 21, President Viktor Yanukovych backed out of a trade deal with the European Union, which had been in process since February.
In December, Yanukovych tied closer bonds with Russia by sealing an economic trade deal to the outrage of Europe-supporting Ukrainians. After that, protestors took to the streets of Ukraine to express their discontent with Yanukovych.
For two months, protestors worked against the Ukrainian government. In that time, according to BBC News Europe, at least 108 protestors were killed and over 234 were arrested. On Feb. 21, Yanukovych signed a compromise with opposition leaders, giving Ukraine a sign the battles might finally be over. However, less than 24 hours later, Yanukovych disappeared from Ukraine.
In the following five days, Parliament named speaker Oleksandr Turchynov as interim president, and elections for an official president were set for May. Some small pro-Russian protestor groups assembled on the eastern side of Ukraine, near the Russian border.
On Feb. 27, Russian troops occupied Crimea, a peninsula connecting Ukraine to Russia by a bridge. Russian president Vladimir Putin said he occupied Crimea to protect ethnic Russians living there from the political turmoil in the country.
Some believe Putin’s actions are not simply to protect his people. For instance, political science professor Glen Duerr said he believes Russia’s occupation of Crimea has a naval motivation.
“Russia has maintained a presence on the port of Sevastopol on the southwest corner of Crimea,” Duerr said. “That port has access to the Black Sea. In Putin’s mindset, he was fearful the Russians would lose the port of Sevastopol if it remained on Ukrainian land. That is part of the thinking behind occupying Crimea, to maintain control of the port in Sevastopol.”
According to Duerr, the Russian/Ukrainian tension is not a recent development; there has been tension over Crimea for around 60 years.
“The Crimean peninsula used to be, during the early part of the Soviet Union times, part of Russia,” Duerr said. “In 1954 after Joseph Stalin died, Crimea was transferred from the Russian Republic to the Ukrainian republic, kind of as a gift. Putin believes Crimea should always be part of Russia, and was accidentally given to Ukraine when the Soviet Union dissolved.”
World powers have taken measures to send a message to Putin that occupying Crimea did not go unnoticed. The G-7, an informal group of world powers, suspended Russia from group membership in late March as an expression of their discontentment with Putin’s leadership choices.
Michael McFaul, a former US ambassador to Russia, wrote a New York Times op-ed urging the administration to continue to isolate Putin, saying “Mr. Putin’s Russia has no real allies. We must keep it that way.”
Although no one can predict what will come in the weeks ahead for Ukraine, Duerr said there are several possibilities of what world powers will do to try to diffuse the situation.
Some may take a more passive approach.
“Maybe this is just a Ukraine/Russia issue and international powers should let them sort it out,” Duerr said.
However, passivity may not portray the right message to other world powers.
“If Russia takes Crimea and nobody opposes them, they change national borders and create an international crisis in which other countries may attempt to annex other nations,” Duerr said. “It would be a wise move internationally to prepare NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) forces, in case something were to happen. That move sends a message to Putin: Should he overstep bounds, the world stage will counteract.”
The danger with this approach, according to Duerr, is miscalculating the amount of forces needed to suppress Russia and therefore causing a much larger problem.
However the rest of the world governments responds, the U.S. has chosen to back Ukraine for now. In an April 22 meeting with Ukrainian legislators, Vice President Joe Biden pledged additional American aid and 600 U.S. troops in a show of support for the new Ukrainian government.
The aid does not come without strings.
“You have to fight the cancer of corruption that is endemic in your system right now,” Biden said. “You face very daunting problems, and some might say, humiliating threats, but the opportunity to generate a united Ukraine is within your grasp, and we want to be your partner and friend in the project.”
Kari Morris is a sophomore psychology major and a reporter for Cedars. She loves longboarding with friends, playing Guitar Hero and pulling pranks on her unit-mates.