Crisis in Crimea misrepresented in mainstream media

Crimea was a part of Russia but was given to the Ukraine while the two were united by the Soviet Union. Crimea is an semi-autonomous region of Ukraine and is home to a large majority of ethnically Russian Ukrainians.

Patrick Barry

A forum was hosted on the recent events concerning Ukraine by a panel of Washburn professors on March 10, the goal was to increase awareness and understanding of the complicated issues at play.

Tom Prasch, a professor of history, was the first speaker. He provided a background of the complicated history of the Crimean region. Dmitri Nizovtsev, a professor of economics, provided the Russian perspective of the events in his presentation.

Linsey Moddelmog, a political science professor, presented the perspective of the Ukrainian protesters. Bob Beatty, a professor who teaches international relations, addressed the international concerns about Crimea.

“This is a very interesting echo of really deeply imbedded and complex history,” said  Prasch. “It helps us a lot to understand that deeper history if we’re going to understand what’s going on today.”

Beatty and Nizovtsev both provided insight into the issue that was not covered by most Western sources of media. Nizovtsev presented on some of the alarming signs that sparked Russia’s interest in the events. Two concerning factors that influenced Russia’s decision making were the disbanding of the police force and the way any individuals opposed to the new Ukrainian policies being labeled as separatists.

Beatty addressed Russia’s interest in preserving their sphere of influence in Eastern Europe.

“Russia has its Black Sea fleet in Ukraine, specifically in Crimea and I think what’s going on now is probably and attempt for them to possibly make sure that Ukraine does not go to NATO down the road, which would possibly kick their fleet out of there,” said Beatty. “I think if you view it in terms of the national interests you can at least see why they are doing it.”

The media has covered the controversy over the Russian Federation’s involvement in Crimea, an autonomous region of Ukraine, for the past few weeks. Unfortunately the Western media has not presented the facts from Russia’s perspective. The situation is complicated and full of multiple subjective political aspects. International politics are difficult to cover from all angles because it is difficult to analyze situations holistically.

The objective facts of the case are that Viktor Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine, was ousted by the Ukrainian parliament in Kiev. Yanukovych was an ally of the Russian Federation, who maintains their Black Sea Fleet at a naval base in Crimea.

Russia was concerned that the new government of Ukraine would break allegiance with Russia. Russian leaders were concerned about the impact of the political instability on their strategically crucial naval facility.

The issue is further complicated by the shared history of Russia and Ukraine. The two nations currently share a political border, but historically were both part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Crimea was a part of Russia but was given to the Ukraine while the two were united by the Soviet Union. Crimea is an semi-autonomous region of Ukraine and is home to a large majority of ethnically Russian Ukrainians. 

After Yanukovych was ousted, unidentified forces that were speculated to be Russian secured Crimea. Arseniy Yatsenyuk was elected by the Ukrainian parliament as the new prime minister. His first move was to form a new government that would qualify for aid from the European Union or the United States. Any movement by the new Ukrainian government away from its ties with Russia was concerning to the Russian Federation given their interests.

Ethnically Russian citizens of Crimea started protesting the new Ukrainian government that ousted Yanukovych. The protests included flying Russian flags and singing Soviet era songs. The Russian Federation is not recognizing the new Ukrainian government as legitimate. Eastern Ukraine, which is also home to a large population of ethnically Russian Ukrainians, has also protested the new government in Kiev.

Vladimir Putin and his government have pushed for a referendum to let the people of Crimea determine the future of the region. This is controversial due to conflicting perspectives on the crisis. Leaders from the West like Germanchancellor, Angela Merkel and president Barack Obama have criticized the referendum.

They argue it violates the sovereignty of the new Ukrainian government and therefore violates international law. Putin argues that the new government in Kiev took control through an unconstitutional coup and therefore the new government is illegitimate.

Ethnically Russian citizens of the Ukraine have been protesting the new government in Kiev. They are opposed to the new government, which has made steps to break away from their Russian identity. The status of the Russian language is one of the man concerns of the pro-Russian protesters.

The referendum is set for March 16 and it will allow the autonomous Southeastern region of Ukraine to decide by popular vote if they want to be an independent state or a part of the Federation.

The Russian Federation has been invested in Ukraine. They had been paying the previous government in Kiev to maintain the Russian naval presence in the Black Sea. The ethnic Russians living in Ukraine have expressed disapproval of the new government, which has been viewed as illegitimate by Russia. The Russian Federation is attempting to protect their fellow ethic Russians and their Black Sea fleet.

The Western media has not presented the Russian perspective on the Crimean controversy. The Russian Federation has acted in a way that is understandable given their interests. It is not accurate to presume that Russia is tying to conquer Ukraine.

It is inaccurate that the Soviet Union is resurrecting. It is not accurate to reduce Putin to a modern Hitler. The truth is that there are conflicting views on the situation.

“The West must understand that, to Russia, Ukraine can never be just a foreign country,” said Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state. “The European Union must recognize that its bureaucratic dilatoriness and subordination of the strategic element to domestic politics in negotiating Ukraine’s relationship to Europe contributed to turning a negotiation into a crisis.”

The United States would and has taken similar actions to Russia’s actions abroad when it has served their best interest. From Russia’s perspective on the issue, they are protecting their interests and promoting a democratic solution to the instability in Ukraine.

Both the Russian perspective and the Western perspective have their merits from each group’s point of reference. In truth the objective facts in the case cannot prove either side as more correct than the other.

The West argues the referendum violates Ukrainian sovereignty, the Russians argue that without it democracy would be repressed for the ethnic Russians. The issue is in reality a moral debate. Is it morally justifiable to violate the sovereignty of another nation or is it morally wrong to allow a new government to ignore the voices of an ethnic group entitled to a democratic solution?

It is necessary to analyze the controversy holistically. The truth is ambiguous. International politics are seldom clear-cut cases of right and wrong, but rather a set of competing interests cloaked in subjective interpretations.