We should be paying attention to Ukraine

Hrystyna Bobel, photo by Morgan Pint

Hrystyna Bobel, photo by Morgan Pint

On Saturday, Nov. 24, Ukraine commemorated the 85th anniversary of the Soviet era genocide Holodomor. The following day, the Russian coast guard attacked three Ukrainian naval vessels trying to pass through the Kerch Strait into the Sea of Azov.

The Kerch Strait is a strait connecting the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov—an inland sea bordered by only Ukraine and Russia. In 2003, the two countries signed a treaty stating that the Sea of Azov is shared territory.

So why is it that Russia deemed it necessary to attack three Ukrainian vessels and hold all of those aboard hostage?

In 2014, following the Ukrainian revolution, Russia occupied and annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea—claiming to be tending to the interests of ethnic Russians living there. The annexation was illegal and is not recognized by Ukraine and the United Nations.

Regardless, Russia still views Crimea as its territory and built a bridge over the Kerch Strait, connecting the peninsula to its mainland. While the Sea of Azov is legally a part of Ukraine’s territory, this bridge gives Russia complete control over who and what passes through the Kerch Strait into the sea.

While the annexation of Crimea was a clear attempt to take territory from Ukraine, the building of this bridge and the subsequent attack on Ukrainian vessels is a more insidious way of limiting Ukraine’s territorial power. If Ukraine can no longer access the Sea of Azov, home to many important shipping ports, that gives Russia complete control over the sea and cripples the Ukrainian economies on the coast.  

Russia is playing a political chess game with Ukraine. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko responded by imposing martial law over 10 territories bordering Russia, the Black Sea, and the Sea of Azov. This imposition was a direct response to the attacks, but also because Poroshenko said that Russia was increasing its military presence along the Ukrainian-Russian border in preparation for a ground invasion.

Whether or not Russia is actually preparing for a ground invasion is up for speculation, but one thing is certain, the attack in the Sea of Azov is Russia’s first open act of aggression towards Ukraine since the start of the proxy war in 2014.

Now, stories of the conflict between Ukraine and Russia have been in the headlines steadily for the past four years and then they fade away until a new issue arises. The United Nations hold meetings to discuss the issue and condemn Vladimir Putin’s actions, Ukraine asks members of NATO for military aid, sanctions are placed on Russia instead, and then Ukraine disappears from people's minds.

My entire family is from Ukraine and most members still live there, so the conflict going on there is always on my mind. Whenever tensions rise I am thrown into a frenzy and mentally prepare myself for the worst.

Putin may be less than diplomatic, but he is intelligent and manipulative. He knows better than to wage war against the West. Rather, he will continue to make small moves that threaten Ukraine in hopes that mistakes will be made so he can inch forward in his attempt to retake the former Soviet nation.  

This idea is troubling, and more so because negotiations to try to resolve the issue of Ukraine’s sovereignty are going on without the actual involvement of the nation in question.

Some people may argue that Ukraine’s history of corruption deems it unfit to truly thrive as an independent nation. But how can we expect the nation to be anything but corrupt when it has always been heavily influenced by outside factors? It is almost as if Ukraine is a toy that Russia and the West are fighting over, and not a nation full of people that have the right to decide how they want it to function.

I wasn’t alive during the Cold War, and it might sound McCarthy like to say that we are reliving a new version of it, but tensions between Russia and the West are impossible to ignore. And if Putin is allowed to continuously act aggressively towards Ukraine without any real repercussions, who’s to say he will stop there? And how will he be stopped?

VoicesHrystyna Bobel