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Effects far-reaching in Ukraine conflict

By Marissa Neeley
On April 17, 2014

Ukraine, along with Crimea and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, have been topics of international news for months. The interest of Americans, as well as what America should do about the situation, has been debated and talked over.

As a result of the tension in Russia and the Ukraine, the Huntsman School of Business’ one-week trip to Russia for this summer was cancelled. Instead, students will visit Budapest, Hungary and the already-planned Istanbul, Turkey as part of the program, said Vijay Kannan, executive director of international programs for the Huntsman School of Business.

Not long after the Winter 2014 Olympics concluded in Sochi, Russia, headlines flashed on major news sources about Ukraine’s president Viktor Yanukovych fleeing Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, after rejecting a trade agreement with the European Union. Thousands protested the measure.

On Feb. 21, protesters stormed the capital and the president’s residence, causing Yanukovych to flee to Russia. Headlines then graced news stations about pro-Russian troops in the Crimean peninsula, which has long been a part of Ukraine. On March 16, Crimean voters chose to be annexed by Russia.

“Given the situation in Ukraine, the potential exists for anti-U.S. sentiments in Russia,” Kannan said. “From a student safety perspective, it was decided that it was not prudent to take students to Russia and potentially expose them to a backlash against American support for Ukraine and criticism of Russia’s stance regarding Ukraine and the Crimea. Student safety is paramount whenever we take students overseas.”

Travel plans — now in Hungary — are to take students to visit a number of business and nonbusiness organizations so they can see first-hand what the practice of business looks like, he said. It is also to help them to understand how business is shaped by the unique features of the country, i.e., politics, the social environment and history, and is different from what we see in the U.S., he said.

“At this point I do not anticipate returning to Russia, but it is possible,” Kannan said. “Our goal is to give students a meaningful education about the business, social and cultural environments of countries outside the U.S. and to do this in a safe, cost-effective manner.”

The business school’s international program is not tied to certain countries. As a result, the current situation has given the program an opportunity to explore Hungary, a new location, he said.

Taira Koybaeva, a fellow at MIT and Stanford and associate professor at USU originally from Ukraine, said Americans do not understand the population of Ukraine nor that freedom is not an abstract.

“When they say that they support, I don’t understand who they are supporting,” she said. “I am Ukraine. My family is Ukrainian. Ukraine is part of Russia. America is considering helping the Ukrainian government. It is a corrupt government, and the old government is corrupt.”

There are other ways Americans can help, Koybaeva said.

“If America wants to help, we should go ahead and help people through organizations,” she said. “Prayers for the well-being of the people there would help more than anything political.”

Mike Burnham, a USU graduate and former intern at the embassy in Kiev, said the question people should be asking is not if the U.S. should be involved, but how much.

“The U.S. does not have the means or will to reverse Russia's annexation of Crimea,” he said. “Ukraine lost Crimea, and there is nothing the U.S. can do about it right now. What the U.S. should be focusing on is deterring future Russian aggression, building a functioning Ukrainian democracy and preventing ethnic violence. Those are all actions that can be done without direct confrontation through defensive arms support, diplomacy and planning.”

What is happening is cultural ignorance, Koybaeva said.

“American media is atrocious,” she said. “They don’t understand the situation. Ukraine has never been an independent state. Two-thirds of the territory of Ukraine are naturally a part of Russia.”

Kiev used to be the capital of Russia in the ninth century, Koybaeva said.

“Crimea is a peninsula that has always been a part of Russia,” she said. “Crimeans never wanted to be part of Ukraine.”

Koybaeva said she doesn’t understand why America treats Russia so badly. She doesn’t understand the animosity.

“Putin doesn’t have as high of a rating as he used to, but it is higher than Obama,” Koybaeva said. “He is respected. What is the big deal as far as America is concerned?”

Ukraine experienced problems before Putin came into play. There is ill will toward Putin, Koybaeva said.

“He is not a bad guy at all,” she said. “Why demonize him? Russian media is democratized. They criticize him right and left.”

Burnham doesn't like the way many have portrayed Putin as irrational. While no one predicted he would go this far, Putin's actions are strikingly prudent, he said.

“He has tried to control Ukraine behind the scenes via political means,” Burnham said. “With the ousting of Yanukovych, it became clear that in the long run, Putin would lose the political battle over Ukraine to the West. Rather than wait for that to happen, he annexed the most strategically valuable part of the country at the most opportune time. This is not the action of a madman, but a very intelligent and calculating one.”

However, Putin is deserving of criticism, Burnham said.

“Putin is a serial human rights abuser running a kleptocratic government,” Burnham said. “And while the U.S. has its own track record of hypocrisy, his actions in Crimea so soon after the debacle over Syria, in which he appealed directly to the U.S. public in a New York Times op-ed to uphold international law by refraining from intervention, is despicable.”

The involvement of the U.S. is unavoidable. The U.S., along with Russia and China, is one of the signatories of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum, in which Ukraine agreed to surrender its nuclear stockpiles in exchange for a guarantee that its territorial integrity be maintained, Burnham said.

“Russia's annexation of Crimea is as blatant a violation of this agreement as it gets,” he said. “The Obama administration has worked hard on nuclear non-proliferation, and this severely undermines U.S. efforts in this arena because states will no longer trust a U.S. guarantee of security in exchange for their nuclear stockpiles.”

The effects of the situation in Russia with the Ukraine will reach global impacts in the energy market, Burnham said.

“Russia is the world’s number one exporter of natural gas, and Ukraine is the gateway through which that gas reaches Europe,” he said. “Obviously, that puts Ukraine and Europe, who depend on Russia for energy, in a rather precarious position. With regards to the U.S. though, it has rekindled the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline. If the president wanted to hit Putin where it hurt, he would approve the pipeline and take a significant bite out of Russia’s market share.”

Burnham thinks the U.S. needs to do three things.

“First, it needs to have a plan to start providing aid and evacuation should an ethnic conflict develop,” he said. “Ukraine is currently at serious risk for ethnic violence, and it has already occurred in isolated areas on a small scale. Ethnic violence is often the worst kind, and could result in hundreds of thousands of deaths. The U.S. should be overly cautious in doing whatever it can to prevent this.”

Second, the U.S. should use this opportunity to help shape the new government, Burnham said.

“Finally, the U.S. should start taking steps to deter further Russian aggression against any state within the region,” he said. “It’s difficult to say exactly what that looks like, but I think NATO can be an effective tool, and the organization has already taken small steps for short-term deterrence and is contemplating long term options. A more pointed mission statement for the organization and a gesture of good will toward Eastern European states is a good place to start.”

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