Amid escalating tensions, professors discuss Ukraine’s next steps

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Amid escalating security concerns in Eastern Europe over the fate of Ukraine, several campus experts of the region came together Thursday evening to discuss the crisis and propose possible solutions in a public panel at Wheeler Hall.

The panel was hosted by the campus institute of Slavic, East European and Eurasian studies. The speakers included Steven Fish, campus political science professor; Edward Walker, associate adjunct professor of political science; associate economics professor Yuriy Gorodnichenko and political science professor Andrei Tsygankov from San Francisco State University.

Protests in Ukraine have taken place since November, when President Viktor Yanukovych abandoned a proposed agreement with the European Union and chose to pursue an economic deal with Russia instead. Tension and violence have risen within the past few months as the nation has grown increasingly polarized over issues of ethnic and national identity.

Over the past few weeks, Russian troops have been moving into the semiautonomous region of Crimea in southern Ukraine, which led to heightened security concerns in the region and in the international community as a whole.

Walker discussed sources of cleavage within Ukraine, citing significant cultural and linguistic differences between the western region and the eastern and southern regions. The panelists disagreed over Russian President Vladimir Putin’s motivations for sending troops into Crimea.

“He decided that this would prevent further shed of blood,” Tsygankov said. “The endgame is to negotiate better conditions for Russia’s influence in Kiev, not to start a series of new interventions in Eastern Europe, as so many people fear.”

Fish, however, referred to Putin’s actions as “an old-fashioned land grab” driven by Putin’s own ambitions to expand power.

Panelists predicted different outcomes for the conflict. Walker said Crimea will likely be annexed by Russia, while Tsygankov maintained the situation would ultimately be determined by negotiations. They agreed Russia would face some consequences, either from the international community or from people in Russia disillusioned with Putin’s agenda.

Erling Kali, a UC Berkeley junior who attended the panel and has lived in Moscow and Crimea, expressed his uncertainty over the situation.

“I don’t really know what to expect, but what I know to expect scares me,” Kali said.

Panelists also proposed courses of action to help the crisis. Walker and Tsygankov argued that increased negotiations were the most important way to prevent the escalation of tension. Fish claimed international economic sanctions were necessary to discourage Russia’s attempts to expand.

Gorodnichenko was optimistic for Ukraine’s future and proposed several ways to help stabilize the broken national economy and resolve tensions, including decentralizing the government to help address linguistic and cultural differences, integrating with the European Union and deregulating the nation’s industries.

“Ukraine used to be a breadbasket of Europe,” Gorodnichenko said. “I think it can be again the breadbasket.”

Contact Kathleen Tierney at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @kathleentierney.