Global news with a spatial perspective: Interesting, current supplemental materials for geography teachers and students.
Curated by Seth Dixon
"Ukraine is the quintessential borderland state. The country borders three former Soviet states and four countries in the European Union. Ukraine sits on the Northern European Plain, the area that has historically served as an invasion superhighway going east and west."
INTERNATIONAL borders are often tricky to chart on maps. Tangible topographic features can be pinned down by satellite imagery but the boundaries between many states...
I've shared some links in the past that some mapping dilemmas with current events in Ukraine. Google Maps shows international borders differently and National Geographic maps show Crimea as a part of Russia. In this podcast we learn that this isn't the only international border dispute that is displayed differently in Google Maps. Google uses over 30 distinct versions of international borders because there is an underlying geopolitical dimension to cartography. However, this article from the Economist is more explicitly geographic in its analysis of the situation and how the discipline(s) of geography/cartography shape the political situation; maps are NOT just a reflection of reality on the ground. To paraphrase the cartographer Andy Shears, there is a lot of teaching applications and discussion material in these articles.
Questions to Ponder: Why have different cartography for different audiences? Why does this small cartographic decision matter? How can maps be used to lie/stretch the truth? How to governments derive political legitimacy from maps? Why is Google the cartographic gatekeeper?
"President Obama came into office promising a 'reset' in U.S.-Russia relations. Six years later, the reset, for all intents and purposes, is dead."
A more informed, globally aware citizenry helps to strengthen U.S. foreign policy and diplomatic efforts; we need citizens with a spatial framework within which to organize political, environmental, cultural and economic information. This interview with political science professor Michael McFaul is a great introduction to understanding Russia, Putin and today's most pressing geopolitical issue.
An important look at the military reality of the crisis.
We have known that pro-Russian forces have taken control of government buildings in part of Ukraine, and that forces on both sides have been mobilizing along the border. It is hard to make sense of all the news reports but this map helps to bring the reality on the ground into sharp focus.
There have been a number of warnings from Kiev and Washington about the possibility of a direct and open Russian military intervention in Ukraine. But what could that look like?
"U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry deliver remarks on Ukraine at the U.S. Department of State in Washington, DC on April 24, 2014. A transcript is available here."
If you want to understand the U.S. government's official stance and perspective on the escalating geopolitical tensions in the Eastern part of Ukraine (and Crimea), this speech is a good place to start. These geopolitical tremors have regional impacts; so how might this situation impact Moldova and the Transdniestria region (breakaway section with pro-Russian sentiment)?
"During the meeting in Geneva, the participants agreed on initial concrete steps to de-escalate tensions in Ukraine and restore security for all citizens. In a joint press availability with European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, Secretary Kerry outlined several of these initial steps."
Geography is never a completed story; the world is in a constant state of becoming. The geography of a place and region are only glimpses from one historical vantage point as Russia and Ukraine are demonstrating now. The Head of NATO is saying that Ukraine is not the only part of Putin’s geopolitical ambitions and other experts are describing the current situation as a new Cold War. Collectively this means that diplomats and government officials everywhere are seeking solutions to stabilize Ukraine and the region. NATO has expanded into what was once the Soviet Union’s buffer zone as a resurgent Russia is now prepared to exert more regional influence. As Russia has confirmed moving troops closer to Eastern Europe, many are suggesting a stronger NATO presence on the eastern border of NATO to counter Russia’s moves.
Question to Ponder: What do you think the United States (or any other country) should or shouldn't do in this region?
84% of Americans are unable to locate Ukraine on a world map; those that can't are more likely to support military intervention.
As I've said before, a more informed, geo-literate citizenry helps to strengthen U.S. foreign policy and diplomatic efforts because they have a spatial framework within which to organize political, environmental, cultural and economic information. National Geographic recently also produced a video showing how geo-education is important for business professionals as a part of their geo-education community (if you haven't already, join!). This is one way to combat geographic ignorance.
"In symbolic terms, it's a huge loss. The Crimean Peninsula holds an important place in the region's history, and the inability to prevent the region from joining Russia is a serious test of leadership for the new Ukrainian government in Kiev.
In practical terms, however, what Crimea means for Ukraine is less clear. In an article last week, The Post's Will Englund noted that Crimea may end up costing Russia more than it might like. And what does Ukraine really lose?"
We often view global affairs through our own little prism, considering how it affects us. So much of the discussion has revolved around Russia and the West in general (and the U.S. specifically), that Ukraine almost gets lost in the shuffle. All this amid news that the acting Ukrainian Foreign Minister has said that the possibility of war "is growing."
Russian media says exit polls show 93 percent of voters elected to join Russia, in a move the West deems illegal.
The vote wasn't a surprise, but it now means there are more questions than answers about the political future of Crimea, both regionally and internationally (this is the U.S. State Dept's rejection of the referendum). Also is interest is how this impacts Turkey, which feels kinship with the Crimean Tatar population. Historically they've been Black Sea rivals and Turkey was a key NATO ally during the Cold War. However since the fall of the the Soviet Union they've improved diplomatic relations and Turkey is reluctant to damage relations with Russia. We all know by now that the majority of Crimean residents speak Russian as their native language, but what's the linguistic geography of Crimea look like at a at a different scale?
