The situation in the Ukraine and Crimea, a peninsula that was formerly under the auspices of the Ukrainian government, has been convoluted in sorts over the past few months. Though the U.S. media narrative has bordered on sensationalist, it should instead focus on how to engage with the Russian leadership diplomatically rather than convey the favor of anxious war hawks.
Last fall, protests erupted in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev over former President Viktor Yanukovych’s plan to depart from ties with Europe and focus more on relations with Moscow. Protesters in Kiev’s Independence Square were adamantly opposed to any further ties with Russia and opposed the government’s decision to formulate any close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Protests took place for weeks, and hundreds were killed until Feb. 21, when opposition leaders and Yanukovych agreed to dissolve the current government and hold new elections. Yanukovych subsequently lost all power and fled Kiev for Russia. Two days later, on Feb. 23, parliament appointed Oleksandr Turchynov president.
Less than a week after the ouster of Yanukovych, Russian troops invaded Crimea and took control of the peninsula off the coast of the Black Sea. Even though the annexation was peaceful, the Western world decried breaches of sovereignty and international law. Russian troops had occupied all military bases in Crimea and effectively forced Ukrainian troops out of the area. Russia released a referendum to the Crimean people to see if they wanted to secede from Ukraine. Ninety-six percent of voters approved the referendum; however, the veracity of the election remains under serious question. But Crimea is currently under control of Russian military troops.
Throughout the crisis in the Ukraine and Crimea, many have called President Barack Obama a weak leader and ineffective in negotiating with Putin to withdraw troops. Much of the opposition has come from right-wing conservatives who believe the United States should be more firm and aggressive in exacting power in the region.
The lesson to be learned from the whole situation is that Russia is beginning to flex its muscles in a post-Cold War world. Many might see Putin’s deployment of troops in Crimea and the eastern border of Ukraine as a move to usurp power and steadily annex the entire Soviet sphere, including the Baltic States and Eastern Europe. That might be the case, but upon closer inspection of the trends in Russia, Putin’s moves might very well just be a way to showcase to the world Russia is a supreme power again and is rising in its military and economic prowess.
Russia is a part of the so-called BRICS nations, comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Collectively, they represent the burgeoning economies and political powers of the 21st century. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, Russia has struggled to regain its balance and place a footprint on the world stage. Though many might see Putin as an aggressor and antagonist of the West, his moves to massively build up the Russian military, increase pay for soldiers and turn an institution around that has traditionally lacked professionalism and respect are all chapters in a larger narrative to beef up Russia’s perception in the world.
All the fuss and fury over the Kremlin’s actions are merited. Calls for military buildup in the region and deployment of NATO troops to provoke Putin fail to recognize the bigger picture, however. Putin’s actions in Crimea are not tantamount to Hitler’s buildup prior to World War II and the annexation of Crimea is not a declaration of war. Instead of viewing Russia as a serious threat to world peace, the situation should be viewed with a lens that fosters diplomacy and talks with Moscow, rather than Pentagon contingency plans for World War III. The U.S. narrative on the issue in the media should center on how to deal with Putin diplomatically rather than spread sensationalistic fervor currying the favor of anxious war hawks.
As the situation stands now, the Obama administration should continue its talks with Putin and prevent further buildup of troops along Eastern Europe. Sovereignty should be given to the Ukraine, and the U.S. should be fully involved and active in peace talks. Military action is not the solution and diplomacy should be utilized until the situation drastically changes course.
Athanasius Georgy is a freshman majoring in biological sciences.