By Aaron Warnick | Photo Editor
It’s not Cold War II yet, but tensions are building as Soviet nostalgia and neo-colonial interests have become the central focus of the international community. Russian President Vladimir Putin has extended the borders of the Russian Federation back into Ukraine.
Despite most of the world condemning the invasion, Moscow announced that they will absorb Crimea and Sevastopol into the Russian Federation. The decision was backed by a referendum held in Crimea where the reported results showed an overwhelming support for reunification.
Senior international marketing and communications major Iryna Goudimiak moved to the United States from Ukraine with her family when she was 5 years old.
“People are afraid with Russia taking Crimea, that it’s going to end up with Russia taking other parts of Eastern Ukraine that still has Russian speakers,” Goudimiak said. “They’re afraid it’s going to start moving slowly across the country.”
While her family in Ukraine is not in immediate danger, she fears that if the international community does not stand up to Putin, that the taking of Crimea and Sevastopol could “just be a starting point.”
International observers are challenging the near-unanimous results of the referendum held on March 16. Moscow claims that 96.77 percent of Crimean voters desired reunification with Russia, with voter turnout being as high as an impossible 123 percent in some regions. Goudimiak does not believe the reported election results.
She said that to understand what is really going on, world leaders ought to go and see what is happening on the ground rather than rely on what are bound to be faulty reports from Moscow and Putin-apologists.
“Our generation of 20-somethings want to look towards Western Europe and we see Russia as being stagnant and that the regime doesn’t want to grow and modernize,” she said. “I feel that Russia has always been this over-arching hand over Ukraine and we want to get rid of that as it’s been such a problem historically.”
Russia has used the protection of displaced ethnic Russians as an excuse for intervention abroad since the dissolution of the Soviet Union according to Dr. Jennie L. Schulze, assistant professor of political science at Duquesne.
“Russia uses its compatriots as a pretext for meddling where they have strategic interests,” Schulze said. “Ukraine is important to Russia militarily, economically and historically.”
Historically, the Crimean peninsula has been a highly disputed territory. A large portion of the population consider themselves to be ethnically Russian. Former Soviet Union Premier Nikita Khrushchev redistricted the Soviet Union so that Crimea would fall under the jurisdiction of Kiev. This move could be considered a formality because ‘na Ukraine’ was a part of the Soviet Union and, thus, no Russians would be displaced.
After the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991, the Crimean peninsula remained with a newly independent Ukraine.
While the protests in Kiev brought the removal of President Viktor Yanukovych, the political unrest and the ethnic makeup of the Crimean peninsula made conditions “ripe” for Putin to make this move, according to Duquesne University political science professor Mark Haas.
“When you have members of different ethnic groups who are in a different state that border the home country, that is a recipe for conflict.” Haas said. “The foreign state can use that position of kindred as a pretext for violence in the name of being concerned for the welfare of that group.”
The exact percentage of Crimeans who want Russia’s protection is uncertain. Even if the results of the referendum were accurate, this type of maneuver sets a “dangerous precedent,” Schulze said.
“There are a lot of areas at risk if Putin is allowed to act according to this logic,” Schulze warned. “There might be a larger play here and how it pans out will depend on the response of the international community. We really need to take this action very seriously.”