Ukraine

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As observers of international affairs, we have a tendency to divide the world into good guys and bad guys, friends and foes. Old maps from the Second World War show the allied countries in one color, the axis countries in another. Cold War maps depict our allies in blue or white, the communists usually in red. Since Sept. 11, 2001, American policymakers have divided the world roughly between our friends in the war against terrorism, and those states that support or house terrorists (what former President George W. Bush infamously called the “axis of evil”). 

Russia, under its dictatorial president, Vladimir Putin, poses a problem for these somewhat unavoidable colors on our maps. Putin’s actions in the last year have clearly shown that he aims to challenge American and West European influence in the territories around his state. Putin has invaded South Ossetia (formerly part of the republic of Georgia), Crimea and eastern Ukraine to prevent those regions from joining the European Union or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, despite strong support in each nation for cultivating these Western connections. Putin has flagrantly vetoed efforts in the United Nations to punish Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s genocidal attacks on his own population. On July 17 paramilitary forces in eastern Ukraine operating Russian weapons shot down a civilian aircraft, Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, killing 298 civilians. Undaunted, Russia has continued to support this kind of reckless behavior, including provocative military aircraft flights near E.U. and U.S. borders. 

Some observers have diagnosed a new Cold War, with a renewed division in Europe, but that exaggerates the Russian threat. For all his brutality, Putin is not seeking to close off Russia to Western capital, people or ideas. If anything, he wants his chosen allies at home to benefit from foreign investments, high-skilled workers, innovative technologies and modern media. Putin recognizes that Russian power and prosperity require integration, not separation, from global capitalist markets and knowledge industries. His goal is to manage Russia’s global integration for his maximum benefit, minimizing what he perceives as the advantages of the U.S. and E.U. Putin has shown little concern for the freedoms and living standards of his own citizens; his priority is the power of the state that he controls.

Condemning Putin as an aggressive tyrant is not sufficient, and it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cornered and isolated dictators almost never back down; they usually turn to more threatening policies. Similarly, ignoring Putin’s misdeeds and hoping for the best in negotiations will not work, either. Aggressive and self-righteous tyrants seek to exploit opportunities; they will push against their neighbors until someone pushes back. 

The challenge for American and European policy is to contend with the current realities and the likely reactions from Putin toward various Western actions. Many of our discussions of policy caricature our adversaries, while they simultaneously overstate our power and understate the range of our options. Like the simple lines and colors on our maps, our strategic vision of the world is much too simple. The key task for policy observers is to avoid dichotomies between good and evil and instead conceptualize how the United States can discourage Putin’s continued aggression without further antagonizing the Russian dictator by backing him into a corner. 

What the United States needs is a policy that builds what former Secretary of State Dean Acheson called “situations of strength” while also offering Russia dignified exits from confrontation. Rhetoric about “stopping” Russia overstates our capabilities, and efforts to humiliate Putin make the resolution of conflict more difficult. Backing down is hard for everyone, especially political strongmen who rule through intimidation. Firmness, preparation and respect — even for brutal regimes — are key elements of a workable relationship. Political efficacy requires reasonableness in addition to moral indignation.

So what does a firm, prepared, respectful and reasonable U.S. and E.U. policy toward Russia look like? Historical experience points to three basic elements. First, the U.S. and E.U. should state clearly why we believe that Ukraine, Georgia and other countries around Russia deserve the right to join the E.U., NATO and other Western organizations if they wish. We must show consistency, seriousness and interests beyond immediate gains for our own societies. An adversary, like Russia, cannot appreciate our interests and values if we do not articulate them effectively.

Second, attention to Ukraine, Georgia and other countries does not mean that Russia should be ignored. Quite the contrary, U.S. and E.U. leaders should reach out explicitly to show that we value dialogue with Russia. We should give Putin reasons to want to do the right thing.

Third, and perhaps most important, Washington and Brussels must truly represent global opinion. Instead of falling into Putin’s trap of conceptualizing the conflict as a battle of the rich West against the rest, President Barack Obama and his counterparts must appeal to other major countries in East Asia, Latin America and Africa. Putin must see that there is little sympathy for his behavior around the globe. World opinion matters, and skillful diplomatic work to mobilize world opinion on behalf of democracy and national sovereignty is crucial.

