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Internet allows for disturbing look into conflict in Ukraine

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The precarious situation in Ukraine recently took a sharp nosedive off the deep end. This Saturday, just as the series of bloody riots and open, lethal conflict between Ukrainian protesters and their government seemed to be dying down, the Russian government publicly approved President Vladimir Putin’s request for Russian military intervention on the ground in Ukraine. Playing the role of a stabilizing mediator “until the normalization of the political situation in the country,” Putin’s request follows a complex geopolitical dance between the European Union, Russia and the Ukraine that, up until this most explosive recent development, received very little mainstream media coverage.

The protests gained early ground predominantly through social media sites like Reddit and Twitter, with protestors giving people around the world a window into the martial law and police brutality that led to an escalation of violence. In the 21st century, the Internet and social media have become forces not only for social interaction, but also for political change and public discourse. However, as Ukraine’s fledgling interim government prepares to meet Russia’s invading forces, this new and incredible phenomenon comes into conflict with Russia’s traditionalist style of power politics and parallels larger challenges facing individuality and neutrality in a networked global society.

The Ukrainian protests began in mid-November and have since evolved into a bafflingly complex situation that seems far estranged from the original grievances of the movement. The protests, mostly confined to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, initially erupted over the now-deposed President Yanukovych’s controversial decision to forego free trade negotiations with the rest of the European Union in favor of increased economic ties with Russia. The decision was bound to be uproarious either way. Deep divisions exist in Ukraine between Russian language speakers and ethnic Ukrainians, splitting the country very nearly in half, both geographically and ethnically. This volatile ethnic mixture, combined with Ukraine’s long history of conflict, its occupation throughout European history and a government widely acknowledged as rampantly corrupt, make it a lit powder keg of fierce and violent confrontation.

Even a simple Google search yields immediate evidence of the violence and brutality of these protests. Protesters post “Ask Me Anything” threads on Reddit explaining the martial laws meant to restrict their ability to meet in public and photo galleries on Imgur documenting bloody combat between armor-clad riot police and civilians. Aerial-angle live-streams provide a bird’s eye view of the opposition base in Kiev’s Independence Square – a makeshift barricade of refuse – and videos have been posted of police snipers opening fire on protesters armed with petroleum bombs and makeshift weapons.

The violence is real, it is happening right now and it can all be seen by anyone with an Internet connection. Protestors coordinate and organize through hashtags on Twitter and Facebook. A cause that otherwise might have never left its own borders is, through the Internet, being observed and discussed by a global audience. And a global audience is the last thing that Russia wants.

It is no secret that Putin emphasizes a position of strength and aggression in both his foreign and domestic policy, as opposed to the dramatic transparency and public participation demanded by the Ukrainian protestors. Force and militaristic pride have long been fixtures of Russia’s national identity, as has been the country’s desire for a warm-water port in order to better facilitate economic competition with the rest of Europe. These tendencies are blatantly obvious in light of Russia’s specific actions in response to the Ukrainian situation, namely, the dramatic surge of military activity into the port city Sevastopol and the surrounding region of Crimea – the base for Russia’s Black Sea Fleet. The Ukrainian protests provide exemplary pretense for Russia to move in and seize one of its most sought-after resources. It comes as no surprise, then, that President Obama’s assertion of the “costs” of Russia’s Ukrainian intervention fall on undaunted ears.

The state of the situation in Ukraine has escalated exponentially over the past few days. What began as a peaceful demonstration has spiraled into a multinational time bomb, with far larger implications than could have ever been originally anticipated. Social media outlets like Reddit and Twitter have given outside observers a look into a multifaceted political standoff in its infancy. We have seen videos of a squadron of Russian attack helicopters flying over the Ukrainian border; it’s up to us to decide what to do with this knowledge and how we will respond to the situation as it develops.

Johnny McCabe is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]

3 Comments

3 Responses to “Internet allows for disturbing look into conflict in Ukraine”

  1. N. on March 4th, 2014 10:42 pm

    Great article!

    I think an under-appreciated motive behind the Russian incursion is the specter of popular revolt itself: look at Poland in 1980, Prague in 1968, Hungary in 1956 – whenever there’s an uprising in Eastern Europe, Russian tanks are never far behind. Russia may not be on the brink of revolution today, but there were mass protests against Putin after the last election, there’s been all the attention toward Pussy Riot and gay rights, and of course the ongoing low-level civil war with Islamist separatists. Yanukovych was Putin’s counterpart in more than one way, which is exactly why he was ousted.

    The ‘deep divisions’ between U. and R. and perhaps could be illuminated a bit more. Ukraine has a long, violent, fascinating history. I think the current divisions largely go back to the period of civil war and revolution around the formation of the USSR. Ukrainian peasants formed anarchist and communist armies which fought off both the Red (Bolshevik) and White (Tsarist) forces for several years. Afterwards, as the region was brought under Soviet control, Ukrainians suffered disproportionately under forced industrialization and agricultural reform, which involved mass starvation and organized political massacres.

    See a pattern? So what’s next? I wouldn’t be surprised if Russia absorbed not just Crimea, but eastern Ukraine entirely.

  2. N. on March 4th, 2014 10:50 pm

    Russians and Ukrainians speak extremely similar languages, by the way, and most of them follow the same religion (Eastern Orthodox Christianity). Adding to the confusion, many ‘ethnic’ Ukrainians speak Russians as their 1st or 2nd language, especially in eastern Ukraine. The current fight over official languages reflects another aspect of the lasting influence of the ‘Russification’ policies followed by both Tsarist and Soviet authorities.

  3. Papa Jack on April 3rd, 2014 7:14 am

    really awesome johnny

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