Geopolitics in Europe is at the top of the news once again. 

Recent events in Ukraine, which include violent protests in Kyiv; the collapse of the Yanukovych government; installation of an interim pro-Western regime; and the rapid annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia, have altered Europe's political map and profoundly challenged the geopolitical settlement agreed upon at the end of the Cold War in Europe in 1990.

Gerard Toal, director of the Government and International Affairs  program in the School of Public and International Affairs in the National Capital Region, and an internationally recognized expert in critical geopolitics, and John O'Loughlin, professor of geography at the University of Colorado, have received an award from the National Science Foundation to conduct research building upon their previous research on post-Soviet unrecognized states and conflict regions more broadly. 

Toal is co-author of the award winning “Bosnia Remade: Ethnic Cleansing and its Reversal” (Oxford, 2011).

The grant, in excess of $156,500, will allow the researchers, collaborating with colleagues in Russia, to conduct large representative public opinion surveys in five regions – the three de facto states of Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria; and two oblasts, Donetsk and Kharkiv in eastern Ukraine -- to scientifically document and analyze current attitudes in the wake of the Ukrainian government crisis and subsequent Crimea annexation by Russia.

There is heightened speculation that these regions are potential future targets for Russian expansionism, Toal said. “However, to glibly term all these places ‘pro-Russian’ is an over-simplification. Russia's annexation of Crimea may have created what the Kremlin hopes are new realities on the ground but it is not clear how the new geopolitical context and its uncertainties are viewed by both residents in these de facto states and in regions of Ukraine traditionally held to be pro-Russian.” 

A political crisis recently erupted in Abkhazia in response to events in Ukraine.

The research project is designed to acquire social scientific information about current conditions inside de facto states and Russia orientated regions of Ukraine; the general attitude of  populations towards their economic circumstances; their attitudes to near powers like Russia, and far away ones like Europe and the United States; the aspirations of the populations; the relative level of inter-ethnic social distances; and the conditions of border interactions.

“Our research project is a social scientific one, by scholars for scholars. The opinions of people in conflict regions deserve to be known, and their aspirations heard,” said Toal.