A Conversation About Unrest in Ukraine with Dr. Charles Cotton

Dr. Charles Cotton, an adjunct political science professor, sat down with me to explain and discuss the current situation happening in Ukraine.

Jasmine Ramos: What exactly is happening in Ukraine?

Charles Cotton: Well, there obviously was some civil dissatisfaction with the previous government that was backed by the Russian government and thus, this lead to some civil unrest in the capital, Kiev which ultimately lead to the Russian-backed leader fleeing the country.

During the whole maul of things, he was also kicked out by the parliament, from what I understand and a more pro-western government is now currently in place. The civil unrest in Kiev has for the most part subsided.

There were a few days during the Olympics where things were getting quite out of hand and things escalated out of control very quickly, but then also died down very quickly, as a result.

What you have now, in Crimea, which boarders Russia, has been a pretty autonomous region since the end of the Cold War. What is key here is that this is where the Black Sea Fleet is located and that is where Russia has a very strategic Navy Base, which they also share with the Ukrainians. But what is important is that Crimea  is about sixty percent ethnic Russian, so this is why you see more support there for not only an independent state, but to become part of a Greater Russia.

Why this is so important to Russia is the history of the Black Sea Fleet and there military presence in Ukraine.

JR: Is this why there has been talks about Russia invading Ukraine at this point?

CC: Well there is not necessarily an invasion of the entire Ukrainian state, in my opinion. Because of where Ukraine is, people are talking about it being the connection between east and west, the same way they talk about Turkey, for example, being that connection between Europe and Asia. This is known a type of connection between Europe and Russia. 

Arguable so, because there is a significant natural gas pipe line, which goes through the Ukraine and send natural gases to Western Europe, which they [Western Europe] are highly dependent on. This is a significant monetary reward for various parties at hand.

So, will Russia invade the Ukraine as a whole? No. Does Russia want to maintain its presence in Crimea, especially as it relates to its military presence there? Absolutely.

This is not mentioned but the United States would do the same thing should its oversea military bases in, say, Okinawa [Japan] or Pacific Islands or elsewhere, somewhat be compromised. We see this in the military bases in South Korea, for example, and the relationship with North Korea and the military exercises that go on there.

During the Olympics, the Russians were carrying out military exercises the same way we carry out these same types of military exercises with the South Koreans, closer to North Korea, and we do it because it shows we have the military.

Essentially, Russia is doing the same exact thing, showing that they still have the military capability, the hard power if you will, that they are not going anywhere. Do I think Vladimir Putin wants to “gobble up” the Ukraine and make it part of Russia? Not at all.

JR: So, what does the mean for the United States in this situation?

CC: The United States and the politics in the United States, and this is what you’ve been hearing a lot of, is that the Cold War is not over, or that the Cold War has been reawaken. And I disagree with that one hundred percent.

The Cold War was based on political ideology. This was democracy and capitalism versus communism more than anything. [What is happening now] is not a war of ideology. The Russians and the United States no longer have contrasting political ideology like they did when the Russians were known as the Soviet Union. Does Putin abuse his authority and manipulates the democratic structure of the Russian Federation? Without a doubt, which has been done so, and has proven in the last several years. But in no means is this Cuban Missile Crisis or anything of that nature.

It’s the United States, which is the world’s sole hegemon, and it is Russia, that is led by a leader that is both loved and feared in his state, trying to show that they are somewhat still relevant 25 years after the Cold War. It is a power play; it’s about blowing up and puffing up your muscles.

I think the United States has done the right thing for letting Putin get everything off his chest. They aren’t overreacting to the situation.

To a certain extent, I think Putin was kind of hoping for that, that there was going to be an overreaction, not only from the United States, but the rest of Western Europe and there has not. I think because the United States and Europe as a whole recognized it is never Putin’s intention to violate the sovereignty of Ukraine.

JR: Do you think it could escalate into something more serious?

CC: No, and I think the main reason is that there are more people in the Ukraine who are much more opposed to any type of conflict whatsoever, and do not want to side with either the Russians nor the West and have no reasons whatsoever to justify any type of civil war and the breaking up of the country.

Yes, the country is divided somewhat between Ukrainian speakers and Russian speakers and so much has been as about how an ethnic divided the Ukraine is, how the West is mostly Ukrainian and the western Christians and the East is mostly Russian. But it is not as homogenous as we think it is and it is not split that clear cut. Also in the South towards the Black Sea, there is a small Muslim population, it is roughly of 10 to 12 percent, and that is significant as well because of Russia’s relationship and experience with its Muslim minority. I don’t think you’d find many Muslims in Ukraine, no matter where they are, supporting any Russian dominance by the state.

There is definitely resistance. Although I would say there are a lot of Russian speakers in the Ukraine, that doesn’t necessarily mean they have a strong allegiance or they necessarily want to become Russian within the Russian state. They are fine being Russian speakers but also have a Ukrainian identity. And I think there are more people in the Ukraine who want peace instead of war.

At the end of the day that is what will win out, is the desires of the Ukrainian people themselves and not the West wants.

JR: Do you think there is a solution to what is happening inside of Ukraine? Since the violence in the Ukraine has been happening since November.

CC: It has been going on since November, but you haven’t really seen conflict outside the capital. There is the example of when it did escalate quickly, people were like “Oh wow. This may be too much.” and people were very upset about it. Ukraine is one of the largest countries in Europe so that being say, the possibility of war being spread to all four corners of the state are unlikely.

IMAGE TAKEN from www.washingtonpost.com