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Vote on Crimea split approaches
BHS teacher, Ukrainian ex-pat weighs in on Ukraine’s future
Friday, March 14, 2014
By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer
Russia has put the future of Crimea and the rest of Ukraine in severe jeopardy, according to Nadia Kriger, who said she believes the ramifications could extend all the way to America.
Kriger, 37, is an English Language Learners (ELL) teacher at Bassett High School. She has a bachelor’s degree in international studies from Old Dominion University with a focus on U.S./Russian/Ukrainian relations, a master’s degree in national security studies and intelligence gathering from American Public University System, and while in the Army, she traveled extensively between former Soviet Union countries.
She also is a Ukrainian expatriate, having fled her home country with her mother and three siblings in 1990.
Crimea is part of Ukraine, but it also is autonomous, Kriger said. On Sunday, Crimea will hold a referendum to determine whether it will remain with Ukraine or join Russia.
Russia presently is occupying Crimea, Kriger said, and its interest in the republic — like so many things in Eastern European history — goes back centuries.
Crimea borders the Black Sea, she said, and “during the last thousand years, Russians and Ukrainians have constantly fought for the Black Sea. It’s the only warm water strait that Russia has. The Black Sea is the access to the entire world, to Europe, to everywhere. It was vital for Russia to have access to that. They have all of these military ports. To this day, even though Crimea is Ukrainian, Russia has a base there and always has.”
Crimea is roughly 60 percent ethnic Russian, Kriger said, and the rest of the population is roughly 20 percent Ukrainian and 20 percent Tatar. During the days of the USSR, she said, Russia would transplant people to different republics within the Soviet Union to spread Russian influence, which is why Crimea is so densely Russian.
Kriger said she believes that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s occupation of Crimea is in retaliation for the Ukrainian protests in the capital of Kiev in late February. The eastern half of Ukraine, which is closest to Russia, historically is more pro-Russian, she said, while the western half would prefer to join the European Union over Russia. This, she said, was the origin of the late February protests.
After talking to friends and family in Ukraine, Kriger said she would not characterize the current situation merely as an occupation.
She considers it an invasion, and she does not know how much further into Ukraine it will go.
“I have extended family (in Ukraine) — two aunts, my mom’s sisters — only about a hundred miles from Crimea. The latest news from them is that the Russian military is now in that area. Which is just eastern Ukraine, but it’s definitely not Crimea. ... Even here, experts suspected that (Putin’s) not going to be satisfied with just occupying Crimea and calling it a day. And that seems to be exactly what’s happening,” Kriger said.
Sunday’s referendum to determine if Crimea will remain a part of Ukraine or join Russia is a formality, Kriger said. She believes the decision already has been made, and Russia has taken Crimea.
For example, she said, if someone goes to the Crimean airport and attempts to book a flight to Kiev, he will be sent to the international terminal. If Crimea still was part of Ukraine, that would not be an international flight.
“They already made all of these changes well ahead of that referendum,” she said. “How is that a choice?”
Some of the sources she has read, Kriger said, project that Putin will press into Ukraine and absorb just the eastern half of the country into Russia, leaving western Ukraine autonomous. Other sources believe that Putin will not be satisfied until all of Ukraine is under Russia’s umbrella.
Kriger falls into the second camp.
Several days ago, she said, a friend in Ukraine contacted Kriger and told her that the friend’s husband was being mobilized in Ukraine’s army.
Kriger was confused, she said, because she was under the impression that her friend’s husband was a wounded veteran no longer capable of serving.
Kriger was right.
“Ukraine, effectively, has zero military,” she said. “The little bit that they have, the actual active force, is one to 100 proportionally with Russia. They have nothing. They have no equipment, no bodies. So in an effort to stand up to Russia, they are mobilizing everyone willing to fight in any capacity possible. People of all ages. Men well beyond military age are signing up to fight.”
In America, Kriger said, people view the conflict between Ukraine and Russia as just that — a simple conflict. In Ukraine, on the other hand, the people are bracing for war.
“Friends of mine in far western Ukraine, they are thinking about what to do with their kids,” Kriger said. “They are wondering where to send their children in case the war literally goes into western Ukraine. They are planning on it. Their opinion is that this will not end in Crimea. They’re hoping that it will at least end in eastern Europe, dividing Ukraine into west and east, like it is already in a lot of ways. That’s half the country that’s gone.”
Kriger’s biggest disappointment, she said, is America’s mild response to the crisis.
In 1994, Kriger said, Ukraine, Russia, the U.S. and the U.K. signed a political agreement called the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. The agreement said that if Ukraine gave up its nuclear stockpile to Russia, the other three countries would assure Ukraine’s security and independence.
Only Ukraine followed through on the agreement, Kriger said. Ukraine gave up its nuclear arsenal, only to be invaded by Russia 20 years later while the U.S. and U.K., in her opinion, do next to nothing to help Ukraine.
“In a way, I understand the difficult predicament the U.S. is in,” Kriger said. “Ukraine is not part of NATO, so there’s not really a good legal reason for us to waltz in and start doing anything. But at the same time, Russia is breaking every law in the book. What is stopping us? ... We don’t have to drop military troops on Ukrainian soil. We can provide equipment. We can provide training. We can provide our presence, like the Russians are doing. Why can’t we do the same?”
The worst case for Ukraine, Kriger said, is that it becomes so destabilized that it becomes wholly dependent on Russia.
By not offering Ukraine assistance, however, Kriger believes the U.S. could stand to lose even more than Ukraine.
“We have to stand up,” she said, “not just for the Ukrainians, but for us. We have to have a bigger presence. On the global arena, we stand to lose the most if we don’t do something. Our reputation, our word, right now means nothing.”
“We are trying to get North Korea and Iran to accept non-nuclear status,” Kriger said. “Why in God’s name would they listen?”