One of the best and most inspiring parts of international education is the opportunity to exchange with people from around the world, regardless of the official relations between the respective countries. The Open Doors Report shows international students in the US from countries where the US has difficult, strained or even non-existent government relations, including 8,744 Iranian students, 87 Cuban students and even 17 North Korean students. So we know that international educational exchange can continue in the face of rocky relations. But with history in the making on the world stage, complete with chilling images of Russian troops occupying a sovereign nation, today’s international education pick of the week has to look at the Russian annexation of the Crimea. First, we will look at the existing international education landscape, then I’ll highlight some of my favorite media pieces addressing the current crisis.
By the Numbers
There are 131 Americans studying in the Ukraine, and 1,777 in Russia, again according to the Open Doors Report. Conversely, there are 1,490 Ukrainians studying in the US, and 4,898 Russians. In addition, we know from direct experience that there are thousands of Russian and Ukrainian J1 participants, particularly on the Work and Travel program.
Insider Higher Ed reported earlier this month that several US study abroad programs had indeed been evacuating participants from the Ukraine. I haven’t yet seen any reports of other international students leaving Ukraine’s universities, but according to the article, there are over 61,000 international students in Ukraine, mostly from Asia and former Soviet states. Other US study abroad providers are considering cancelling certain programs in Russia.
Program cancellations are almost always as a result of participant safety considerations, not political ones. Therefore it’s unlikely that Ukrainian or Russian students would need to leave the US, regardless of the course of events.
There’s been all sorts of opinions and analysis in the Western press about the meaning of Russia’s actions, some of it really insightful, and you could spend weeks reading it all. Does Putin want to rebuild the former Soviet Union? This article in the Star looks at multiple angles on the question. Should the Baltic states (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia) fear that they are next? Although they are NATO members, where Ukraine isn’t, would that alliance protect them? Reuters reported on recent Russian statements comparing treatment of Russian speakers in Estonia to the treatment of Russian speakers in Ukraine, the very issue cited by Putin for the move into the Crimea. On the other hand, Russia says that it will fully protect the rights of minority populations in the Crimea, including Tatars. But what does history and the reality of the current situation tell us on this point? This New Yorker article makes you wonder, reporting that a group of four baton-carrying young men had marked all of the houses occupied by Tatars, but not those occupied by Russians. One bone-chilling line from a Russian Crimean woman quoted in the article:
“Whoever did it was just joking,” one woman, who did not wish to be named, told me. “We get along with our neighbors fine,” she continued. “But it would be helpful if Crimean Tatars stopped supporting Kiev.”
With the initial frenzied media and government response to the Crimea annexation behind us, more thoughtful analysis has begun to spring up. Putin has said he was pushed to the actions in the Crimea by the eastern expansion of NATO and to protect Russian speakers there, and that he has no intentions of going any further. Obama has said there will be no military intervention in Ukraine. So where do we go from here? Alexey A. Navalny, former reformist candidate for Mayor of Moscow and currently under house arrest in Russia, authored an op-ed piece in the NY Times, How to Punish Putin. His short answer: to punish Putin, really attack his oligarchs, cutting them off from their plush Western lifestyles, and attack corruption directly, including corruption that involved Western countries. Finally, this NY Times blog post looks at how Ukraine’s deteriorating economic situation could ultimately drive more parts of Ukraine towards Russia.