Colorado State students are studying hard, finishing exams and yearning for the nine days of delight that is spring break. But while we scholars relax and recuperate from taxing the limits of our mental capacities, halfway across the world, the Crimean people will decide whether or not to join the country of Russia.
The Ukraine and the Crimea may seem far away, both in geography and in relevance, but perhaps there are more connections than Colorado State students realize.
Kristina Syrina, a senior international studies major, is a Ukrainian citizen, whose parents live in a small town in eastern Ukraine. While no violence has occurred in her family’s proximity, the ongoing situation has affected her family’s ability to pay its bills.
“My dad has not gotten paid since this started,” Syrina said. “The Ukraine is so poor anyway, but now things are harder.”
A failure by former Ukrainian President Yanukovych to commit to trade agreements with the EU or a similar deal with the Russian Federation sparked mass protests in the capital of Kiev back in November. Protests grew in number, and violence erupted between protesters and police, which prompted Yanukovych flee to Russia with his family.
In early March, Russian troops unofficially moved into civilian areas of the Crimea, an eastern province of the Ukraine which is strategically located on the coast of the Black Sea. While Kiev is working to reestablish order following the chaos in the streets and the disappearance of their President, Crimea has been declared an autonomous nation. On Sunday, the Crimean people will vote on a referendum deciding if Crimea will join the Russian Federation.
Many Russians are ready to welcome the Crimea with open arms.
“The Russians say to Crimeans, ‘You are our brothers,’” said Syrina.
Ilya Kuznetsov, a Russian-born graduate student studying electrical engineering, said he sees strong cultural, ethnic and historical connections between the Russians and the Crimeans, as well as economic considerations.
“One of the reasons Crimea wants to become Russia is because the federal pensions and salaries are significantly better in Russia,” Kuznetsov said. “It doesn’t seem like Crimeans are happy in the Ukraine, with all the tension in the western part of the country.”
While Kuznetsov is a Russian citizen, he also said he feels closely connected to the Ukraine.
“My grandparents are from the Ukraine, I lived in a city near the border of the Russian and the Ukraine, so I feel a strong bond with the Ukraine.’”
The international community, including the US, has denounced the Russian movements in the Crimea. It is not clear how an affirmative decision by the Crimea to join Russia will affect the connections — economic and political — between world powers.
To many Western nations, Russia appears to have capitalized on Ukrainian disorder by annexing a strategic territory which has strong ethnic and historical ties to Russia. To Russia, they are democratically incorporating a strategic addition in the Black Sea, but the move raises the risk of economic sanctions and cooperation on joint ventures with Western nations. To many former Soviet satellite nations, like Belarus and Kazakhstan, this establishes a precedent that provinces can split from their current federal government and join with Russia.
All signs point to the Crimea joining Russia. For the people of what will remain Ukraine, they will have to accept the new reality that a part of of their former country is gone. The United States will likely continue to offer support to the Ukrainian government, probably through aid packages and facilitating Ukrainian membership into the EU. For Russia, it is not clear. While they have gained an important territory, they have also alienated much of the International community. Only time will tell, but for now, its time to update your globe.
Collegian Editor at Large Zack Burley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org