The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

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March 3, 2014

PSU professor assesses Russian action in Ukraine

PITTSBURG, Kan. — A Pittsburg State University professor describes Russia’s takeover of Crimea in Ukraine as a “huge rupture in the international system.”

Paul Zagorski, professor of history, philosophy and social sciences at PSU, said the U.S. and the rest of the world have no easy options in terms of a response.

He said a military response wouldn’t be productive.

“In military terms, it’s really difficult to do much about it without starting a war between NATO and the Russians,” he said.

He said economic sanctions against Russia may be the best option, paired with economic aid for Ukraine.

“What we can do is give aid to Ukraine,” he said. “They’re in terrible shape economically. There’s little we can do actually. What could happen is it could descend into a mini Cold War.”

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of GOP leadership in the Senate, met Monday with the prime minister of Georgia, where two provinces have been occupied by Russia since 2008. Blunt after the meeting pointed out Russia’s actions in Georgia also came just after the end of the Olympic games.

“It took Russia less than 24 hours after the closing ceremony of the Olympics to start work on a barbed-wire barrier isolating part of Georgia from the rest of the country,” Blunt said in a statement.

“Now is the time to let Russia know that the U.S. and the EU are committed to economic freedom and partnership for all who will seek it. Russia’s aggressive action in Georgia should stop, and any effort to isolate parts of the Ukraine should never be allowed to happen.”

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill and U.S. Rep. Billy Long both expressed concerns about Russia’s actions.

“We’re seeing dangerous developments in an important part of the world,” McCaskill said in a statement. “The U.S. and the international community are rightly looking at every possible political and diplomatic avenue to defend Ukraine’s territorial integrity and get Russia to pull back.”

Long said he is “very concerned about the recent violence in Ukraine and saddened by the loss of life. I believe the people of Ukraine should be able to determine their political future without external coercion.”

McCaskill and Blunt both are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Zagorski said Russian President Vladimir Putin is a product of the Cold War.

“He may be comfortable with that,” Zagorski said of the Cold War scenario. “In all probability, we’re going to see a long-term souring of relations.”

The professor said the situation could grow worse quickly if Russian forces move beyond the autonomous Crimea. He said Crimea’s population is 60 percent ethnic Russian, 35 percent Ukrainian and 15 percent ethnic Tatar.

He said the action in Crimea is reminiscent of invasions by the Soviet Union of Hungary in 1956 or Czechoslovakia in 1968, though the Russian government is using the pretext that it’s protecting the local Russian population. He said they were in no danger.

“It makes the invasion easier to pull off,” he said of the excuse.

Then there is the 1994 agreement among Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and Britain in which Ukraine agreed to give up nuclear weapons in return for the other countries promising to respect Ukrainian territory.

“Even without that, this is an invasion of another sovereign state,” Zagorski said. “There’s no issue about that. The pretext that they’re protecting Russians, that’s really the key element in the equation. The Russians have done that before, in 2008 in Georgia. This has been something that people have worried about since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

“The denuclearization agreement would be an additional reason this action is illegal,” Zagorski continued.

He said another issue is that Eastern Europe and Ukraine depend on Russia for natural gas supplies.

Zagorski said the situation may end any pretense of Russia cooperating with negotiations to end Syria’s civil war, but the Russians hadn’t added much that was constructive anyway.

Though there has been widespread international condemnation of the invasion, Zagorski said it won’t make much difference unless it is paired with economic consequences for Russia. A meaningful guarantee that Russia won’t push into the rest of Ukraine would even be helpful.

He said the U.S. wants to see the advancement of democracy in the former Soviet states.

“This is a significant territorial shift, done both unilaterally and with the use of force,” Zagorski said. “In a way, it’s kind of a watershed. It’s something Putin brought on himself.”

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