Although the lines on the maps still matter, they should not force our thinking into rigid “us” versus “them” assumptions. Putin’s Russia is a threat, but it is a manageable threat. Policy leadership on this topic is more about diplomacy, negotiation and creativity than the moralistic rhetoric that dominates our public discussions. We can indeed help to lead the world without simplistically dividing it.

Suri is a professor in the Department of History and the LBJ School of Public Affairs. Follow him on Twitter @JeremiSuri. 

The UT System will further consider divesting funds from Russia as relations between the U.S. and the Russian governments worsen because of conflict in Ukraine, according to System officials.

At a Board of Regents meeting on Sept. 15, Regent Alex Cranberg brought up the possibility of divesting from Russia.

“It is important because Russia is threatening the USA through NATO,” Cranberg said in an email. “As President Obama has said, Putin has ripped up the ‘rule book.’ He is resurrecting the national and ethnic rivalries, which were so devastating to the 20th century.”

The University of Texas Investment Management Company, or UTIMCO, has about $200 million invested in Russia currently, according to Bruce Zimmerman, CEO and chief internal officer of UTIMCO. Zimmerman said this is a relatively small amount of money compared to the $35 billion the organization has invested in other parts of the world. 

“Divesting from Russia, in and of itself, would not necessarily be an overly significant event,” Zimmerman said at the meeting in mid-September. “The larger concern I think would be if we did begin putting in changes to the investment policies related to political and or social issues, then there could very well be a substantial domino effect.”

In an interview Thursday, Zimmerman said it is the System’s policy that UTIMCO make investments based upon economic factors and not to become involved in political situations. Zimmerman said many companies and organizations participate in divestment movements to make a political statement, such as the Rockefeller family, who is planning to divest $860 million of its charity out of fossil fuels to try and fight climate change.

“Once you decide there is one political or social issue that merits an investment decision, where does the list end?” Zimmerman said. “The context of all this is if you make economic decisions based on noneconomic reasons, there’s an economic cost.”

The regents have agreed to continue discussing the divestment issue at future board meetings.

“There comes times in the Board’s life and in the nation’s life that we may need to take a look at some of these things,” Regent Gene Powell said at the meeting in September. “I would encourage us not to foreclose in considering these items.”   

Zimmerman said if the System does decide to divest from Russia, UTIMCO would be selling $40 million of its private equity below market price.

“If we were to try to sell that position today, we might only get about $20 or $30 million for it, so there would be an immediate cost,” Zimmerman said.

Cranberg said the System should not make investment decisions based on matters of personal choice, such as opinions on alcohol or tobacco, or based purely on the domestic policies of other countries. 

“Our policies as a public investment vehicle should be based only on maximizing legal returns for our students and mission, other than factors materially affecting the security of the United States and our armed forces,” Cranberg said.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The last decade has witnessed a proliferation of proxy wars throughout the Middle East, Africa, central Asia and Southeast Asia. These are violent, often genocidal, conflicts between local groups fueled by larger foreign actors. The Pakistanis have been a notorious practitioner of this strategy, funding the Taliban and other extreme groups throughout war zones in Afghanistan and Kashmir. Iran has played a similar game in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.

Russia, however, has become the worst offender. Its direct military support for violent forces in Syria and Ukraine poses one of the greatest threats to international stability today as we have seen in the recent downing of Malaysia Airlines flight 17 by Russian-supported Ukrainian rebels. In Syria, Russia’s aid to the military of Bashir al-Assad has contributed to the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians and a civil war that is breaking apart the states in the region. The rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a rump group of extremists in control of territory stretching from the Syrian border with Turkey to the Iraqi cities of Ramadi and Falluja, is a result of the fighting surrounding Assad. He and his Russian, as well as Iranian, supporters have attracted a transnational Islamic revolt that has drawn fighters from across the region and beyond. The extremists have filled a political vacuum in the areas that Assad and the deeply divided Iraq government cannot control. Through its military support and its veto of United Nations action, Russia has prevented a solution to this crisis.

Recent events in Ukraine fit the same dangerous pattern of Russian behavior. On March 21 Russian President Vladimir Putin forcefully annexed the Crimean Peninsula, taking the Black Sea territory from Ukraine. He had done this by sending irregular Russian forces into the territory, motivating local Russian-supporters to stage a Moscow-inspired rebellion against Ukrainian authorities. The international community universally condemned Russian aggression, but Putin falsely claimed this was a legitimate act to protect Russian speakers.

