David Ost, professor of political science, was interviewed for an article about the situation in the Ukraine shortly before the Crimean vote took place.
The Finger Lakes Times article quoted Ost, “Things really need to be de-escalated diplomatically, [but Russian President Vladimir] Putin is making it a little difficult,” he said. “Putin is in a good position. He can … act tough, and there’s not much the West can do.”
The article noted, “Efforts to keep things under control could get complicated later this month, when Crimea votes. If it decides to join Russia, and Russia accepts, the move will likely draw strong criticism in the West.
“Just as important: It could set the Ukraine on the path to a wider internal conflict. If Ukraine behaves belligerently toward Russian speakers in the east, that could bring about a Russian response, Ost said.”
“There’ll definitely be a lot of contentious events going on in Ukraine for a while, with big international implications,” Ost is quoted. “Whether it become a crisis or not depends on the diplomacy.”
A member of the political science faculty at HWS since 1986, and a frequent lecturer in Eastern Europe, Ost holds a bachelor’s degree from State University of New York at Stony Brook and a doctorate from the University of Wisconsin. His research focuses on labor and politics, democracy and capitalism, questions he has explored through a focus on the political economy of contemporary Europe.
Ost is also the author of two books on Polish politics: “Solidarity and the Politics of Anti-Politics” and “The Defeat of Solidarity: Anger and Politics in Postcommunist Europe.” He has published more than 40 articles in scholarly books and journals, and is on the editorial boards of Politics and Society, East European Politics and Societies, the Polish Sociological Review, and several other European journals. He has been featured on the BBC, PBS, the “McNeil-Lehrer Report” and on numerous major radio stations.
The full article follows.
Finger Lakes Times
Area professors urge caution in Ukraine
Jim Miller • March 9, 2014
If the United States and Russia could get through the Cold War without lobbing nuclear missiles at each other, Sander Diamond figures they can get through the current situation in the Ukraine.
The Keuka College history professor isn’t quite sure how, but he thinks he knows where things should start.
“The first thing, you’ve got to stop the name calling,” Diamond said. ” … I don’t think we should appease them, but I think we should ratchet down, and see where we are.”
David Ost, a political science professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, had a similar suggestion, but he also noted the challenges involved in pulling it off.
“Things really need to be de-escalated diplomatically, [but Russian President Vladimir] Putin is making it a little difficult,” he said. “Putin is in a good position. He can … act tough, and there’s not much the West can do.”
The fast-changing situation pits Ukrainians who favor closer ties with Europe and the West against Ukrainians who want to align their nation with Russia. After pro-Western protestors toppled the government, Russian sent troops into a region of Ukraine called the Crimea, where it has a naval base and the support of a large Russian-speaking population.
Whether Russian will go farther – a move into Russian-speaking areas in eastern Ukraine, for example – remains to be seen.
In the meantime, tensions have risen between the U.S. and Russia, and the pro-Russian Crimean parliament has scheduled a referendum on joining Russia.
“I know from our point of view, Putin broke international law, and it’s our concern that this is a harbinger of a continuation of this,” Diamond said. “From their point of view, we’re meddling.”
Diamond visited Russia seven times between 1977 and 1990, witnessing firsthand the beginning stages of the Soviet Union’s breakup and the emergence of Russia and the former Soviet states as independent nations.
He believes Putin replaced communism with nationalism as the Russia’s driving ideology. And, he thinks Putin may want to reassemble at least some of the old Russian Empire, which became the Soviet Union after the czar was toppled in the 1917 revolution.
Diamond noted the appearance of old imperial flags at the Olympics, along with the Crimea’s key role in the Russian Empire. With access to the Black Sea, it served – and serves – as a vital, warm-water port for a country with a coastline that’s largely ice-bound for much of the year.
“When the Russians made it a semi-autonomous part of the Ukraine [in the 1950s], they never imagined the country would fall apart,” Diamond said.
Ost doesn’t think the situation has become a crisis yet, at least as far as U.S.-Russian relations are concerned. Nor does he think events in the Ukraine will have much impact here.
There is a caveat, though. Like Diamond, Ost took note of Putin’s justification for his actions in the Crimea. Instead of claiming that he needed to protect Russia’s ample assets in the region, Putin justified his actions by saying he needed to protect the right of ethnic Russians to decide their fate.
That could raise concerns in other former Soviet Republics with large Russian populations. Several of those states are members of NATO, which obligates the United States to defend them.
The good news?
“We have [heard] that justification, but they’re not acting on it,” Ost said. “That’s why I say the West cannot and should not escalate.”
Efforts to keep things under control could get complicated later this month, when Crimea votes. If it decides to join Russia, and Russia accepts, the move will likely draw strong criticism in the West.
Just as important: It could set the Ukraine on the path to a wider internal conflict. If Ukraine behaves belligerently toward Russian speakers in the east, that could bring about a Russian response, Ost said.
He thinks the U.S. and Europe should encourage Ukraine’s government to limit its response to the potential loss of the Crimea.
“There’ll definitely be a lot of contentious events going on in Ukraine for a while, with big international implications,” Ost said. “Whether it become a crisis or not depends on the diplomacy.”