From the anti-government protests in Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine, to the Russian invasion of the Ukrainian territory Crimea, Eastern Europe appears to be in an uproar.
According to Eastern European students abroad in the United States, however, the threat of war between Russia and Ukraine is either extremely unwanted or unlikely.
“The biggest concern I have is that we are very close nations, we are very close ethnically,” said a native Russian Ph.D. student at Michigan State University, who requested to have her name withheld. If the current conflict between Russia and the Ukraine escalates, it could turn brothers against one another.
Alex Karpenko, a native Ukrainian and also a Ph.D. student at MSU, believes if the Russians attempt to seize Ukrainian land beyond Crimea, a full-scale war could erupt.
“I think there are not many people in the Ukraine that really want this war to start,” Karpenko said. “It would be a bad idea, and I’m totally against it.”
Echoing the language of his Russian peer, Karpenko said a war would turn friends and family against one another. He has loved ones in Russia and the Ukraine: Karpenko said he has nearly 20 friends living in Moscow.
The native Russian Ph.D. student said her great-grandparents migrated from the Ukraine to Russia. They moved to Siberia, a northern region in Russia, to help the Ukrainian government manage overpopulation. Her family has since lived in Siberia for generations.
Karpenko said she does not expect a war to break out, because Russia does not have the money to fund the operation. Taking over Ukraine would also require Russia to fund Ukraine’s impoverished areas with money it cannot spare at this time.
Russia and Ukraine are culturally and ethnically interwoven because both lands were once a part of the Soviet Union. However, 85 percent of the population in Ukraine voted for independence in 1991 when the Soviet Union was falling apart, said Matthew Pauly, a professor and Eastern European history expert at MSU.
Pauly said Vladimir Putin, the current president of Russia, is not happy about Ukraine’s continued independence. According to Pauly, Putin has asserted the Ukrainian government is run by fascists, and the Russian president is on the record for calling the fall of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century”.
Though Karpenko is familiar with Putin’s sentiment, the Russian leader’s invasion of Crimea did not come to him as a shock. “I believe the plan existed for many years,” Karpenko said. According to Karpenko, Putin said he did not recognize Ukraine as an independent state in 2008.
A recent article from CNN said at the 2008 NATO summit, Putin told former U.S. President George W. Bush Ukraine was not a country, but land mostly belonging to Russia.
“Russia is concerned that Ukraine is drifting distinctly and fundamentally from the Russian sphere of influence,” Pauly said. This is part of the reason behind Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea.
Pauly said Crimea is a special case, because it is the only place in Ukraine with a Russian ethnic majority (roughly 58 percent). Part of this majority wants the land to be reunited with Russia, but essentially “ethnic Russians in other parts of Ukraine are willing to accept citizenship in Ukraine,” Pauly said.
Crimea also houses a number of Russian military bases, Pauly said. According to the native Russian at MSU, Ukraine originally permitted the bases in exchange for cheap gasoline from Russia.
According to Pauly, Russians living in their native country largely support the invasion of Crimea. However, polling data could be skewed by business and economic interests, misinformation from Russian media, and government restraint of unpopular opinions.
Pauly said when Russia stormed Crimea, all newsfeeds from Ukrainian protests in Kiev were cut off by the invaders.
The native Russian student said she knows firsthand how one-sided Russian media can be. “I don’t watch Russian television, because they do brainwash,” she said. “I think it’s really shady.”
When the U.S. news announced Russia annexed or invaded Crimea, the headlines in Russia announced: “Russia incorporates Crimea”, the Russian student said.
Crimea is a big resort destination for Russians, she said. “It was never perceived as something foreign.” Citizens of her hometown were excited to hear Crimea was “incorporated,” because it would be easier to travel there. Personally, she said she did not find the invasion to be very legal, and Russia is setting a bad example on an international scale.