Putin made a similar argument for the eastern part of Ukraine, which also has a large Russian-speaking population, especially in industrial cities like Donetsk.  Russia has deployed advanced weapons, military trainers and its own soldiers to support a violent separatist movement in Ukraine. It is fueling a proxy war, designed to create a separate Russian Ukrainian state that will stand against the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO.)

The brutality of Russia’s proxy wars in Syria and Ukraine created the Malaysian Airliner tragedy that resulted in the tragic death of 298 innocent civilians, none of whom had any connection to these conflicts. On July 17 Russian-supported rebels in Ukraine, and perhaps Russian military forces, fired a surface-to-air missile at what they thought was a Ukrainian government airplane. They were using these missile attacks to destroy government aircraft threatening rebel-held areas. The accidental destruction of the civilian aircraft was the result of this aggressive use of force against the Ukrainian state, made possible by the most sophisticated Russian military hardware. Without Putin’s support, the Ukrainian separatists would never have threatened the Malaysian airliner, flying 30,000 feet above the ground.

The escalating violence of Russia’s proxy wars undermines hopes for stability in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. These conflicts will continue to produce a large death toll, destabilize local governments, and demand American and allied intervention in response. President Barack Obama has condemned Russian behavior and he has led efforts to implement stiff economic sanctions on key Russian actors, including many of Putin’s closest business supporters, the “Oligarchs.” President Obama has had mixed success encouraging the European Union and other key international actors to act similarly.

The time has come for a more significant American response. The United States should initiate a firm policy of containing Russian meddling beyond its borders. The President should offer a detailed public account of Russia’s actions, he should forthrightly condemn this behavior, and he should isolate Moscow from full participation from all American-influenced trade and diplomatic organizations until Moscow abandons its support for proxy wars. The purpose is not to isolate Russia permanently, but to make Putin and his supporters pay a heavy international and domestic cost for their aggressive behavior. Negotiations can continue with Moscow, as they always should, but Russia should no longer benefit from status as a respected international actor. It is indeed a rogue state, and will remain such as long as Putin continues his current proxy war policies. Nothing is gained by operating from old, wishful fictions. 

Suri is a history professor who specializes in international modern history. 

Ayman Mohyeldin talks about his experience as a foreign correspondent in Egypt and Ukraine. Mohyeldin has worked for Al-Jazeera and NBC news. 

Photo Credit: Helen Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Ayman Mohyeldin said he was a bored NBC news intern in the summer of 2001, questioning his career choice, until the attacks of 9/11 occurred. His life changed when a producer handed the Egyptian-born, American-raised intern a stack of tapes of Osama bin Laden and asked him to translate them. 

This was the beginning of a journalism career that has since taken him to the Gaza Strip, Egypt, Iraq, South Africa and Ukraine. Mohyeldin spoke about his experiences as a foreign correspondent in Egypt in 2011 and Ukraine in 2014 in an event sponsored by the University’s Institute for Communication on Media in the Middle East on Thursday.

According to Mohyeldin, who covered the Egyptian Revolution in 2011 for Al-Jazeera English, the Arab Spring has helped inspire the organization of protests in Ukraine. When Ukrainian protestors at a rally discovered he was Egyptian, Mohyeldin said, organizers even tried to get him to come on stage and tell them how Egyptians had done it in Tahrir Square. Mohyeldin declined.

“There are incredible amounts of similarities [between the uprisings in Ukraine and Egypt] because so many of the grievances are the same,” Mohyeldin said. “Young people, very passionate about their ideals and values, disenfranchised, ignored by the state which had grown to be much more corrupt and abusive, and not meeting the basic services for the people.”

Through his talk, Mohyeldin stressed the importance of context in foreign correspondence. Because so many current events, especially in the Middle East, are caused by tens and even hundreds of years of cultural factors and history, each situation requires in-depth research and immersion into local culture.

“The other thing I’ve learned about the Middle East is definitely don’t try to make sense of the Middle East,” Mohyeldin admitted. “It’s almost impossible to understand purely by just jumping into it and trying to learn little bit by little bit.”

Karin Wilkins, middle eastern studies and radio-television-film professor and director of the Center of Middle Eastern Studies, said the institute tries to invite media professionals who emphasize giving their audience a complete context for current events in the Middle East. Wilkins said Mohyeldin’s cultural background as both an Egyptian and American have helped him to better understand both his audience and his stories.

