On November 6th, the Reiff center at Christopher Newport University in conjunction with the Alexander Hamilton Society and the Center for American Studies at CNU had a panel of experts give insight into the current conflict in the Ukraine. These experts were Christopher Newport University’s very own, Dr. Tatiana Rizova, along with Dr. Gerard Alexander, the Associative Professor of the Woodrow Wilson Department of Politics, and The Honorable David J. Kramer, President of Freedom House. These speakers lent significant insight into the constantly developing situation of Ukraine and the international response to it.
The first person to speak in the panel was Dr. Rizova who provided a brief overview of the history of the Ukraine. She began by providing details about how corruption was a huge issue within the country. According to her, Transparency International, an organization that monitors individuals’ perception of corruption in their own country, gives Ukraine a dismal rating. Additionally, she discussed how Russia and the Ukraine had close ties especially in regards to trade. One statistic stated that Ukraine’s exports to Russia were more than 25%. Lastly, she stressed the fact that Ukraine’s issue with corruption has been constant and despite efforts at reform, Ukraine still remained tied to Russia along with its illiberal tendencies.
The next speaker was Dr. Alexander and he explained how American Policy works in international relations. He began by saying that international relations is essentially anarchy because there is no higher government in which individual states have to answer to. Each state therefore has to contend with predatory actions made by other states upon them. His next point was that states have a concern with deterring this predation and one way of doing this was to keep states from engaging in predation in the first place. Some examples of this is by punishment, cultivating allies, and maintaining a healthy perception abroad. This, in theory, makes states that might consider predation (i.e. illiberal democracies, dictatorships, and autocracies) from attempting it in the first place. He ended his lecture in international relations with talking about how the post cold war climate is shaped. Essentially, with the theories of predation in mind, there is this fear of possibly jeopardizing alliances when America lets another state take territory. Other allies might then interpret this as no reason to stay in alliance with America if the U.S. doesn’t bother to do anything about predatory actions. Dr. Alexander related this to the Obama administrations current policy of “speaking loudly but not using a stick”. His belief is that condemnation requires some sort of physical action.
The last speaker to present was The Honorable David J. Kramer, President of Freedom House. He began by stating that the current crisis in the Ukraine was comparable to the Cuban Missile Crisis and that everyone in the international community is carefully watching the events unfold. But what exactly set events in motion in the first place? Well first it is important to realize that Putin views democracy and the west as a threat. Recently, many Eastern European Countries have been pivoting away from Russia and towards the west, something that Putin sees as a challenge to Russian power and influence over the region. The irony of Putin’s logic is that NATO allied states are actually the safest borders for Russia but his logic is based upon perceptions and influence as opposed to physical threats.
Next, the Hon. David J. Kramer talked about Donetsk and Luhansk, the two eastern Ukrainian provinces. He believes that they did not support Russian forces in the most recent elections and that Russia influenced the results in its favor. Additionally, he argues that this current situation is not a civil war but a war between Russia and the Ukraine. It is his belief that the Obama administration’s actions were simply too slow in crafting sanctions and lacked adequate stopping power since they were not preemptive. Among these mistakes, he also believes that the situation shows what our limitations are as a nation and illustrates weakness in how we react. Lastly, he stressed the fact that we must protect the Ukraine and that the United States cannot stand idly by when an ally is suffering from such a monumental threat.
I personally believed that this panel was a superb addition to the Reiff center events for this year. What particularly enraptured the audience was the logical progression of the speakers and their topics. In other words, each speech flowed well from one speaker to the next. The panel also had some time for questions afterwards and the student body made full use of the opportunity. One particularly interesting question was whether or not the United States could recover from its low position in the current international climate. The answer was yes but we would have to make sure we send a message across that there will be no more Ukraine situations in the world. Some other interesting points brought up during the Q and A were Russia’s actions out of the conflict. For instance, recently there was a deal between China and Russia on constructing a pipeline between the two states, something that Russia desperately needed after international sanctions on oil. Instead of perceiving this action as the beginnings of friendship, one of the panelists argued that China and Russia still hated each other and China used its leverage over Russia to gain a lucrative deal since it knew Russia was in a poor bargaining position. Russia also seems to be expanding its operations in courting influence abroad. Apparently “RT” or “Russian TV” has been growing at a rapid pace in other countries. The panelists made clear that RT is a very crafty form of Russian propaganda that is cleverly orchestrated to look like an accredited news source. These efforts at expansion will inevitably attempt to foster a pro Russian identity around the world.
The final question that remains is very simple, what should the United States do? Many of our panelists believe that America has every right to intervene and should do so as soon as possible. Although I agree, I can’t help but wonder about Russia’s current position. After annexing Crimea, undergoing sanctions from the U.S. and the EU, and having been exploited by China in the most recent oil deal, I can’t help but wonder if Russia is in for some serious economic trouble. This is speculative but I seriously believe that although Russia might be succeeding in the short term, it has a rocky long-term future ahead of it.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Reiff Center For Human Rights and Conflict Resolution or Christopher Newport University.