U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a former U.S. Senator for Massachusetts, travelled to Kiev, Ukraine Tuesday to meet with the new Ukrainian government, a decision that could have many economic and political repercussions for Massachusetts.
Russian President Vladimir Putin took a stance in the conflict, seizing military control of Crimea to protect the Russian population of the Ukrainian town, posing tremendous threats to the independence of Ukraine, said Vitalii Moroz, a member of political advocacy group Ukrainian Boston.
“If one country is allowed to attack another under the cause of protecting the rights of Russian-speaking residents, it may ruin the stability in the world and new conflicts to take place around the world,” he said. “If to talk in terms of Boston, the crisis brings the feeling of instability to the Ukrainian community.”
Moroz said the group has organized protest rallies to demand Ukrainian independence, and they launched a fundraising campaign to help the families of those killed and injured. Their goal is to raise $5,000.
“Rallies in support of Ukraine unite not just Ukrainians living in Boston but many other ethnic groups, including Belorussians, Lithuanians, Americans, Jews even Russians,” he said. “Those who want to see Ukraine free and independent join us.”
Ukrainian Boston has organized six rallies in front of the Massachusetts State House, and their most recent rally Wednesday aimed to send a message to U.S. President Barack Obama, who spent the day in Boston.
“Obama’s administration sent a strong message to Russia as a reaction to Russia’s aggression to Ukraine but we want to make sure that the U.S. will continue to pressure Russia with economic sanctions and diplomatic tools,” he said.
The potential for economic sanctions against Russia, currently under consideration, can affect trade and hurt Massachusetts companies. According to a 2012 report from the Coalition for U.S.–Russia Trade, Massachusetts’ exports to Russia grew faster than its exports to the rest of the world.
Andre Mayer, senior advisor at Associated Industries of Massachusetts, said neither Ukraine nor Russia are major export markets for Massachusetts companies, but the conflict could cause problems if it starts to affect Western Europe.
“Probably most immediate importance to us economically in Massachusetts is the potential impact on Western Europe,” he said. “Our exports to the European Union are 50 times what they are to Russia and Ukraine combined. We have to be concerned of what happens in Western Europe as a result of this situation.”
The stock market is also seeing the effects of consumer uncertainty due to the potential negative economic impacts of the conflict, Mayer said.
The S&P 500 and Dow both suffered their worst declines in a month on Monday — both in percent and point terms, according to the Wall Street Journal Market Watch blog. The Dow Jones Industrial average was down 154 points, or 0.9 percent, and NASDAQ was down 31 points, or 0.7 percent.
“Obviously, when things go badly, it goes down,” Mayer said. “When people think it’s looking better, it goes up. We have a financial sector that does a lot of investment management. On the whole, it’s not a good thing for us.”
Robert Loftis, a former ambassador to Lesotho and international relations professor at Boston University, said economic sanctions would hurt any company in the United States that is doing business with Russia.
“Anybody who is exporting to Russia is probably going to see those exports go down,” he said. “Anyone who is importing is going to have difficulty getting those products into this country. I don’t know what companies in the Boston area have investments there, but they would be the ones most hit. Definitely going to be a number of Ukrainian Americans unhappy in this country.”
Several residents said the United States should do whatever it can to protect its industries from being affected by the Ukrainian violence.
Josh Graveline, 24, of Allston, said the crisis in Ukraine could cause problems in the global community.
“It could cause a lot of problems because if anything happens between them, other countries are going to come in and help out, and if Russia does anything to any of the ally countries, that could maybe cause another war, a giant war,” he said. “Nobody wants to go there.”
Larry Stark, 81, of Boston, said it is up to the leaders of the countries involved, including the United States, to take action.
“[The leaders] should educate themselves and cross their fingers because frequently, nothing the people do affect what the leaders do,” he said.
Nurun Kazi, 59, of Jamaica Plain, said Boston groups, such as Ukrainian Boston, have the opportunity to voice their opinion and make a difference in their communities.
“Boston has a voice,” she said. “It’s a very powerful city. Every corner you can find a good university, and students should raise their voice.”