Local man has keen interest in Ukraine crisis

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Frank Schultz
Wednesday, March 5, 2014

JANESVILLE—One of Yuri Rashkin's ancestors fought in the Russian army and was rewarded with land in Crimea.

Rashkin recalls his father complaining about learning to swim in the cold waters off the Crimean coast.

Rashkin is a native of Russia and a former Janesville City Council member. He is a U.S. citizen who moved to the United States with his parents when he was 13. He is keenly interested in politics in his homeland.

When Ukrainians overthrew their leader in recent weeks, and as neighboring Russia sent troops into the Ukrainian region known as Crimea, fears of war circled the globe. Rashkin posted an opinion about the crisis on Facebook.

Rashkin's Facebook friends, who include other Russian immigrants, responded passionately.

Rashkin's opinion? He wrote that he didn't expect the United States to take action in response to “Russian aggression” in Crimea.

The lively Facebook conversation turned at times to name-calling. One person called Rashkin “Russo-phobic.”

Rashkin welcomes the debate, and he hears from friends in Russia who tell him about “progressive” Russians in Moscow who protested the invasion this week.

“Ukrainians and Russians have always been like brother peoples,” Rashkin said, and the protesters don't want a war in which those brothers would be killing each other.

Russian progressives resent the Russian elites and would love to see American intervention, unlike American progressives, who want the United States to steer away from wars overseas, Rashkin said.

“Liberals and progressives in Russia sound more like conservatives here (in the United States)” said Rashkin, who is active in local Democratic politics.

Rashkin noted the Russian stock market dropped fast after the invasion and hopes Russian leaders will respond to economic pressures.

Speaking of economics, Rashkin has heard that the new Ukrainian government is not paying pensions or the salaries of medical workers, police and firefighters, adding economic concerns to fears of a wider Russian invasion in other parts of Ukraine.

Russia's stated reason for invading Crimea has been that the 60 percent of the population there that speaks Russian is in danger from the new Ukrainian government.

“I don't know anybody who thinks that it's real,” Rashkin said of that reasoning.

Russian leaders might be concerned that the Ukrainian revolution could spread to Moscow, Rashkin speculated, so the invasion of Crimea could be intended to divert Russians' attention.

Meanwhile, Rashkin hears from Russians who are afraid to voice their opinions publicly. Some fear a return to the crushing of dissent that went on in the former Soviet Union.

“I think the key is to have people scared because if people are scared, half the battle is already won, as they say in Russian,” Rashkin said.

Back in the United States, Rashkin is critical of news reporting, which he sees as driven by economic pressures to get the news out as fast as possible.

That kind of reporting fosters a crisis atmosphere with little time for calm analysis, Rashkin said.

“The fact that nobody has died is a good thing, and that tells me everybody is doing something right,” Rashkin said when asked what he thinks of President Barack Obama's handling of the situation.

“This is a big challenge for any president, and I do feel Obama is handling it well,” Rashkin said. “But it's a fluid situation, and I would not be surprised if mistakes were made.”

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