05.09.2014


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The State of Study Abroad in Russia and Ukraine
an update on safety concerns and educational opportunities

  226829_1989503853009_399277Josh is SRAS's
Assistant Director, and is editor of SRAS's newsletter and the Editor in Chief of Vestnik, The Journal of Russian and Asian Studies.

SRAS carefully monitors events everywhere we have students. With continued developments in Eastern Ukraine, we'd like to assess what effects those events may have on study abroad in general and on any students who are on the ground in Russia or Ukraine.

 

1. Study Inside Ukraine 

Fighting in Ukraine's eastern provinces continues. However, life inside Kiev, about 430 miles away from Donetsk, where the conflict is centered, has remained stable since the new government took over several months ago. SRAS is therefore returning to Kiev this semester. We are also maintaining our location in Batumi, Georgia as a backup should we need to relocate our Kiev programs quickly.

Kiev and Ukraine represent major geopolitically relevant issues of our day. Events there are forming the changing future of relations among members of the European Union, as well as among the US, Russia, the EU, NATO, and allies of those entities. Ukraine is also currently facing several unique challenges in its attempts to balance its energy, economic development, and monetary policy, seek needed international help, and regain the confidence of a large section of its own populace.

Kiev and Ukraine therefore offer invaluable experience to students interested in building careers in diplomacy, government, or social science. In witnessing how relations change, how Ukraine faces its challenges, how events are covered in the local press, and especially in the ability to discuss these issues directly with the people of Ukraine, students will gain unique insight into how such challenging local and international events affect the common people of a country. 

SRAS believes the educational opportunities in Kiev are currently extraordinarily high. Any related risk is currently manageable with sustained monitoring, increased safety measures, prepping students beforehand with materials, and by maintaining backup plans.

 

2. Study Inside Russia 

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.

 

3. Sanctions

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, although Russia, the EU, and the US have all escalated sanctions over the summer, all of them have kept sanctions targeted at specific businesses, products, or individuals. The sort of country-wide sanctions that would affect study abroad are not currently being seriously considered.

This situation, however, also requires monitoring. The current relational paradigm is already operating outside of the former Cold War parameters in which, for example, certain projects of mutual benefit were maintained even in the Cold War's darkest hours. Many such projects, such as space cooperation, drug enforcement, and anti-terror operations have, to the surprise of many, been affected by the current cooling in relations. This makes it difficult to predict where the current confrontation may take us next.

There are 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. Thus, neither Russia nor America is likely to impose sanctions that will prevent ordinary citizens from traveling.

 

4. The Ceasefire and What May Come

As of publication of this article, a ceasefire has just been declared. While this is reason to hope, past ceasefires have not been effective. Although the current ceasefire should currently be in force, fighting in fact continues as rebels continue a push to retake the port city of Mariupol. Mariupol would be highly strategic for the rebels as it would give their territory a major port, allowing them far greater economic potential and far better ability to re-arm themselves.

If the territory currently under rebel control does become an unrecognized de-facto state similar to Transdnestria, the port would also make it a much more valuable ally to Russia, which is likely to be its main trading partner and perhaps one of the only countries in the world to recognize it. As discussed in a previous article, one of Russia's motivations in taking Crimea was likely to gain the additional port space there. Russia's economy has long been starved for port space and access to Mariupol would be considered strategic.

Even if the violence in Ukraine ends, sanctions on Russia may stay in place. These were initially levied in response to Russia's presence in Crimea. Russia has only strengthened its presence there and Russian media and government actions have constantly and consistantly reinforced the assertion that Russia considers Crimea its territory. As Russia is not likely to leave the peninsula, the disputed territory will likely be a source of disagreement between Russia and the West for the foreseeable future and remain a reason for the maintenance of sanctions.

 


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