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Crimea's Effect on Study Abroad
on safety and legality concerns raised by crisis
SRAS carefully monitors events everywhere we have students. As the situations in both the Ukraine and Crimea crises are now becoming clearer, we'd like to assess what effects they may have on study abroad in general and on any students who are on the ground.
1. Study Inside Ukraine (social stability, safety concerns)
Although life inside most of Ukraine has begun to normalize, we have decided to keep our students outside of Ukraine for the time being. Those that started the semester there were relocated to other SRAS locations with some classes transferred to local teachers and others continued by the teachers still in Ukraine over Skype. We have every hope that Ukraine will remain stable and that our programs there will return there by summer. The arrival of the OSCE monitoring group and the substantial pledges of monetary and political will help ensure stability.
However, the new government is also facing substantial challenges. These range from economic to social to political and are both internal and external in nature. We are therefore asking all applicants applying for programs in Ukraine this summer to choose a backup location outside of Ukraine in the event that we decide to relocate our Ukraine-based programs for the summer term. Visas for backup locations, where needed, are already in process.
2. Study Inside Russia (concerns of anti-Americanism)
Recent polls have shown that the majority of Russians now consider their country a superpower and consider America an enemy. However, it is also true that Russians have traditionally separated their opinions of people from those of governments; A Russian who distrusts the American government is not likely to blame an individual American for the problems he/she believes that the American government has caused. We and our students are finding that Russians are just as friendly towards and curious of Americans in their country – actively asking questions not only about politics, but also about culture, society, and economy. Russians still often seek out Americans as a friendly way to practice their English, which remains a very valuable skill for Russian professionals.
We believe that Russia is still a safe place for study abroad and, in fact, with Russia's national currency falling and its geopolitical profile rising, study abroad in Russia is more affordable and more advisable than it has been in years.
We will, as always, be monitoring the situation. We will also, as we often do, be attempting to prep students for the conversations and debates they may enter while on the ground in Russia with materials, seminars, and other efforts to help them understand the perspectives of local Russians.
Wide-ranging sanctions against Russia by the United States would devastate study abroad to Russia as most US universities hold official policies of not supporting study abroad to sanctioned countries.
However, the recent Hague Declaration by the US and other G7 countries indicates that sanctions will not escalate beyond their current level unless Russia makes further moves to acquire territory currently belonging to Ukraine. Even then, it seems sanctions would remain targeted at individuals, businesses, or perhaps entire economic sectors. However, the sort of country-wide sanctions that would affect study abroad are not being considered even in the worst-case scenario that Russia advances further.
There are other reasons to assume that sanctions will remain targeted. The US has typically counted the goodwill of the Russian people toward America (as an economic and cultural entity even when they disagree with American politics) as a diplomatic asset. Russia as well knows that the ability to travel the globe is one highly valued by Russians. Neither Russia nor America is likely to impose sanctions that will prevent ordinary citizens from traveling.
The targeted US sanctions currently in place will likely remain in place. They have been shown, so far, to be effective at disrupting businesses in Russia. However, trade between the US and Russia is fairly minimal, meaning that the effects of any wider sanctions unilaterally declared by America would likely be marginal compared to what can be achieved with maintaining or broadening targeted sanctions. The EU, which has much greater trade relations with Russia, is not likely to support country-wide sanctions as many EU states and their industries are dependent on Russian gas. Also, Russia has indicated that it holds the right to nationalize the substantial investments of EU and US based companies in response to any wider sanctions, which means that major corporations will be lobbying against such moves to their respective governments.
For these reasons and more, sanctions are not likely to affect travel to Russia or study abroad to Russia.
4. Military Responses (between Russia and Ukraine)
While tensions between the two countries remain generally high, we believe that with the announcement that all Ukrainian troops will be withdrawn from Crimea and that Russia may be asked for restitution seems to indicate that Ukraine will not make moves to take back the territory militarily.
Russia may see it as being in its interests to secure more of southern and eastern Ukraine. However, securing this land militarily would not be in Russia's interest as it would be more difficult to secure and to maintain. It would also be more likely to spark a war involving NATO, for which Russia is currently far from prepared. If further incursions are made, it will likely be via Crimea-like methods, with troops involved in officially supporting an independence movement rather than making a traditional invasion. This may be workable in the Eastern provinces of Donetsk and Kharkiv, but appears increasingly unlikely as independence protestors have not been able to secure local legislatures as they did in Crimea.
Thus, it is increasingly unlikely that Russia will make further incursions to Ukraine and, even if it did, violence would likely be largely avoided.
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