Images of fire-filled conflict in Ukraine will pose new questions for the future of American politics, USC Aiken professor Tom Wood told students on Tuesday during a panel discussion at the school.


“I don't think you're going to see a new Cold War,” Wood said, referring to the six-decades-long rivalry between Eastern and Western powers. “But we really have to rethink our entire foreign policy toward Russia.”


Wood and fellow USCA professor Samuel Pierce presented an overview of the Ukrainian conflict during the discussion, offering insight into the country's past and how its relationship with Russia has allowed the ongoing conflict to brew for years.


Both pointed to the historic implications of the events that have occurred in the country during the past few months, particularly how the unrest emerged from the collapse of the former Soviet Union.


While Ukraine has faced internal conflict for years resulting from a growing political divide, tensions were intensified even more after Russia sought to disjoin the region of Crimea from the rest of the country a few weeks ago.


The Russians have essentially occupied Crimea, with Russian troops taking up positions at places throughout the region, including around a coast guard base and two airports.


Pierce noted that, decades ago, Crimea was actually part of the Russian Republic within the Soviet Union, but it joined Ukraine in the 1950s.


“Many Russians today actually consider the occupation of Crimea as taking back what is rightfully theirs,” Pierce said. “So when you look at the history of the Soviet Union and you see the relationship between Russia and the Ukraine within the Soviet Union, you can understand a little more of the background of why there's so much conflict today.”


This occupation has also triggered increased criticism, particularly from the West, of Russian President Vladimir Putin.


Wood said that despite the proverbial chest beating by Putin on the world's stage, the U.S. and other Western powers have taken a relatively passive approach to Russia.


He said that while Putin has unraveled democracy in his home country, the West still appears to view Russia a “reliable partner” internationally, especially when it comes to business and trade.


“The big lesson of this whole crisis is that Russia under Putin is extremely dangerous to Western security,” he noted. “And we are, in effect, engaged in a long-term project to get rid of Putin, somehow.”


He said the U.S. should try to restructure its outlook toward the Russians, and despite efforts by U.S. political leaders to push for sanctions, that likely won't go far enough to alleviate Russia's growing diplomatic and military force.


“I've been shocked by a lot of the sort of appeasement that has appeared in Western media,” he said. “They seem to be saying, ‘Oh, let Putin have Crimea. It's a far off land of which we know nothing.'”


Michael Ulmer is the Opinions Page editor for the Aiken Standard.