While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Ukrainian officials Tuesday to quell tensions between a new Ukraine regime and Russia, more than 50 students joined a pair of Colorado College political science professors to discuss the fluid situation in Eastern Europe.
David Hendrickson and John Gould, both political science professors at the private college north of downtown Colorado Springs, told students that much has happened since violent protests in late February led to the removal of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. They held a panel discussion shortly after noon Tuesday at the campus' Palmer Hall.
The professors said the ever-changing situation on the Crimean peninsula has left even the experts' heads spinning.
"I've been pushed to and fro by the news of what's happening," said Hendrickson, who has taught at Colorado College since 1983. "It's hard to say what will happen."
"Or what's happened since we started talking," Gould chimed in with a chuckle less than an hour into the discussion.
Gould, the chairman of the school's political science department, echoed Hendrickson, saying things have gone from what looked like the brink of war to a different climate in about a half day.
"I'm a little bit more optimistic now than I was at 11 o'clock last night," he said. "That's how fast things are moving."
A protest against Yanukovych's rule that drew about 300,000 people led to activists taking control of Kiev's City Hall on Dec. 1. They relinquished their occupation of the building Feb. 16.
Yanukovych fled to Russia where Russian President Vladimir Putin gave him refuge as a new prime minister and president were put into power in the Ukraine.
Protests turned deadly again in late February with 82 people killed after government snipers apparently opened fire in the Kiev square known as the Maidan. Putin then sent troops to allegedly protect minority ethnic Russians in the region.
Gould and Hendrickson each pointed to what they called propaganda coming from all sides.
"It's extremely difficult to get to the facts," Hendrickson said.
The professors questioned just how much of threat the Russians in the Ukraine were facing. They said the West, including the United States, immediately gave "provisional legitimacy" to the new regime, which they added is likely no less questionable than Yanukovych and his pro-Russian cronies.
Tuesday's news reports said Kerry went to Kiev to show support for the new leadership and promise that aid was on its way. President Barack Obama announced Tuesday that a $1 billion energy subsidy would be given to the Ukraine and he began preparing economic sanctions against Russia if it expanded its military presence in the region.
Gould and Hendrickson also said the new Ukrainian leadership was not without blame. They said the regime needs to be more sensitive to the Russian minority as well as other ethnic and social groups in the country if it expects a peaceful resolution.
"It's extremely important in a crisis to take into account the vital interests of the other side," Hendrickson said. "Not to push them into a corner. Not to try to humiliate them."
Hendrickson added that it could take months before the situation is resolved and an election is held to permanently establish a new government in the Ukraine. He said now that Russia has established itself on the Crimean peninsula, Putin would need to be without "humiliation" before considering pulling out of the region.
He said Russia has a less prominent presence than it did as a world power of the Cold War era and is simply trying to defend its place, "not expand it."
"State's don't like to back down," Hendrickson said, "Russia is on the defensive."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.