On March 16, Crimean citizens voted to become part of Russia, but the debate over how America should react still persists.
Students from the class Rhetoric 354: Argumentative Theory debated Wednesday what involvement, if any, the United States should have in the Ukraine crisis.
After Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych rejected plans to integrate with the European Union (EU) in December, protests gripped the country through the winter until Yanukovych was forced to flee Ukraine in March.
Shortly after he was replaced, Russian troops moved into the semi-autonomous Crimean peninsula, claiming that they were protecting ethnic Russians. Then, the Crimean government held a vote to join Russia.
Taylor Rosen, a junior majoring in English, said the developments in Ukraine are an international issue, and the historical precedent is problematic.
“I think it’s wrong that we know more about a missing plane in Malaysia than we do about what Vladimir Putin and Russia are up to,” Rosen said. “What is most alarming is as I have watched this crisis develop is the similarity of Putin’s action in Crimea to Hitler’s action in Austria in 1938.”
Rosen said that as one of the largest countries in the world, the U.S. has a responsibility to police the world and confront the Russian government through targeted sanctions.
Opponents, though, argued against large foreign commitments. Ryan Stempien, a senior majoring in comparative literature, said the problems in Ukraine were regional.
“Democracy is not taking the president out at gunpoint,” Stempien said. “Democracy is holding free elections in Crimea to decide whether or not Crimeans would like to remain part of Ukraine. This is what they did.”
The non-interventionists also pointed out that the government was in heavy debt and could not afford the economic ramifications of a major conflict with Russia.
The debaters showed a video of former Rep. Ron Paul rebuking interventionist policies.
“The money is just not there, it makes no sense and it props up bad investments,” Paul said in an interview on Russia Today, an international news outlet based in Russia. “The irony of all this is, let’s say they do send some money to Ukraine. Maybe it will go to Ukraine and they will pay their bills to pay for the gas they get from Russia.”
The pro-intervention debaters said the cost of doing nothing would increase as time went on.
“We have to show that we’re not going to allow larger countries to bully and take advantage of smaller countries. It would be a lot less costly to nip it in the bud now before we’re involved in another Cold War,” said Jordan Knight, a junior majoring in economics. “We’d actually be saving money in the long run.”
One Ukrainian-born student in the audience offered his perspective. Oleg Brodskiy, a sophomore majoring in English, said the situation in Ukraine was more complicated than most Americans understood.
“While there certainly were a lot of protesters in Kiev and they certainly had good cause, the problem is the Ukraine has been corrupt since before I was born,” Brodskiy said. “There’s no reason to suspect that it’s going to finally change with the West in power.”
Based on a final vote, the audience of nearly 30 students was evenly split between supporters and critics of intervention, but many students later said they thought intervention and sanctions were completely necessary. Michael Fricke, a junior double-majoring in mathematics and physics, said that Russia had a clear strategic and militaristic goal in annexing parts of Ukraine.
“It’s a question of which side are you on,” Fricke said. “Are you on the United States’ side or are you on Russia’s side? If you favor the United States’ influence in the world and the benefits it brings, and think this is important and then you must be for sanctions.”