Ukraine peninsula “on fire as we speak”

Madison Fantozzi/News Director

Conflict in Ukraine persists as it remains torn between European and Russian influence.

The Obama administration reports that Russia has complete operational control of Crimea, a pro-Russia area of the country, and has more than 6,000 troops in the region.

“The peninsula is on fire as we speak,” said Tatiana Kostadinova, associate professor of politics and international relations.

“There are more troops being sent each day, most of them without any insignia,” she said. “This is so they can say ‘there were no Russian soldiers. Did you see anyone in Russian uniform?’ It’s strange.”

Protests began in November 2013 after President Viktor Yanukovych abandoned an agreement to strengthen ties with the European Union and announced closer cooperation with Moscow.

“He failed to sign an agreement for friendship and partnership with the European Union, something he had promised to do,” Kostadinova said.

After his election, Yanukovych changed the constitution, increasing power of the presidency.

“He absorbed more power into his hands,” Kostadinova said.

By December, Yanukovych had announced a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin — Moscow would buy $15 billion in Ukrainian government bonds and cut the price of natural gas.

This led to violent protests and hundreds of casualties.

“With Russia, if you side with Europe you are against them,” Kostadinova said. “Hopes to come closer to Europe were failed. People felt betrayed.”

She pointed to how attractive the $15 billion deal with Russia was to Yanukovych because of Ukraine’s failing economy.

Kostadinova attributes the failing economy to corruption at all levels of the government.

“There’s a lot of misuse of funds and resources, and abuse of public power,” she said. “The president’s own family is heavily involved in corruption.”

Yanukovych’s son, a dentist, became one of the wealthiest men in Europe.

“It doesn’t add up,” Kostadinova said. “The central government and the president need to be held accountable.”

She said the country is far from one with a bureaucracy that works for the people and provides public goods.

“When you live in such a country where there is such corruption, there’s no hope for a more European future,” Kostadinova said.

On Feb. 22, Ukraine’s parliament voted to remove Yanukovych and hold new elections in May. Putin called off the $15 billion deal.

Pro-Russia protesters rallied against new authorities in Crimea, where Russia has a major naval base.

“An interesting part of the story is that there’s division along ethnic and linguistic lines,” Kostadinova said.

“An interesting part of the story is that there’s division along ethnic and linguistic lines,” Kostadinova said.

The northwestern part of the country is ethnically Ukraine, in the eastern parts there’s a significant minority group of ethnic Russians who speak Russian and the Crimean Peninsula is pro-Russian.

“There’s this division along geographic lines, where some people want a closer relationship with Europe and others side with Russia,” Kostadinova said. “Western Ukraine is not all of Ukraine — there are people in the East who haven’t had their say. That’s the Russian argument.”

She said Russia is trying to make sure the Ukraine never joins the European Union and continues as a buffer zone.

Russia’s argument is that it is protecting people from Ukraine’s “ultra nationalist fascist” government.

“They’re using rhetoric not only from the Cold War,” she said. “It’s coming from as far back as World War II.”

The United States and European countries have called on Putin not to intervene.

President Barack Obama spoke for 90 minutes with Putin on March 1.

“It was a long conversation that doesn’t seem to have had any effect on Putin’s behavior because he continues to use force and send troops,” Kostadinova said.

She thinks intervention may have been too delayed, in part because of the Olympics in Sochi.

“Knowing Russia’s behavior, we knew that something like this could happen,” Kostadinova said. “But even a warning may not have worked. We tried to warn them during the Georgia crisis and it didn’t work.”

“Knowing Russia’s behavior, we knew that something like this could happen,” Kostadinova said.

What will work, according to Kostadinova: economic sanctions and declining visas. She also pointed to revoking Russia’s recent membership in the World Trade Organization.

“We need to give Putin a clear sign that his behavior cannot be tolerated,” she said. “Russia relies heavily on its export of gas and oil.”

Moving forward, Kostadinova hopes for free and fair elections and constitutional reform, but said there is an increasing likelihood that the country will turn into some sort of “hybrid regime” of authoritarianism and democracy.

“More power needs to be given back to the parliament to establish that checks and balances system that’s missing in the country,” Kostadinova said.

As for the everyday Ukrainian living in the country, Kostadinova said living standards are not improving.

She noted that many people have fled the country, especially young people.

“There’s no hope for people — they can’t dream or reach their dreams,” Kostadinova said.  “The country is falling apart and the government doesn’t even care.”


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