Columbia professors and students are weighing in on the crisis in Ukraine after Russia invaded Crimea Friday night.
Political science and history professors, along with students from or with an interest in Eastern Europe, are united in their uncertainty and concern for the situation.
“Contrary to all expectations and focus of political analysts, the intervention started,” said Valerii Kuchynskyi, former permanent representative of Ukraine to the U.N. and a visiting professor at SIPA. “At the same time, it seems that now the West is serious in thoughts on the ethical discourse. I hope they will not only give an expression of support and solidarity with the Ukrainian people but real assistance, and the Western countries will use ethical levers in dealing with Russia now.”
Kuchynskyi is teaching a course titled Ukraine: Power Politics & Diplomacy at SIPA. He plans to visit the region around the time of spring break.
“My major concern now is of course the crisis in Ukraine,” he said. “My country has become a victim of aggression.”
Robert Legvold, the Marshall D. Shulman professor emeritus of post-Soviet foreign policy, said that the current situation in Ukraine brings up issues in Europe that many thought were solved by the end of the Cold War.
“Ukraine is in many ways an acute illustration of the failure of post-Cold War foreign policy—not just on Russia’s part, but on the part of the U.S., NATO, and the European Union,” he said.
“I think that we are already seeing an extremely serious crisis. The question is still if this is going to turn into a massive catastrophe or not,” said Tarik Cyril Amar, associate history professor at Columbia’s Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian, and East European Studies.
He said that several things could arise from the crisis: a de facto split of Crimea from Ukraine, the official secession of Crimea, or the accession of the region to Russia.
“And I have to say that these things even a few days ago would have looked rather unreal, but unfortunately we are now in the situation where such possibilities have to be considered,” Amar said.
Central and Eastern European Club Vice President Filip Tuček, SIPA ’15, said in an email to Spectator that the group has been following the events unfold in Ukraine with concern.
“Many of our members’ families have first-hand personal experience with a foreign military intervention in order to enforce stability and order,” he said. “We are deeply concerned about individuals of all nationalities that might be negatively affected by the tumultuous events.”
“Personally, I’d like to underline that this is really a time at which everybody involved has to keep an extremely cool head,” Amar said. “My personal opinion is also that Russia is clearly in the wrong here—there’s no doubt about this. It is infringing massively on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another state, and there’s just no excuse for that. But nevertheless, despite of this, there’s absolutely nothing to be gained from escalating this further by any sort of hotheaded rhetoric or confrontational approach to this. In fact, we all need to climb down.”
Kimberly Marten, Barnard political science professor and also the deputy director for development at the Harriman Institute, published an article in Foreign Affairs magazine on Feb. 27 arguing that Russia has little to gain from an invasion.
“This is no time for Gazprom to embargo gas to Ukraine and risk angering Europe. Further, given Russia’s recent economic stagnation, it can ill afford to lose any revenue, and gas exports make up one of the largest contributors to overall Russian tax intake,” she wrote.
Marten also cautioned against simple solutions, like ceding Crimea to Russia.
“It might be tempting to believe that Crimea could be partitioned off to Russia, thereby ending the crisis,” she said. “But approximately 40 percent of Crimea is not ethnically Russian, and a significant minority is viscerally anti-Russian.”
Still, Kuchynskyi said he finds it to be a good sign that despite the heavy presence of armed soldiers, no shots have been fired so far.
“I’m cautiously optimistic in contrast to some of my colleagues who are cautiously pessimistic, because I think that it should not turn into the full-fledged intervention,” he said.