Russia Out of Ukraine!!!

Teaching a Wesleyan course online presents me with the opportunity to interact with students from scores of different countries. I am teaching The Modern and the Postmodern in Middletown, and the course is also available on the Coursera platform. Here in what students often call the “campus bubble” our political issues often seem abstract or “first world problems.” But for students in the same class but in different parts of the world, politics (and even the intellectual issues in the class) are sometimes a matter of life and death.

Recently Arianna posted the following on our class Facebook page:

Dear friends, I want to say that what we read here is very important. The last couple of weeks I do not have time for this and I apologize to the teacher, but I’ll catch up with you! In Ukraine, the revolution now. My friends and I smell smoke, because our capital (Kiev) on fire. Texts we read here, helping to become conscious, self-reliant. This contributes to empathy and transparency.
Thank you. We will win!
(Pardon my French)

There followed exchanges that linked some of the concepts in political philosophy we are studying with the quickly changing situation on the streets of Kiev. How can a revolution be successful, especially when confronted with violence? How does a new regime establish legitimacy?

Last week it seemed that Arianna and her fellow-citizens had won. Then Russia turned its attention from making authoritarianism attractive via the Olympics to real geopolitical stakes in Crimea. This morning Arianna posted this from a friend:

“This sunny sunday morning feeling when you wake up and your country is on the edge of war. You can’t sleep, eat, feel. Yesterday Russia’s parliament officially approved the use of its military in Ukraine. The south of the country (Crimea) today is basically occupied by the russian army. What? Militaries enter the territory of a sovereign country quietly and occupy it in the 21st century just like that? “Russia, the UK and the USA undertake to respect Ukraine’s borders in accordance with the principles of the 1975 CSCE Final Act, to abstain from the use or threat of force against Ukraine, to support Ukraine where an attempt is made to place pressure on it by economic coercion, and to bring any incident of aggression by a nuclear power before the UN Security Council”, – states the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances signed in 1994. The autonomy of Ukraine was guaranteed in return on it becoming a non-nuclear state. And what do we see now? It’s hard to believe that after everything that has been happening in my beloved Motherland during these 3 months, after all those people who were injured or died fighting for the freedom and democracy, Russia de facto declares a war against Ukraine. Please, wake me up, tell me it’s just a fucked up nightmare.” my friend, Inna

There are many reports now giving a context for Arianna’s and Inna’s first-hand accounts. Timothy Snyder’s account here seems particularly helpful.

I understand that it is not clear what exactly the United States and the European Union should do to stop this blatant act of aggression against Ukraine. But let’s begin by acknowledging that Putin’s regime, the same regime that (in the name of protecting national sovereignty) is supporting the Syrian dictatorship’s murderous war against its own people, has just invaded its sovereign neighbor. These are historical nightmares, at the very least, we should not ignore.

Arianna and her friends are struggling for the future of the country, while they are also trying to build more democratic political practices. How can we show our solidarity?


8 thoughts on “Russia Out of Ukraine!!!”

  1. There will be a discussion this Wednesday, 4:15, PAC 002:
    The Crisis in the Crimea
    Viewed through Social Media
    A roundtable discussion and Q&A featuring:
    Kevin Rothrock
    Expert in social media and politics in Russia and
    project editor of RuNet Echo at Global Voices Online
    Magda Teter, Professor of History and Director of
    Jewish and Israel Studies Program, Wesleyan University
    Victoria Smolkin-Rothrock, Assistant Professor of
    History and Russian and East European Studies, Wesleyan
    TIME: 4:15 PM
    Sponsored by the Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life,
    History Department, and Russian and East European Studies

  2. To Arianna, Inna and President Roth (Michael)
    I wish it were different but when dealing with Russia or the old USSR, it really doesnt matter what we say.. unless it is backed up by military action which we will never undertake now.. The US didnt do anything to stop the USSR in Hungary in 1956, nor did we do anything to stop them in 1968 in Czechoslovakia (sp?) nor did we do anything to Russia when they took over Georgia a few years ago. So what do you expect now from the US especially with perhaps the weakest Presidnent we have ever had.

  3. After innumerable US interventions abroad–Vietnam, Panama, Iran, Iraq, etc. etc.–we have not basis on which to criticize Russia’s actions in Crimea.

  4. The reality is that full control of the Crimea is in the national security interest of Russia. Vladivostok and the Crimea are the two warm water windows on the world. The closest analogy for the US would be the loss of Hawaii to unfriendly governance. The majority population of the Crimea is Russian. The referendum will show that the vast majority in the autonomous region prefer to be tied to Russia. The solution that would satisfy all interests would be for the Ukraine to sell the Crimea to Russia — respond to Russia’s national security interest and contribute to the resolution of the Ukraine’s bankruptcy. Unfortunately, I would not expect the weak leadership in the US and Europe to step away from their political position and act creatively to respond to underlying interests.

  5. Dear President Roth,
    I want to thank you for the comments you wrote on the situation in Ukraine.
    This situation matters I have close family living in Kyiv, Lviv and in Simferopol (Crimea). I work in collaboration with Ukrainian artists in Ukraine and in the US – and interestingly the independence movement in Ukraine, from the beginnings through today, has been led largely by artists, poets. My grandfather was a member of the Ukrainian Parliament, as a delegate from the Black Sea fleet in 1917–1919.

    Here, I have working with our very large Ukrainian-American community in Connecticut of which I am an active member, writing letters and meeting with senators Murphy (who went to Kyiv with Biden during the protest), Blumenenthal, and congressmen to encourage US attention to the matters.

    As it currently stands, diplomatic efforts have brought all sides to the table in Paris — except the Tatars. This situation in Crimea is presented as geopolitical, primarily concerning Ukrainians and Russians. Natives of Crimea, nearly half a million Tatars who are Muslim, are given less attention. Still, they have clearly expressed desire to remain within Ukraine as an autonomous region. We want no further bloodshed in Ukraine – the country has suffered enough. Other diplomatic and economic measures should be explored and implemented that will promote self-determination of all people.

    Thank you very much for acknowledging and taking a stand on this issue.

  6. Dear Michael
    I’m an independent scholar/ author and a big fan – following both your courses now.

    I so often listen to content and wish i could share on social media. So here is a suggestion your dear web-masters might take on?

    Have 3-4 “promo clips” – or the ability to share the odd talk. It would do Wesleyan and Cousera enormous good. AND.

    Your work makes a difference, so I’d like to share it more widely.

    Paul Gibbons (

  7. While certainly Russia does not belong “into” Ukraine, the annexation of the Crimea may well be seen from a different perspective once it enters history books. Russia, and Putin especially, had for years warned of NATO’s eastward expansion and wanted to avert the missile shield, still only to be installed in Poland. But would Ukraine become part of NATO (and/or the EU), and the Crimea still be part of it, Putin would have faced a situation where Russians (a large part of the Crimean population by now) would have been under EU rule. And NATO would have deployed troops and maybe even its missile shield along Russia’s borders. It is natural for super powers to want to establish “buffer zones”. And judging the US by its own Monroe doctrine regarding “the Americas”, the US is already uncomfortably close to Russia, e.g. in bordering Afghanistan!

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