News & Events

Locals Eye Crimean Situation

While Marina Zaloznaya grew up in Crimea, Ukraine,  in the 1980s and '90s, she practiced the Russian language, studied in Russian schools, and read Russian literature.

This dominant influence of the Russian culture is a primary reason—along with her Russian ethnicity—Zaloznaya understands the many reasons Crimeans want to leave the Ukraine to join Russia.

Crimea is a Ukrainian peninsula west of Russia. The region—roughly the same size as Massachusetts—is home to roughly 1.9 million people, and more than 58 percent identify as ethnically Russian, according to the 2001 census.

Violence erupted as residents of the area became increasingly unhappy with the Ukrainian government because the Russian majority often identify with Russian ideologies.

Officials said expanding the conflict could mean more serious implications for the U.S.

Zaloznaya, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Iowa, was born in Crimea and lived there until she left to attend college in the United States.

Zaloznaya said she is torn by the situation, and she understands the concern from various perspectives.

"Ukraine is a highly divided country, and any government that supports one side over another is going to be problematic," she said. "I feel like with my values that I have developed [in the United States], I cannot stand behind Putin's regime, [but] at the same time … I understand that for [Crimeans] these high ideals are not as important because what they're thinking about is the much more basic rights."

Zaloznaya said these basic rights include access to food and a fair representation in the government. She said she thinks justification for Russia to expand the conflict would be hard to find, but she does not dismiss the idea that the conflict could create an impact on a global scale.

"I think that it's going to impact the international relationship between Russia and the United States, and the West in general, so unfortunately, I think what's happened is a breakdown of the very fragile international order we had established," she said. "Crimea has just become a pawn in the game, the large-scale geopolitical game."

Jim Leach, a visiting professor of law at the UI and former member of Congress, said escalating conflict could signify larger issues.

"Crimea is a tragedy in and of itself, but its greatest significance may be the precedent potentially being set for further Russian expansionism," he said in an email.

Tim Hagle, a UI associate professor of political science, said many people fear this could be the "start of further land grabs on the part of Russia to get itself back up to super-power status."

Hagle said officials argue if nothing is done to stop expansion now, it could be difficult for officials to decide when to step in.

For now, however, Hagle said the U.S. government is focusing on nonconfrontational tactics, such as imposing sanctions.

Some of these sanctions freeze the assets of Russian citizens who are in support of the current government actions.

But Hagle says the effect of these actions are questionable.

"It may be an annoyance but maybe not something that is going to change their behavior, especially if they want Crimea," he said.

Art Durnev, a UI associate professor of finance, said the sanctions are mainly symbolic.

However, Durnev said the plan could backfire and put the U.S. economy at risk.

If Russia starts to shut down American companies in the country, he said, that could cause negative repercussions for those companies and the economy as a whole.

"[It's] kind of a signal to the general public that the United States government is aware of the situation," he said.


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