This StoryMap from ESRI is a nice way to explore the current events in Crimea and this set of maps from National Geographic shows the historical geography of the region. This issue has many inter-regional connections as well. Many residents of former Soviet Republics are nervous seeing Russia's aggressive political strategy; Moscow's previously similar foreign policy that aligned with Beijing's interests are now diverging.
Comments on the Media Coverage of the Recent Events in Crimea
"As was the case 160 years ago, Crimea has once again become 'the tinderbox', potentially ready to ignite a pan-European conflict. Precipitous events in Crimea once again draws public attention to that often-forgotten triangular peninsula jutting into the Black Sea off the underbelly of Ukraine. While the news reports from Russian, Ukrainian, and Western sources have been generally confusing and conflicting, some interesting analysis has appeared in several media outlets."
Gas and oil prices have risen amid fears the Ukraine crisis could have a damaging effect on one of Europe's main energy supply routes. But analysts say high European gas stocks will limit the turbulence.
Russia is Europe's biggest supplier of natural gas, but Ukraine is the key to their distribution network. Here is a great analysis of the energy implications.
Ukraine's interim prime minister says the country is "on the brink of disaster."
Ukraine's Independence Square, and the revolutionary dimensions of public spaces.
This article gives some background on the political purposes behind urban planning and public squares that carry cultural meaning. While Ukraine is the reason for delving into the topic, the article explores the politicization of public squares in various regional and historical contexts. The image above shows how monuments, despite their 'official' meaning, can be rearticulated and reinterpreted as other audiences inscribe meaning into the landscape.
"Protests have centered on the capital's Independence Square, also known as the Maidan, where protesters had set up camp over a number of months. The stand-off turned violent this week as riot police moved in to clear the protest camp. Security forces had given protesters a deadline of Tuesday 18 February to leave the square, but instead, violence took hold and battles between the demonstrators and police left a number of people dead. Independence Square, which for weeks was the setting for a mostly peaceful protest camp, now more closely resembles a siege, as the remaining protesters attempt to hold their ground."
"Images of toppled statues notwithstanding, 'revolution' has never been the right word to describe recent events in Kiev. Ukraine, after all, has been here before. At the heart of the country’s present struggle is its resistance to any 'strategic partnership' with Russia and its understanding of Europe as a potential economic and political savior from corrupt government. But the tensions between East and West -- both psychological and geographic -- are deeply rooted in Ukraine's national identity. Those Ukrainians most concerned about their country’s future would do well to recognize that identity’s inherent fragility. The original generation of Ukrainian nationalists suffered precisely for their failure to do so."
The current Ukrainian conflict is typically viewed in stark East-West terms: a pro-Russian East versus a pro-European West, with the threat of Ukraine splitting down the middle.
Ukraine’s divisions are indeed pronounced and the forging of a coherent national identity has remained very much a work in progress since independence.
Nonetheless, far from pointing to its unraveling, polling indicates that support for the Ukrainian state has been on the rise over the past decade – even in the Russian-speaking East and South. This is true despite the often polarizing and dysfunctional policies of successive Ukrainian leaders.
As the violence between police and protesters escalate (hundreds of riot police descended on the main square and the protestors set Independence Square ablaze), it is easy to see the country's irreconcilable differences. The United States and the EU advocated for a peaceful resolution, but this crackdown comes on the heels of Russia buying $2 billion of Ukrainian government bonds and securing their financial future. This other article is a reminder that while there are divisions, it's not inevitable that the centrifugal forces will pull the country apart.
Ukrainians have been protesting since Nov. 21, when President Viktor Yanukovych rejected a deal for closer integration with the European Union, instead drawing the country closer to Russia. They are still in the streets in huge numbers and have seized regional government buildings in several parts of the country. In Kiev, the capital, clashes between protesters and security forces have become violent, killing several people. On Tuesday, the prime minister resigned. No one is quite sure what will happen next.
|Suggested by Thomas Schmeling|
Strategically, Ukraine matters much more to Russia than it doesn't the EU, which is why Russia is flexing there muscles. Russia's major market for their natural gas are linked through these key pipelines.
"This map illustrates the country's deep division – and why the protests might not be what you think. Ukraine has been wracked by protests for two-plus weeks over President Viktor Yanukovych's decision to reject a deal for closer integration with the European Union. Russian President Vladimir Putin had been pressuring Yanukovych to quit the EU deal and join with a Moscow-led trade union of former Soviet states instead. Will Ukraine's future be with Russia or with Europe?"
The country of Ukraine is both ethnically and linguistically divided and since the fall of the Soviet Union, the partisan politics have mirrored these divisions. The northwestern portion of the country is primarily ethnic Ukrainian and with the majority speaking Ukrainian. This section of the country that is hoping to strengthen economic and political ties with the EU and face Europe; those that aren't as bullish on the EU here at least want to explore other options so they aren't overpowered by Moscow's shadow. The southeastern portion of Ukraine primarily speaks Russian with sizeable ethnic Russian populations (although many ethnic Ukrainians speak Russian here); not surprisingly, this is the part of the country that would rather join in an economic union with Russia and other former Soviet Republics, or at least not turn their backs on Moscow.
Questions to Ponder: Why are language and ethnicity often tied to political orientation? Why might trading with all economic partners not be as viable an option?