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Advocating for a more prudent approach to Crimea situation

Published: March 21, 2014
Section: Opinions, Top Stories


A few weeks ago, Brandeis Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) hosted keynote speaker Max Blumenthal, a widely known journalist who recently wrote a book about the state of affairs in Israel. While he spoke about apartheid in Israel, a stone’s throw across the Mediterranean there were different talks of “separateness” occurring. In Ukraine, threats of civil war and secession have rocked the country for weeks. This all started in November when thousands of Ukrainian citizens gathered in Kiev’s Maidan square to protest President Viktor Yanukovych’s refusal for closer European integration. Many in Western Ukraine believed closer economic integration with the European Union would force the country to solve its massive corruption problem. For Yanukovych, the decision was either to accept European money with strings attached or take Russian money with no strings attached.

Of course, Yanukovych signed an agreement with Moscow for loans and prices on Russian gas which are cheaper than those offered to other countries. The almost four-month-long protests ended with Yanukovych being ousted and a Western-leaning interim government coming to power. Quick as lightning, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, struck. He sent Russian troops to occupy the Ukrainian southern peninsula of Crimea. The peninsula is strategically important to Russia because the Russian Black Sea fleet is stationed at the port city of Sevastopol. The situation is the same as the U.S. having a naval base at Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay. Currently, Russian troops occupy the peninsula and are essentially holding the Ukrainian military personnel hostage.

In this huge mess of political, social, economic and military issues, what is the United States to do? Are we to charge in with the cavalry and respond to Russia’s force with force? Should we pressure European leaders to impose harsh economic sanctions on Russia such as a trade moratorium on Russian natural gas, the country’s main export to Europe and a pillar of its economy? Or maybe we should use our political axe and deny U.S. visas to Russian citizens and freeze their bank accounts in the U.S.? Here is what I think we should do: mostly nothing.

As a country we have no large interests in Ukraine. The U.S. conducts little trade with Ukraine and even less money is invested in Ukrainian businesses. Besides acting as a buffer between Russia and the rest of Europe, Ukraine has no geopolitical value to the U.S. either, but to Russia, Crimea does have huge value. With little connecting us to the country, why should we intervene? Naively, some may argue that it is the U.S.’s job to uphold democratic ideals and support popular revolutions around the world that try to create a more just society. While we should help countries when we can, this is not one of those cases. Ukraine’s problems are deeply rooted and not clearly understood by the West. If we intervened, nothing would be solved, and one more region of the world would hate the U.S.

First, political corruption cannot be eradicated from Ukrainian politics by ousting Yanukovych and his allies because it is rampant everywhere. As I have learned from family and friends in Ukraine and from history, corruption is rampant in almost all echelons of government in the European nation. Politicians can be corrupt across all parties because it is simply the way things have always been done and the way they still are. Secondly, supporting “Svoboda,” one of the parties of the coalition in charge of the new government, would be to support a party of nationalist and fascist anti-Semites. To do that would be hypocritical of U.S. policy.

It is up to the Ukrainian people themselves to remove the culture of corruption and bribery from their society. Some might also argue that we should intervene to prevent Crimea from splitting off from Ukraine and joining Russia because the referendum seemed coerced by the occupying military and was not sanctioned by the Ukrainian government. Once again, this does not matter for two reasons. First, the U.S. does not have any foreign interests in Crimea. Second, to oppose this would be to oppose the UN charter that the U.S. and over 140 countries support, that is to a nation’s right to self-determination without outside interference. In this case, it was the Crimean people’s choice to secede and join Russia.

If anything can be gleaned from this situation it is that the era of the U.S. being a major superpower and having a hand in all international affairs is over. We should not adopt an isolationist policy, which is absurd in today’s interconnected world, but rather we should pick our battles more wisely. America must use its resources and direct its people to address more pressing issues, like our domestic economy and troubles.