What do you know about Syria, Ukraine?

How important is it to keep up to date with international events? A general consensus among Castleton students when asked is “very important.” 

So how many people actually do keep up with world events? Right now, there are two heavily discussed events going on in the world. In the Middle East, Syria is locked in a bloody civil war, but many of those who said it was important to keep up with world events found admitted they didn’t keep as close tabs on the news. Many seemed daunted by my questions about world events. 

“I may not be the right person to ask” one student said.

Another issue dominating world news involves tensions between Ukraine and Russia, which escalated to the point where conflict between Ukrainian military forces and Russian nationalists has broken out in the Eastern part of country. Russia has even annexed the region of Ukraine known as Crimea. Their reason? Protecting those of Russian ethnicity who live there. 

Most people I talked to knew that there was some sort of conflict going on in Syria. But over what? I pressed for what specifics people might have gathered about the situation. Some addressed the actions of Syrian President Bashar Assad, with one student detailing his numerous human rights violations and limitations on social media to illustrate their opinion. 

“He is turning into more of a dictator,” one student said. 

However, most people only knew his name and rank, and some believed he had already been ousted from power.

When my questions turned from Syria to Ukraine, most of those interviewed knew that there was conflict between Ukraine and Russia, but a few had no idea what Crimea was. 

All in all, it’s safe to say people may not be keeping up with world news despite saying it’s important. So let me help.

Syria has been in rough shape for a while. In the early 2000s Syria was put onto the list of countries the Bush administration deemed to be an “axis of evil.” Relationships with terrorist organizations, covert nuclear programs, chemical weapons, conflicts with Lebanon, Israel, and even its own Kurdish population have plagued Assad’s tenure. 

Relations with the U.S. are tense, but little is being done to try and solve the crisis. President Obama has made it clear that the use of chemical weapons on the Syrian people by Assad’s forces would be a “Red Line” and if crossed, the U.S. would take action. Problems arise from that however. The Obama administration does believe that chemical weapons have been used on a small scale, but no military action has taken place. Students interviewed said they support staying out of Syria, even though what’s happening there is wrong.. 

“Military action wouldn’t be a good decision since we are not directly affected by the civil war that is taking place,” said one student. “Syria would be another Iraq or Afghanistan.”

However, based on a recent UN estimate, around 191,000 people have been killed in the war. An Al Jazeera reporter, Nir Rosen, says that many of these reported deaths are actually armed insurgents that are falsely portrayed as civilians, though civilian deaths do in fact occur every day. And now, with the emergence of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS), their involvement in the Syrian civil war, and their recent beheadings of two American journalists, U.S. action is coming. Obama recently addressed the nation stating that the United States would begin bombing ISIS in Syria as well as training Syrian Rebels, but no U.S. soldiers would be sent in to fight. ISIS is currently fighting for the side of the Syrian rebels.

Tensions between Ukraine and Russia had been on the rise earlier this year, but after the conclusion of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, violence took over. Unrest in the region of Ukraine known as Crimea between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels escalated to the eventual removal of Ukrainian troops. Russia annexed it Crimea, absorbing it into itself. Now, violence has spread all over the Eastern part of the nation, pro-Russian rebels clashing with Ukrainian forces for control of the cities. However, many suspect that the rebels aren’t working alone, claiming Russia has been supporting them. This comes from the sightings of Russian tanks in Ukrainian borders, the capture of Russian paratroopers and a missile strike against a Malaysian Airlines flight. 

That missile is believed to have been supplied to the rebels by Russia. A ceasefire has been reached, but how long that will hold is unknown. But what should be done? Sanctions against Russia by the EU and other NATO nations have been created, but seem to be doing very little. Actions against Russia “would have to be a joint effort from European powers like Germany, Great Britain and France to stop buying natural gas and any other form of energy that is coming out Russia” one student said. “There is only so much the United States can do from an ocean away.”

It may seem like things going on halfway across the globe aren’t affecting us here, but it is. We are closer to the other side of the world than ever, and its important to keep up to date with what is going on out there.

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