The Politics and History departments, the Center for German and European Studies, the Russian Studies program and the International and Global Studies program co-hosted an event titled "Crimea and Beyond: Russia and Its Neighbors" on Thursday. During the event, a panel consisting of Profs. Steven Burg (POL), David Engerman (HIST) and Chandler Rosenberger (IGS).

The panel discussed the recent international crisis in Ukraine and the referendum held in Crimea on whether the peninsula would remain part of Ukraine or become integrated into the Russian Federation as a federal subject. The panel was held in order to create a discussion on campus about how to look at this ongoing series of geopolitical events.

The peninsula is in a strategic place historically, by the mouth of the Dnieper River, a major waterway that ultimately connects the Black Sea and the Baltic, going through Europe. Crimea was in the possession of Russia until 1954 when Nikita Khrushchev, the first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, gave the peninsula to Ukraine. There was no official statement at the time as to why the Soviet Union transferred Crimea to Ukraine.

As of late, Crimea has been the center of international attention. In November 2013, former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych rejected an association agreement that was to be signed with the European Union. This led many Ukrainians to take to the streets of Kiev in protest, resulting in Yanukovych fleeing the country on Feb. 22.

 On March 16, the citizens of Crimea voted to join Russia with an overwhelming 96.8 percent in favor. However, Andrey Illarionov, Russian President Vladimir Putin's former senior economic adviser, stated that the results were falsified and that the referendum had a turnout of only 34.2 percent of the population of Crimea instead of the 83.1 percent turnout that Putin claimed. When the United Nations Security Council voted on a resolution that would declare the referendum invalid, 13 members voted in favor of the resolution. China abstained but Russia exercised its right to veto, causing the resolution to fail.

Engerman started off the discussion by pointing out that the act of Ukraine moving closer to Western Europe was a "cause of legitimate concern on the part of Russia." Ukraine, prior to the revolution, had a complicated, but not entirely negative, relationship with Russia according to Engerman and Burg. For instance, as Burg later brought up, Russia has gone out of its way to give Ukraine a rather large discount on oil and gas from Russian companies.

Continuing, Engerman said that the crisis in Crimea should be partially attributed to the "inability of U.S. policy makers" to acknowledge the fact that Russia is not conforming to Western powers by seeing democracy as a sign of progress. Russia, he went on, is a powerful country in international politics, but this does not necessarily mean the Russian government would see democratization in a positive light.

The Cold War was a largely ideological war between communism and the Soviet Union ,and democracy and the United States. Engerman said that the assumption of Western Powers revealed a certain "blindness" to how Russia might interpret the European Union moving into a Russian-friendly state.

Engerman acknowledged that the crisis that occurred in Crimea concerns not only Crimea and Ukraine, but all former members of the Soviet Union. In his speech on March 18, Putin focused on how the temporary Ukrainian government removed Russian from the country's official languages, using statements such as "the Russian nation," was the largest "ethnic group ... to be divided by borders" and saying that it was in an attempt to gain sympathy from the rest of the world.

Engerman said that Putin's push for a Russian ethnic identity in his speech is making countries with large populations of Russians including Kazakhstan, Latvia and Estonia nervous, especially since Russia seems to be pushing for the ability to go into a country based on a Russian population. Engerman alluded to the infamous precedent of one nation invading another with the claim of protecting ethnicity, for example when Nazi Germany invaded Czechoslovakia.

Burg began by noting that "Crimea is most certainly now lost," and there is no real way to return the peninsula to Ukraine. Furthermore, Burg said that now the real danger of the Crimean crisis is from possible clashes between "Ukrainian nationalists and neo-fascists and the opposing Moscow backed pro-Russian volunteers."

If violence escalates, Burg said, there are risks of a "serious global economic crisis," especially concerning Russian oil in the stock market, but also, in the long run, Russia would face economic collapse.

Going on, Burg noted that until a few weeks ago, Ukraine "wasn't worth a 15 billion dollar loan" from the EU, the denial of which, in his analysis, jump started the crisis in Ukraine. So, in his opinion, the "best achievable deal" currently would be to make Ukraine neutral in a state of "non-NATOness."

This refers to the fact that Ukraine became a candidate for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, an alliance with roots in the Cold War, and designed to contain the Soviet Union, in 2008. By denying Ukraine membership in NATO as well as in the EU, Burg argued that there will be less likelihood of a real clash between Russia and the West.

Rosenberger argued against doing nothing about the situation between Russia and Ukraine. He cited a poll published in October 2013 by the Gesellschaft f??r Konsumforschung Group, a market research institute. The poll asked how Ukranians felt about Ukraine signing the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, an agreement that would commit the Ukraine to economic, judicial and financial reforms in exchange for access to financial and political support from the EU.

This pact would hopefully allow for Ukraine to at some point become an EU member, 45 percent of the Ukrainian respondents replied affirmative to seeing the agreement take place.
According to the will of the sovereign people of Ukraine, Rosenberger said, Ukraine should have been part of the EU.

In his opinion, Russia's invasion in Crimea proved to not only be a case of bullying a smaller nation but also a case of invading a sovereign country.