A forum at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum discussed Russia’s occupation of Crimea, an autonomous republic of Ukraine, on Tuesday night.
"I'm going to make a prediction that this crisis is going to define President Obama's leadership for the next several years and his entire presidency in a similar way the missile crisis defined JFK's,” said Eugene B. Kogan, a Stanton Nuclear Security postdoctoral fellow at Stanford.
Kogan agreed with fellow panelists Serhii Plokhii, professor of Ukrainian history at Harvard, and Brigadier General Kevin Ryan, director of the Defense and Intelligence Project at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, that future policy regarding the current situation with Russia will impact the Obama administration’s foreign policy worldwide.
According to R. Nicholas Burns, international relations professor at the Kennedy School and the event’s moderator, the forum ”really let our students know about the complexity of the issue—the Russian invasion of Ukraine and what is at stake for Americans.”
The focus on America’s reaction to the crisis was perhaps a result of the panel’s expectation that Obama would follow through on a memorandum known as the “1994 Budapest Declaration,” under which the U.S. agreed to take measures to protect and respect Ukraine’s borders in exchange for Ukraine reducing its nuclear missile power.
“There is no legal obligation for President Obama to send in the U.S. military… but I think there is a moral, political obligation,” Burns said of the Declaration.
Although the panelists unanimously agreed about the importance of U.S. involvement, they expressed pessimism over Obama’s limited choices of action. According to Ryan, a retired Army officer, “the military option is off the table” because of a lack of American troops trained for the specific type of operation necessary.
The panelists also discussed the possibility of economic sanctions as a means to put pressure on Putin’s government. They concluded that sanctions could harm the U.S. and would possibly do little to change Putin’s behavior.
In a statement to The Crimson, Burns stressed the essential issue at hand in the situation in Ukraine: “We thought the Cold War had ended…but yet here we are, with Europe being divided again, in a way, by president Putin, by his brutal invasion and attack on the Crimea.”
Attendees said they felt the event was informative, but also that they were leaving with a grim outlook on Ukraine’s future.
Yuliya V. Ladygina, a fellow at Harvard's Ukrainian Research Institute who attended the event, said she thought the panelists were “good and insightful speakers,” who “provided a lot of useful information.”
Kennedy School student Roman Rubchenko agreed that the event was informative, but said he was disappointed with the uncertainty surrounding the issue of Ukraine.
“I think the U.S. government as well as the European Union were caught off guard with this sort of behavior,” Rubchenko said. “I’m just hoping change will come soon enough for Ukraine to benefit from the change.”