In a panel discussion at the Ford School of Public Policy Wednesday, three professors discussed Russia’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy.
The talk was led by History Prof. Ronald Suny, Greta Uehling, professor of international and comparative studies, and Law Prof. Steven Ratner.
The event, presented by the Michigan Journal of International Affairs Club and sponsored by the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, was held in response to the ongoing crisis in Crimea.
In March 2014, Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula soon after the 2014 Ukrainian revolution ousted then-Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovychk. The peninsula is internationally recognized as part of Ukraine’s territory.
Discussing the history of the Crimean conflict, Suny touched on remaining implications in the region from the Cold War, noting that Russian President Vladimir Putin stresses that he is not imperialist, but simply wants stability and continuity.
Suny said while the United States media often demonizes Putin and Russia, he thinks Russia is a weak country that genuinely wants stability and recognition as a world power.
“Vladimir Putin is not a radical, in fact he is relatively cautious,” said Suny. “Russia’s foreign policy can only be understood when one considers the entire national arena.”
Suny also spoke about how the invasion of Crimea is seen as a significant nationalist victory in a Russia, where the economy and country are severely struggling. In the eyes of the Russian people, Suny said, the annexation is a victory and it would be detrimental to Putin’s reign to pull out at this point.
Ratner said while Russia’s foreign policy may not be perceived as imperialist, it’s important to note that Russia has violated international law in some of its undertakings — namely, in its annexation of Crimea.
“Russia annexed the territory of a neighboring state, but the way they did it is regarded as an abuse of international law,” Ratner said.
Offering a humanitarian perspective on the crisis, Uehling said serious human rights violations that were being committed in Crimea under the Russian annexation.
“Ukraine has proved remarkably resilient in the face of Russian aggression,” Uehling said. “However the politics of fear promoted by the Russians in Crimea are seriously eroding the possibility of a civil or tolerant society in that region.”
As well, Uehling said social stability in Ukraine is important for Europe to avoid creating another refugee crisis from Ukrainians wanting to flee their country.
“It’s safe to say that a democratic world is a more peaceful world, and conflict and disorder in any part are going to eventually spread to another,” Uehling said.
While the consensus among the three professors was that a return of Crimea to Ukraine was unlikely, Uehling proposed twos steps that could be taken by the United States and other countries to alleviate the situation. These countries, she said, could help groups there trying to monitor human rights abuses in Crimea and continue to impose economic sanctions on Russia.
LSA freshman Amelia Feuka, who attended the event, said she came because Suny is one of her professors and she was interested in the historical aspect of the conflict in Ukraine. She added that she didn’t expect to be presented with issues pertaining to human rights in Crimea or international law, but noted that she walked away with a new perspective on the issue.
“There is often a very narrow-minded view on this really complicated subject and in reality there are so many different elements and components to it,” Fueka said. “I thought this was really enlightening and useful for me to hear.”
Public Policy junior Graham Steffens said he attended because he is part of the Michigan Journal of International Affairs Club and has a strong interest in foreign policy.
“Russia’s actions are a big deal right now and I think it’s really important for students to actually listen to what actual professors have to say about it instead of just talking back and forth and not understanding everything,” Steffens said.