Watching a Revolution From 6,000 Miles Away

RENO, NV - More than 6,000 miles away, Nataliia Kasianenko is watching the crisis in her home country unfold in the headlines rather than the front lines.

"It's been very upsetting for me," she said. "I almost feel like I should be out there and I should be protesting in the streets. There are elderly people there and kids."

Instead, Kasianenko is working on her graduate degree in political science and international affairs at the University of Nevada, Reno.

"I'm hoping when I am finished with my education, I can go back and help rebuild my country."

With the world watching as tensions increase, Kasianenko says the conflict as she sees it is not about separating ties with Russia, but rather fixing a broken government.

"People are tired of the corruption."

That corruption, she says, was the leadership of former Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych. He was impeached back in February after four years as president.
But it's no longer the protests against Yanukovych that has kept the world on edge, rather Russian president Vladimir Putin's movement of troops into the Crimea.

"He's not doing anything differently than we might do if something was going on in Canada or Mexico that threatens what we see as our security interests," Dr. Robert Ostergard, an associate professor of political science at UNR said. Dr. Ostergard is a Russian Soviet specialist with interests in international security and political risk.

He says Putin's actions need to be taken seriously.

"He might be a little spoiled, but he's a serious player and he's going to make sure Russia's interests are stable."

Reports of a military presence in Crimea began to circulate earlier last week. Putin continues to deny the men in unmarked uniforms answer to Moscow, but he also says Russia has a right to intervene to protect the Russian people living in Crimea. About 58% of the people living in the peninsula located on the northern coast of the Black Sea are ethnic Russians.

While Putin's actions may not be legal in the eyes of the international community, Dr. Ostergard says America needs to tread carefully.

"The U.S. has limited options at this point," he said. "It's very hard to say that we have strategic interests in Ukraine right now aside from the fact that they are next to Russia."

On Thursday, the White House announced it was implementing visa restrictions on pro-Russian opponents it believes are threatening the sovereignty of Ukraine. This news came shortly after the Crimean Parliament voted to separate from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. A direct vote of the Crimean people on this issue has been scheduled for March 16th.

"[President Obama] has to be careful in how he approaches this," Dr. Ostergard said. "It could provoke a response from Putin that says, 'You don't pay attention to international law, I won't pay attention. And he has a case for that'

He points to America's actions in Iraq and Libya as examples Putin can use to support that claim, and Kremlin controlled news stations are doing just.

European leaders met Thursday to discuss putting sanctions in place, but so far they have been hesitant to commit to anything too serious.

"There are a number of oil lines and pipe lines that go through the Ukraine and up to Europe," Dr. Ostergard said. "Europe can't afford sanctions because all Russia has to do is cut off their supply and they would be sent into a literal deep freeze when winter is still going on."

When asked what sanctions could do to harm Russia, Dr. Ostergard smiles slightly and says, "Nothing. Sanctions only work when the country's economy is relatively weak in terms of its economy and there's a large political will among the nations." He says it would take decades for meaningful sanctions to harm Russia, because their economy is too diverse.

"Their oil and gas will get them through any sanctions."

As for Kasianenko, she says she talks with her family back in Eastern Ukraine everyday about the crisis. She and her family agree the changes being made in the Ukraine are good, but they are still hesitant to fully trust the new government. She recognizes that civil war is a major threat, but still holds on to hope that the conflict can be solved diplomatically.

"I feel that what people don't understand is that ties with Russia are important to the Ukraine," she said. "We do not want to depend on Russia but we do feel it is necessary to continue trade. Being closer to Europe means more democratic freedom."

She says her hope is America continues to stand behind her country as they work towards solving the crisis.

"If I was an American citizen, I would be like why do we need to intervene. But from the perspective of a Ukrainian, I do see that it would be nice to have that support from the outside."

Officials in Ukraine have begun preparations for presidential elections as early May 25.