Columbia Professors Help Illuminate the Crisis in Ukraine

April 16, 2014Bookmark and Share

For months the crisis in Ukraine has left the media scrambling to explain newsworthy developments that seem to unfold on a daily if not hourly basis. What to make of Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March? How to explain Russian President Vladimir Putin’s motives? Are Russia and the West suddenly headed toward a new Cold War?

Ever since the anti-government protests broke out late last year in Ukraine’s capital city of Kiev, many journalists in the U.S. and abroad have turned to Columbia’s faculty to provide insight and essential context on the tangled history and politics of the region.

With its long history of academic expertise on Russia and the region, specifically at the Harriman Institute, which focuses on Russian, Eurasian and East European studies, Columbia’s faculty have produced a stream of opinion pieces and blog posts for The New York Times, The Washington Post and other publications; and they have been interviewed on radio and television programs ranging from The Charlie Rose Show on PBS to The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Timothy Frye

Timothy Frye

The crisis in Ukraine “will likely mean postponing structural economic reforms and improvements in governance” in Russia

Timothy M. Frye, director of the Harriman Institute, spoke about Russia’s annexation of Crimea on Bloomberg TV. Frye, the Marshall D. Shulman Professor of Post-Soviet Foreign Policy, noted that some 40 percent of Crimea’s population is not ethnically Russian and wanted to stay independent.

Timothy Frye speaks on Bloomberg TV

In a long post titled “The downsides of Crimea for Russia” on the Post’s Monkey Cage blog, Frye called the referendum in which Crimean voters overwhelmingly approved joining Russia “a joke wrapped in a farce inside a tragedy.” While Putin’s approval ratings may improve in the short term, he wrote, the crisis in Ukraine “will likely mean postponing structural economic reforms and improvements in governance” in Russia.

The recent events, he said, “will likely only strengthen those in the security services, state-owned sectors and the bureaucracy who are benefitting from the status quo of high levels of corruption, an inefficient economy and a political system that concentrates power in few hands.”

Kim Marten

Kimberly Marten

Putin is committed to restoring ethnic Russian glory and will keep pushing until he meets resistance.

Barnard Professor Kimberly Marten, deputy director for development at the Harriman Institute, has said she doesn’t see Russia’s actions in Ukraine as sparking a new Cold War, but rather a tactic to divert attention from Russia’s stagnating economy and corruption surrounding the Sochi Olympics. She has been quoted in several publications, including The Chronicle of Higher Education and the Russian-language Nezavisimaya Gazeta, an independent newspaper published in Moscow.

Stephen Sestanovich, the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Professor of International Diplomacy at the School of International and Public Affairs, wrote in a Times op-ed piece in late March that despite its longstanding ethnic divisions, Ukrainian officials had never contemplated breaking up the country. “Putin has put the question of breakup on the national agenda. And it can’t easily be taken off,” he said.

Stephen Sestanovich

Stephen Sestanovich

“Putin has put the question of breakup on the national agenda. And it can’t easily be taken off”

Sestanovich, whose recent book on American foreign policy, Maximalist: America in the World From Truman to Obama, has received glowing reviews, served as U.S. ambassador-at-large to the former Soviet Union from 1997 to 2001. He said it may take decades to know whether the West’s response to the crisis in Ukraine—which includes European and American sanctions and international loan guarantees to Ukraine—has succeeded. If it doesn’t, he predicted, “We will face a far more dangerous crisis than the one over Crimea.”

Other Columbia experts also have been sought out by the media to offer their expertise on the volatile situation, including Tarik Cyril Amar, an assistant professor of history; Alexander Cooley, professor of political science at Barnard; and Robert Legvold, Marshall D. Shulman Professor Emeritus in the Political Science Department.

Marten, the Ann W. Olin Professor of Political Science at Barnard made the rounds of late-night TV programs last month. On The Charlie Rose Show with Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, she said Putin is committed to restoring ethnic Russian glory and will keep pushing until he meets resistance.

On The Daily Show, she reiterated that theme, saying about the Russian leader, “He is acting as if it’s still the 19th century and grabbing land matters.” Marten had a spirited give and take with the affable Stewart, who thanked her for the “clear, lucid and fascinating way” in which she described the situation. “Let me tell you something,” he quipped, “you should be a professor.”

Kimberly Marten talks with Jon Stewart on The Daily Show

—by Georgette Jasen

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