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March 13, 2014

New Ukrainian PM appeals to Obama for support


As tensions with Russia continue to rise over Crimea, Ukraine’s new Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk arrived at the White House to seek backing from the president and appeal to other Western nations.

Crimea is on the cusp of a vote on whether to leave Ukraine and become a part of Russia, a move opposed by Ukraine’s government and world leaders.

“Mr. President, it’s all about the freedom,” said Prime Minister Yatsenyuk. “We fight for our freedom. We fight for our independence. We fight for our sovereignty, and we will never surrender.”

Russia continues to hold Ukrainian military bases in Crimea and says it’s acting to protect ethnic Russians, which make up a majority of Crimea’s population. But Ukraine argues a 1994 agreement obligated Russia, the U.S. and Britain to protect its territorial integrity, after Ukraine gave up its Soviet-era nuclear weapons. So far, Russians have ignored such claims.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet with the Russian foreign minister in London on Friday in an attempt to negotiate ahead of the Crimea vote. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee also endorsed sanctions against Russia yesterday, which would target Russian officials deemed responsible for the Crimea incursion.

Warm up questionsukrainemap
  1. Where are Russia and the Ukraine located?  How can geography play a role in politics?
  2. In the last few months the political crisis in Ukraine has gone from bad to worse. Here are some of the critical events:
    • President Viktor Yanukovych makes an unpopular agreement with Russia to strengthen ties between the two countries
    • Protests against the agreement grow and become violent
    • Yanukovych is ousted from power
    • Ethnic Russians in the region of Crimea unite in an effort to split from Ukraine and join with Russia
    • Russia steps up military presence in and around Ukraine
  3. Can you identify any point in the story that could have been handled differently that might have deescalated the situation? Which events do you think intensified the situation and why?
Discussion questions and writing prompts
  1. What political message does President Obama meeting with the new Ukrainian Prime Minister send to the world?
  2. The publicized meeting between the two leaders was one non-military way to intervene in the political conflict in Ukraine. What are some other strategies (military and non-military) that Western countries like the U.S. can employ to shape the situation? What are the risks and benefits to each strategy?
  3. Why are Western countries so worried about Russia annexing Crimea from Ukraine? If ethnically Russian Crimeans want to become part of Russia, what is the problem?
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