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TheStreet Open House

Ukraine Won't Become a Cold War Throwback

This story has been updated from 3:09 pm EST on 2/27 with comments from American University's Keith Darden amid new developments in Ukraine.

NEW YORK (TheStreet) - The ongoing turmoil in Ukraine has prompted speculation about a potential flashpoint between East and West, particularly after Russian President Vladimir Putin began moving 150,000 troops into Western Russia, a stone's throw from Kyiv.

On Friday, the situation further escalated when armed men occupied the Sevastopol airport in the country's Crimea region. The Ukrainian government said the armed men were Russian naval forces even as Russia's Black Sea fleet, which is based in Sevastopol, denied its forces were involved.

The BBC reported that another airport in the regional capital of Simferopol, had also been occupied by armed men also thought to be members of a pro-Russian militia. Ethnic Russians form the majority of the population in Crimea.

Yet even as the situation in Ukraine grows increasingly tense, political observers said the country is unlikely to become a Cold War flash point.

"We will not see much of a Western response beyond the warning rhetoric that we already hear," wrote Joerg Forbrig, senior program officer at The German Marshall Fund, in an email to TheStreet on Thursday. The Berlin-based policy expert pointed to the brief conflict between Russia and Georgia in 2008 which saw Russia gain control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

"The Georgia example of 2008 should serve as reminder that there is little the West can and will do to shield its Eastern neighbours [sic] against Russian interference," Forbrig said.

On Wednesday, NATO defense ministers issued a joint statement vowing "to support Ukrainian sovereignty and independence, territorial integrity, democratic development, and the principle of inviolability of frontiers."

Months of civil unrest and increasingly violent confrontations culminated in last week's ouster of President Viktor Yanukovych. In November, Yanukovych had rejected a trade agreement with the E.U. in favor of closer economic ties with Russia, sparking a massive protest movement known as 'Euromaidan' centered on Kyiv's Maidan Square. Tensions, however, remain high between pro-European and pro-Russian factions within the country. On Thursday gunmen seized government buildings in Crimea.

The U.S. and E.U. will be closely watching how events in the Crimean peninsula unfold. The region is also of critical importance to Moscow thanks to the Russian naval base in Sevastopol.

Keith Darden, associate professor at the School of International Service at American University in Washington D.C., said that the west will be urging the Ukrainian government to show restraint.

"I expect them to urge moderation on the part of the central government in Kyiv," he explained, in an email to TheStreet late on Thursday. "Temporary periods of provincial autonomy are entirely tolerable, and the US and EU would do well to keep all sides from taking any extreme actions."

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