On the plains of Eastern Europe sits the former soviet state of Ukraine and since its independence in the early 1990’s with the fall of the U.S.S.R., it has remained largely out of the headlines.
However, this small nation has been thrust onto the world stage due to the crisis and possible new cold war taking place within its borders. Many see this dispute between the Russian Federation and Ukraine as merely another armed conflict far away that has no impact on us here in America whatsoever; I would argue the opposite. Moreover, it has commonly been forgotten how these events originated in November of last year when Ukrainian government officials and politicians abandoned talks with the European Union to form an “Association Agreement,” forging closer economic and political ties with Russia.
This move prompted many pro-European Ukrainians, most of which live in the western portion of the country and the capital of Kiev, to begin organizing protests throughout the country. According to ABC News, after a week of small demonstrations, a crowd of 500,000 gathered in the center of Kiev and began setting up camps and building barricades in Independence Square.
Then, President Viktor Yanukovych quickly ordered security forces to respond to the protesters and over time the clashes began to escalate. Throughout the month of January and February, Yanukovych and Parliament made several bogus offers and short-term truces with opposition leaders.
Nonetheless, the government remained in turmoil and demonstrations grew violent with protesters hurling rocks, fire bombs, and debris at police who would respond with tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber bullets.
After weeks of bloodshed and political upheaval within Ukraine, Yanukovych fell out of favor with many and on Feb. 22, Ukrainian politicians made a critical choice by voting the president out of office, electing new interim leaders and releasing the renowned opposition leader and political prisoner Yulia Tymoshenko from prison.
With an arrest warrant hanging over his head, Yanukovych fled to Russia while claiming to still be the legitimate leader of Ukraine. Up to this point, the protests in Ukraine were not a top concern for the international community while Russia had, for the most part, remained out of events taking place there with the hope their puppet Yanukovych could squash the revolution.
However, with his fall, Russia and its President Vladimir Putin quickly became concerned with Ukraine selecting new leadership and forming a government. On Feb. 27, pro-Russian fighters began to surround military bases and storm several government buildings and the Simferopol International Airport on the small Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea located in the southern part of the country on the Black Sea.
Seemingly out of nowhere, the world’s attention turned to a growing crisis on the relatively unknown patch of land called Crimea. On March 1, Putin requested the Russian Parliament to approve the use of military force in Ukraine which they did without hesitation.
President Barack Obama responded by warning Russia “there will be costs” for their intervention in Ukraine, but until now, for the exception of a few insignificant sanctions, there has been no response to Russia moving military forces into Crimea, which is the sovereign territory of Ukraine.
Putin has claimed he has been sending the Russian military into Ukraine merely to protect Russian citizens and Russian-speaking peoples from demonstrators, nationalists and even Nazis.
It is true, there are many pro-Russian and Russian-speaking people who live in Ukraine. However, it is completely uncalled for that a major world power such as Russia would violate Ukraine’s sovereignty where there has been not a shred of evidence that indicates Russian people in Ukraine are being threatened and in need of protection.
Of course, Russia has national interests in Ukraine and their concerns for the Russian people can be justified. They could take their concerns to an international body such as the U.N. and ask for monitors to be sent to the country to ensure the safety of Russians in Ukraine during this political revolution, but instead, Putin has put the world on edge by inserting his military forces into Crimea.
To make things even more complicated, Crimean politicians and government officials declared they would hold a vote, or a referendum, allowing people who live in Crimea to choose whether they want this region of Ukraine to remain part of the country, to become an independent nation, or to become part of the Russian Federation. On, Sunday, March 16, this illegitimate vote, which the European Union issued a “strong condemnation” for according to CNN, was held and the results disappointed most but it was welcome news to pro-Russian Ukrainians as Crimean’s’ “voted” to join Russia.
In addition, in a statement reported by CNN, Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov stated the vote “conforms to international law.” However, this vote is simply a joke and thankfully it will not be recognized by the advanced and democratic nations of the world. Reporters from CNN witnessed ballot boxes being stuffed while the BBC and other media outlets reported that most of the monitors to ensure no corruption or illegitimate activity took place during the voting process were Russian or members of radical political groups.
If this referendum was held throughout the country of Ukraine, all citizens of the country, not just those in a small portion of it, could choose what the correct road ahead is for Crimea.
This region of Ukraine is overwhelming Russian leaning so the results of this critical vote were not a surprise to most experts. Putin and the Russian Parliament can choose not to recognize the vote and not to allow Crimea to become part of the country, but it is almost impossible this would happen because annexing Crimea into Russia has been Putin’s one and only priority throughout this entire crisis.
If Russia annexes Crimea and the United States, NATO, and its allies do absolutely nothing about it, what is stopping them from doing the same to Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, and other parts of Ukraine? Once again, the Obama administration has failed to act in a time when the influence and power of the United States is desperately needed.
Our inaction in Ukraine and, more specifically, Crimea will diminish our reputation as a world power and will give Russia and other countries, such as Iran or Venezuela, the idea that America does not act or assist a nation such as Ukraine that is invaded and has its sovereignty violated.
Immediately, a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier group should be moved into the Black Sea near Crimea while more military units should be moved to and readied at U.S. military bases in nearby nations such as Poland, Turkey and Greece. Moreover, the Kremlin may once again claim the need to “protect Russian citizens,” so as a result, the United States must increase political and most of all, military cooperation with nations that have a large Russian minority or that may be under the threat of a Russian invasion such as Poland, Estonian, Lithuania, Latvia, and Belarus.
This means bolstering our military presence within them and having more training and preparation between the U.S. military and the military of these ally nations. NATO was initially formed to protect many nations in Europe from Russian aggression and ensure that nations near Russia, especially in Europe, remain independent and sovereign.
However, up to this point, its resources and influence have hardly been used. Activate and raise the alert status for NATO and its military units while ordering NATO military units to being preparing and training for a possible outbreak with Russia.
Finally, the sanctions put forth so far have been minimal at best. In order to change the dangerous direction Russia is going, the United States and international partners must issue firmer and stricter sanctions that impact the Russian economy, the top leaders of Russia such as Putin, and the ability of Russian citizens to travel.
This situation can quickly spiral out of control and the United States can no longer sit on the sidelines, watching and waiting for what will happen next.
Russia’s recent actions have been somewhat similar to those after World War II, specifically in Germany and Eastern Europe and during the Cold War so if we do not act to prevent further Russian aggression soon, mark my words, our allies and the United States will regret it. If you think this is not our problem then you are sadly mistaken and blind to what is occurring in the world.