“Because the Middle East is such a complicated and important region of the world and most people in this country know so little, we really depend on media professionals to feed us information,” Wilkins said. 

Claire Cooley, a Middle Eastern languages and cultures graduate student who lived in Egypt for over two years, agreed that it is crucial for foreign correspondents to know the history of their stories instead of just jumping to where the latest story is happening. 

“It was good he talked about context because there’s so many aspects of context people here might not understand,” Cooley said.

Keith Livers, associate professor in the department of Slavic and Eurasian studies, talks about Russian idealism during a Q-and-A hosted by the International Affairs Society. The panel featured four professors who discussed the current conflicts between Russia and Ukraine. 

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

Ukraine isn’t enough of a U.S. priority to warrant military involvement, although Russia has shown its willingness to use military force, according to government professor Robert Moser in an on-campus roundtable discussion Wednesday.

Slavic and Eurasian studies professors discussed the ongoing situation between Russia and Ukraine as part of “Putin’s Russia and Eastern Europe,” sponsored by the International Affairs Society.

Moser, who also serves as chair of the government department, said the U.S. doesn’t plan to go to war with Russia.

“Ukraine is more important to Russia than it is to the United States and western Europe,” Moser said. “Ukraine has been historically viewed as sort of part of Russia, in its sphere of influence. If you lose Ukraine, from a certain perspective … you lose sort of the heart of the Slavic homeland, and there’s genuine fear that core interests — military, social, political, as well as economic interests — would be violated if Ukraine became part of the [European Union].”

Moser said the U.S. government remains firm in its decision to refrain from taking military action because of the notable effects economic sanctions have had on the Russian economy. He also said each country’s military view of Ukraine differs greatly — with Russia having higher stakes in the region because of its proximity. 

Wesley Howard, a government and international and global studies senior and director of programs for the society, said the topic was chosen for the round table in January, before most people knew about the events going on in the region.

“We didn’t expect the crisis to occur in the timely manner it did, but … a lot of interest got spurred … [and] the professors were relatively talkative and wanting to join onto the panel,” Howard said. “A lot of people pretty interested in the region think it seems difficult for the region to overcome because what precedent does it set for future invasions or future Russian power proliferations?”

Mary Neuburger, professor and chair in the department of Slavic and Eurasian studies, said she thinks reports from and about the situation are lacking perspective from the region where Ukraine used to be part of Russia.

“There’s an easy way to watch the media and go, ‘Yeah, Russia’s evil,’… and I think there’s this story that‘s being fed to Americans — a very uncomplicated narrative of Russia’s evil, Putin’s evil, they’re taking up the Ukraine … and I think part of the problem is a consistency problem for us on foreign policy,” Neuburger said.

UT classical archaeology professor Joseph Carter returned to Chersonesos, Ukraine, on Friday to celebrate the site’s World Heritage status designation by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. 

Carter, the director of UT’s Institute of Classical Archaeology, has led an excavation at the site since 1994.

The site’s designation was first announced in June after its nomination by the World Heritage Convention. The convention seeks locations around the world that deserve protection because of either physical or cultural significance on an international level. Chersonesos is one of 981 World Heritage sites around the globe in 2013. 

“The Chersonesos site has universal cultural importance for humanity, as it is the birthplace of democracy in Ukraine, which was then the Soviet Union, and the birthplace of Christianity in the Slavic world,” Carter said. “It is one of only two ancient cities in the eastern world with chora, a way of life in the countryside with farms, fields, burials, sanctuaries and that’s what makes it different.”

Carter has been increasing collaboration between the National Preserve of Tauric Chersonesos at Sevastopol, Ukrainian archaeologists and students regarding the excavation and preservation of the Chersonesos site. Among the staff performing conservation training at the site were conservators from the Ransom Center.

“What played a significant role in the site’s World Heritage designation was [Carter’s] interest in building big labs [at Chersonesos] for object conservation and for research of archaeological remains,” said Jim Stroud, associate director for conservation and building management at the Ransom Center. 

Conservators from the Ransom Center went to Chersonesos for two summers to discuss possibilities of establishing conservation training programs at a university level, Stroud said.

In addition to assistance from the Ransom Center, the project in Chersonesos received contributions amounting to more than $12 million from the Packard Humanities Institute, which has offered Carter support throughout the years of his excavation.

Anthropology sophomore Alia Nazir said she was impressed by UT’s involvement in the World Heritage site. 

