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The Ukrainian military is on high alert as the country appeals for international help against a Russian invasion
World leaders are watching Russia with a wary eye as Ukraine fights to keep political independence away from the old ties of the former Soviet Union. Meanwhile, Crimea, a peninsula off of Ukraine, is fighting for their own right to be a part of Russia, with Pro-Russian demonstrators taking over buildings and squares, declaring that Crimea will always be Russia.
As the Sochi Olympics came to a close Feb. 23, Viktor Yanukovych fled Ukraine two days earlier after military vowed to support a new government because of his deadly crackdown on protestors. He first ran to Crimea, and now is suspected to be in Russia near the Ukraine border, according to the Associated Press.
With the Black Sea Fleet of the Russian Navy based in Sevastopol, Ukraine, and major military installations found throughout Crimea, tensions are escalating quickly. President Vladimir Putin has vowed to respect Ukraine’s territories, but Secretary of State John Kerry made it clear actions speak louder than words.
“Any kind of military intervention that would violate the sovereign territorial integrity of Ukraine would be a huge, a grave mistake,” Kerry said in a roundtable interview with reporters Feb. 26. “The territorial integrity of Ukraine needs to be respected.”
Watching events unfold in Ukraine has reminded me and many others of the not-too-distant Arab Spring when Middle-Eastern countries began fighting their governments in favor of democracy and free elections. Seeing Ukrainians move away from Russia makes me wonder if we will see a domino effect with neighboring countries.
Associate Dean Ron Miller of the Helms School of Government said he sees this as a time of potential adjustment from Russia’s influence.
“All the nations bordering Russia, which have significant Russian minorities and strong ties from the days of the Soviet Union, are watching these events with interest and apprehension,” Miller said.
Whereas we have witnessed nations either embrace democracy and western influence or yield to Islamic sway, countries like Ukraine are caught in a delicate balance.
“Unlike the Baltic states, which chafed under Soviet rule and gravitated to the west immediately after the breakup, or the central Asian republic, where the influence of Islam is growing, nations like the Ukraine are caught in the middle between the west and the east, and the topic of aligning with one side or the other, or remaining neutral, is the most pressing foreign policy initiative these governments face,” Miller wrote.
I have no doubt Russia will do what it can amid watchful eyes, since Ukraine is an economic and strategic platform for Putin. Though Putin has communicated understanding and tolerance during this revolution, his actions might not be so noticeable.
“The worst case scenario, in my opinion, for Ukraine, might be the loss of its primarily Russian speaking territories, primarily Crimea, in an annexation by Moscow,” Miller wrote. “Russia needs a stable Ukraine for economic and military reasons, however, so they will seek to quell tensions to the extent that their influence isn’t significantly diluted.”
So far, Russia has scrambled fighter jets along its border, conducted military exercises across from Ukraine numbering 150,000 troops and provided asylum to Yanukovych. Also, two highly coordinated men have taken over major installations in Crimea with rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles in the name of Russia.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk warned that Ukraine was on the “brink of disaster” and asked the international community to stand by his government in Kiev.
“This is the red alert — this is not a threat, this is actually a declaration of war to my country,” Yatsenyuk told reporters in English a day after Russia’s Parliament approved the deployment of troops to any part of Ukraine where Moscow deems Russians to be in danger.
With the White House warning Russia not to get involved and world leaders watching Putin’s movements, I do not see Russia intervening directly. I do see Russia making life difficult for a Ukraine free from Russian influence.
As the world watches and waits to see what happens, I see a world that is growing tired of governments taking advantage of its citizens. I see a world where people are finding their voices and finding that their voices carry weight. It is a time for people to take back their freedoms and remind their governments that the people do not serve the government — the government serves the people.