By Carlo Valladares
U.S. foreign policy affects many things in our daily lives. Gas prices, jobs, our demanding supply of foreign oil, and the safety of U.S. troops. Americans seem divided in their views of foreign relations. There are those who disregard foreign sovereignty, and believe American peace should be secured through military conquest or political supremacy. Others believe that we should be hands-off to all foreign affairs, and are quick to blame America for problems in other countries. Regardless, it is quite important to stay informed.
Throughout March, American media has reported on the political tensions that have taken place in Ukraine, including Russian troops moving into Crimea. Unidentified gunmen moved into key buildings and airports in Crimea, sparking fears of violent military intervention. On March 11, the Republic of Crimea adopted a Declaration of Independence from Ukraine. The newly formed sovereign state announced that Crimea would hold a referendum. A referendum is the practice of referring measures proposed or passed by a legislative body to the vote of the electorate for approval or rejection. The referendum was held on March 16, and asked Crimean citizens whether they wanted to restore their 1992 Crimean Constitution and declare independence from Ukraine, or be federal subjects to the Russian Federation. The decision to hold the political referendum was done under crisis-influenced circumstances, Russian military intervention, and under no legitimate diplomatic observers.
How did Crimea get here? The political situation in this Black Sea region can be traced back to 2004 when the Orange Revolution began after reports of widespread and corrupt vote-rigging in a presidential election. BBC news described the election as being, “nominally won by pro-Russian candidate Viktor Yanukovych.” In response, opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko led mass street protests and civil disobedience. The Ukrainian Supreme Court then annulled the result of poll.
In 2010, Viktor Yanukovych was declared the winner in the presidential election and was judged as “free and fair by observers,” according to BBC News. His main rival, Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, was then arrested for abuse of powers andeventually jailed in Oct. 2011.
By Nov. 21, 2013, small protests erupted and drew comparisons to the Orange Revolution from 2004. The protests began after President Yanukovych’s cabinet abandoned an agreement on closer trade ties with the European Union (EU), and instead proposed closer co-operation with Russia. The EU is a group of European nations that are united economically by the euro. They work to enhance a barrier-free trade zone and enhance economic wealth. Early December was met with huge protests in Kiev; Independence Square, in particular. Reports from BBC News state that demonstrations were in the 800,000s.
From Feb. 18 to 20, Kiev sees, “the worst day of violence in 70 years,” according to a BBC news timeline. At least 88 people were killed in 48 hours of rioting and bloodshed. Videos on various social media sites showed uniformed snipers firing at protesters holding makeshift shields. Three European Union foreign ministers then flew in to try to broker a deal and maintain political sovereignty. On Wednesday, March 12, interim Prime Minster of Ukraine, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, visited the White House to speak with Mr. Obama on the issues in Crimea. Yatsenyuk stressed that his country will not surrender to any Russian aggression, and also met with Obama to talk about his countries financial issues and potential U.S. loans. Obama expressed his support of Ukraine and his willingness to speak with Russian officials on how they can defuse a potential catastrophe, all while respecting their military exploits in Crimea, such as naval bases.
Feb. 22 saw a number of key events take place; president Yanukovych disappeared, with reports of him fleeing from the Ukrainian city of Kharkiv. Opposition leaders would also take control of presidential buildings with no resistance, and announce that they want to hold a presidential election on May 25. On the same day, Ukrainian parliament voted to remove the president from power and agree to the new election and date.
Feb. 27 and 28 saw Russian troops with no identifying insignia seize control, without violence, of key building and airports in Crimea. By March 1, Russian parliament gave Putin the approval to use Russian troops in Ukraine to protect their military interests in Crimea and their large Russian speaking population. President Obama then spoke to Putin over the telephone, urging him to remove all troops from Crimea and respect Ukraine’s political and geographical borders.
The events that are unfolding in Crimea and Ukraine are seeing two world powers, the U.S. and the Russian Federation, engage in what seems to be escalating into tensions we have not seen since the Cold War after WWII. The United States has gotten invoked to help support a vulnerable Ukraine financially, and to advise Russia to respect Ukraine and their geographical borders, which includes a possible annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. Russia’s motive for interfering is deeply rooted in nationalism and this is why students all over America should tune into this topic. If Russia succeeds in making the Ukraine a “subject” of the Russian Federation, all the other Eastern European states of the former Soviet Union will feel as if they are gravitating back to, willingly or not, the old totalitarian state. The sphere of the influence of old seems to be having a slight resurrection of its old self, and feelings of the Cold War will loom around any political minded thinker. Russia is ruled by Putin, a former KGB officer, a man who sees Eastern Europe as his to be played with. He is fueled by nationalism and a need to fulfill a Great Russian manifesto, or quite possibly to restore a former one. I do not know for sure.
However, this is where Ukraine is an example of how much power Russia even has over Western Europe. Western Europe is in a debt crisis and relies heavily on Russian trade, which is why Obama’s “sanctions” were met with mixed results from Western European nations in the UN. The sanctions will slap travel bans and asset freezes on people and firms that disrespect Ukraine territory. Western Europe wants to resist a war, and so does the U.S., and that is why Russia may have the leverage to ignore sanctions. Preserving sovereignty in Ukraine is important, but peace in Europe does not rest on its independence, but maybe more so on the men in bed with Putin and his nationalism view.