As the crisis in Ukraine continues to unfold, West Virginia University political science professor Boris Barkanov thinks forming an inclusive coalition government in Kiev, the country’s capital, would serve as a first step in easing tensions. Constructive negotiations between Ukraine, Russia, the European Union and the United States would also be helpful, he said.

Barkanov, who teaches international relations and comparative politics, has been following the strained situation involving Russia, its neighbor Ukraine, the European Union and the U.S. Ukraine became an independent state after the USSR collapsed in late 1991.

Barkanov received his Ph.D. at University of California, Berkeley and was a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian studies. He emigrated from the USSR at the age of 2 and grew up in Chicago. He devotes much of his research to Russian politics and foreign policy.

He is available to comment as an expert to media and can be reached at

“The worst case scenario would be civil war, the partition of Ukraine, and an inadvertent military clash between Russia and the West,” Barkanov said. “But that would be a grave tragedy. It’s not in Ukraine’s interest. The US doesn’t want it. This is speculative on my part, but I don’t think Russia is interested in pursuing that route.”

On Thursday, lawmakers in Crimea – a peninsula on the northern coast of the Black Sea and an autonomous region in the south of Ukraine – voted in favor of leaving the country for Russia. The Crimean parliament voted to hold a referendum on the move in 10 days. That means Crimean residents could decide whether they want to stay in Ukraine or join Russia.

The crisis began when initially peaceful public protests over Ukraine’s future economic relations with the EU and Russia resulted in the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovych and the collapse of the central government. It became considerably worse after Ukrainian officials and diplomats claimed that thousands of Russian troops had entered the region and, among other things, blocked Ukrainian military sites. Despite considerable evidence to the contrary, Russia says the armed troops are local “self-defense” forces.

Barkanov said Russian officials are extremely concerned and displeased with what they see as an illegal coup, and that they also believe Russians living in Ukraine are threatened by those changes. He believes the presence of Russian troops will be used as a bargaining chip to influence a settlement that takes Moscow’s interests into account.

“Russia is extremely concerned about Ukraine’s forming closer relations with NATO. They also want a say in how Ukraine’s foreign economic relations develop in the future,” Barkanov said. “If Russia doesn’t get anything, they could make things worse. But there are very serious risks for them, as well. Unfortunately, it will be difficult to find a compromise. But what are the alternatives?”

Those interested in learning more about the crisis in Ukraine can join the WVU Russian Club’s Facebook page where Barkanov and other members of the community post articles and discuss the situation.



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