“I am proud of the University’s pervasive global presence, especially in regards to such a culturally and historically significant site,” Nazir said. “Civilizations, cultures and people can trace their ideological and religious origins back to this place.” 

Ukrainian women, dressed in white wedding gowns, take turns sleeping on display in the museum for a couple of hours every day during a new art project called 'Sleeping Beauties' created by a Canadian-Ukrainian artist Taras Polataiko in The National Art Museum in Kiev, Ukraine, Friday, Sept. 7, 2012.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

KIEV, Ukraine — Looking for true love? Fall asleep in Ukraine’s top museum and wait for a kiss. A Ukrainian-Canadian artist is presenting an interactive art project called “Sleeping Beauty,” in which five attractive young women take turns sleeping under dim lights in Kiev’s top gallery, each under a pledge to marry the visitor who wakes her with a kiss.

Any unmarried museum-goer can kiss the woman in the hope of making Beauty fall in love and awaken.

Taras Polataiko, a Ukrainian-born artist now based in Canada, says the goal of his exhibit is to recreate the famous fairy tale and witness the birth of love. But it also has political undertones, symbolizing the patience of the Ukrainian people trapped by what he calls the oppressive government of President Viktor Yanukovych, and hopes that the nation will one day awaken to true freedom.

“I am turning the fairy tale into reality; the Prince fell in love with her deeply, strongly and this love woke her up,” Polataiko told The Associated Press. “Strong love happens by chance.”

The nearly three-week exhibit ends Sunday, and so far only one Sleeping Beauty has woken up to a kiss — only to discover that her Prince Charming was actually a princess. It is unclear what the two women will do now, given that Ukraine forbids same-sex marriage and that Princess Charming has a boyfriend of her own. Romantic tension and anticipation are palpable in the ground floor room at the National Art Museum of Ukraine, where each Sleeping Beauty lies on a high white bed two hours a day. But the project is more of an artistic experiment than an act of match-making. The marriage pledges that the visitors sign are not legally binding and some of the Sleeping Beauties admitted they would not get married to someone they disliked.

While the young women said they were looking for love, many admitted they were also just curious to experience the public attention and the thrill of the artistic experiment. Liza, a 23-year-old public relations manager, didn’t dare open her eyes to any kisses, but later regretted it — discovering that one of the men was very attractive. “It turns out that for a person who is used to being more rational — because most people perceive the world visually — it’s hard to trust your feelings and follow your impulses,” said Liza declined to give her last name because she didn’t want her co-workers to find out about the project.

Most of the visitors were gentle and respectful with the girls. But there were also unexpected moments, like when an American man left Liza a brand new iPad, his e-mail address and $400 to buy a ticket and visit him in Amsterdam where he currently lives.

There was also an awkward man from a provincial Ukrainian town, who knelt down before one Sleeping Beauty and wept because she didn’t wake up from his kiss. Polataiko teared up as well. Other visitors, like 25-year-old designer Anna Prisiazhnyuk, who kissed a Sleeping Beauty Friday afternoon to no avail, were less serious about the project, saying they were looking for fun, not love.

“No, I didn’t fall in love,” Prisiazhnyuk said.

“I wanted to take part in interactive art.”

Polataiko, who is famous for provocative art work such as photographing himself hanging naked from a tree, emphasized the political message. He said Ukraine was undergoing depressing times, with the democratic achievements of the 2004 Orange Revolution now under threat as top opposition leaders suffer in jail on politically-tainted charges.

“The people are very patient, they’ve had hundreds of years of complex history,” Polataiko said.

“People are experiencing apathy after the Orange Revolution ... Whatever these pigs in the government do, the people endure it.”

KIEV, Ukraine — Dozens of homeless people have died in an Eastern Europe cold snap, and some analysts blame a Soviet-era legacy of viewing the homeless as those who need to be punished instead of helped.

Temperatures have plunged to -17 F in some areas. At least 58 people have died overall in the past week, while hundreds have sought medical help for hypothermia and frostbite.

Ukraine has been among the hardest hit countries. As many as 30 people have died on its snow-covered streets, in hospitals and in their own homes in the past four days. Authorities said most of the victims were homeless, and that some victims had been drinking and unaware of the danger.

In one village in the Cherkasy region in central Ukraine, a 44-year-old alcoholic fell asleep on the porch of her house and froze to death, said Olena Didyuk, spokeswoman for the Emergency Situations Ministry.