Vidya Nadkarni, PhD, professor of political science in the College of Arts and Sciences, teaches the introductory course in international relations every Fall semester. She also offers upper division and graduate courses in international relations theory, American foreign policy, and Russian politics and foreign policy. Dr. Nadkarni has taught at USD since 1990.
When the Soviet Union broke up into fifteen countries, Soviet specialists tended to gravitate toward studying the path that Russia forged after independence. In legal terms, Russia was a “continuer” rather than a “successor” state because Moscow inherited most of the assets but also most of the liabilities (debt, and so forth) of the Soviet Union. Russia today is dealing with a complex set of tsarist and communist legacies and trying to fashion what it means to be a Russian citizen in a multinational and multi-religious society.
Q: What drew you to studying and researching that part of the world?
I grew up in India. In the 1970s, as I became more politically aware, I was intrigued by the question of why the world’s oldest democracy (the United States) and the world’s largest democracy (India) were politically estranged. This curiosity deepened after India signed a Treaty of Peace and Friendship with the Soviet Union in 1971. These two circumstances led me to study that part of the world. I wanted to know why India, with a political value set that was closer to that of the United States, aligned with the Soviet Union during the Cold War.
Q: What most troubles you about the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine?
The most troubling aspect of the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine is the tendency to see it in binary ways—either Kiev moves economically closer to Moscow or chooses to associate with the European Union. The reality is that the only practical way forward is to ease the path for Ukraine to work with both Russia and the EU. Ukraine’s internal East-West divisions have historical roots and unless the West and Russia understand that forcing Ukraine to choose between the two is impossible, we are likely to see a long period of violent internal conflict in Ukraine.
I would like to reframe this question and consider what happened in Ukraine with the encouragement and support of the West that provided Russia with the opportunity to absorb Crimea. Street protests in Kiev, which started after then President Yanukovich decided to forgo a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU in favor of closer economic ties with Russia, resulted in the forced toppling of Ukraine’s duly elected sitting president and his government. Yanukovich had been elected in free and fair elections in 2010. The next round of presidential elections was due to be held in 2015. Rather than vote him out of office constitutionally, people wielding power on the streets forced his removal. The ensuing tumult in Kiev allowed Moscow to take advantage of pro-Russian sentiment in Crimea to push forward with a course of action in the face of what was seen in Russia as Western-supported “mob rule” with the aim of challenging Russia in what Moscow considers as its geopolitical space.
Q: What should people know about the events in Ukraine and Russia that you feel the media is not reporting accurately?
Again, it is not so much that the media is being inaccurate as that some things are not being covered adequately. For instance, because right-wing groups (Svoboda and Right Sector) played a major part in the Maidan protests that brought down the Yanukovich government, they got to control some important ministries in the interim government, giving Russia the political ammunition to decry their influence and sow fear in the minds of ethnic Russians who live in the south and east of the country. These groups do not enjoy much support among the electorate and are therefore unlikely to be able to call the shots after the presidential elections on May 25 and especially after parliamentary elections. But right now due to the important role they played in helping to bring down the sitting government, they are able to pressure the interim government in ways that they will not be able to do later. Second, Ukraine will need an economic rescue package of over $30 billion in loans over the course of the next two years. While our economic sanctions against Russia will cost the Russian economy dearly, there is not enough discussion of the costs we will incur if Ukraine becomes “our” problem. Any IMF loan package is bound to include austerity measures, which are likely to set off a cycle of social and political instability.
Q: Do you have any upcoming projects?
Yes, I am working on two book projects—one examines the Sino-Indian relationship in the context of the coming power shift from the transatlantic world to Asia and the second is a co-edited book that deals with 21st century challenges in world politics.
– Melissa Wagoner Olesen