Zakaria: Very little the U.S. can do on Ukraine
February 20th, 2014
09:47 AM ET

Zakaria: Very little the U.S. can do on Ukraine

CNN speaks with Fareed about the unrest in Ukraine and what, if anything, the United States should do. This is an edited version of the transcript.

Earlier this month, a phone conversation was leaked between a high-ranking State Department official, Victoria Nuland, and the current U.S. ambassador in Ukraine. Nuland had some embarrassing comments about the E.U. on what is going on in Ukraine now. Is it your sense that this was leaked by the Russians or the pro-Russian Ukrainians to embarrass the United States?

My guess is it was leaked by the Russians because they do have the capacity to overhear that kind of conversation. The basic point Victoria Nuland was trying to make, I think, is that the European Union has been playing a kind of slow economic game here, whereas the Russians have been playing a fast geopolitical game.

By which I mean the European Union has been offering the Ukrainians a deal and association, but as long as they make certain kinds of structural economic reforms and get rid of subsidies on various industries. In other words, it's a kind of almost like a regular trade negotiation where they're trying to get the Ukrainian economy to become more market friendly.

The Russians, on the other hand, are playing a geopolitical game, and they first offered Ukraine essentially a $15 billion bribe, subsidized fuel and such, and then just recently, another $2 billion. So, Putin is basically saying here's cash, no conditions asked, you be part of my sphere of influence.

The Europeans, however, are playing this much longer-term game to try to turn Ukraine into a kind of middle class, you know, liberal democratic, capitalist society, and the two timetables are completely off. So, the Europeans have badly misplayed this hand. They should have, if they were going to step in there and try to wean Ukraine away from Russia, they needed to do something fast. They needed to do something that was overwhelming and that made it very difficult for the president to turn them down.

President Obama said there will be consequences if people step over the line in Ukraine, referring to the government in Kiev right now. What realistically could those consequences be?

Very little, because the truth of the matter is we're not going to send an army there. And if we put sanctions on Ukraine, the danger is it will only push the Ukrainians closer to Russia. I'm not saying we shouldn't do something. I'm just saying our options are much more limited. The crucial issue here is what does the Ukrainian army do? The country is divided, but not quite 50-50.

The Ukrainian part, if you will, is larger, and I think the younger population – the future of Ukraine –clearly looks to the west. The ethnic Russian part is only about 17, 18 percent. And if you look at Kiev, 75 percent of them didn't vote for this president.

So, that's why Kiev has become the heart of these protests. But what will the army do? Will the Ukrainian army be like the Egyptians and side with the people, or will they be like the Syrians and side with the government?

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Topics: Europe • Protests

soundoff (65 Responses)
  1. R white

    Maybe we SHOULD stay out of this for a change. What would have happened if Germany had jumped into the American Revolution to "help" what it considered to be the "right" side and they defeated us. This is none of our concern and Putin is behaving in the manner he thinks is right for Russia. Sound familiar? We do it all the time. Let our guys stay home on this one.

    February 20, 2014 at 10:54 am | Reply
    • Roland33

      That is funny you forgot all about the Hessian mercenaries fighting on the side of the British,and the French (and others) on the side of the American rebels.Even today you need mercenary armies,profesional killers,to fight in colonial wars.That is why the U.S. changed to a "profesional" army instead of a conscription army after Vietnam and why the Europeans are doing the same after the end of cold war and increased desire to do"peacekeeping".

      February 20, 2014 at 12:27 pm | Reply
      • j. von hettlingen

        There will be no military intervention in Ukraine. Russia might try to keep the eastern part and help the Russian speakers there break away from the rest of the country. Victoria Nuland had expressed America's frustration with the EU in dealing with the crisis in Ukraine. Yet EU leaders wanted the US to stay out and leave Ukraine to them.

        February 23, 2014 at 12:05 pm |
    • Justin

      relly? u gonna compare protests in 19th century with ones in 21st?

      February 20, 2014 at 1:24 pm | Reply
    • Mike

      The American "rebels" had seasoned soldiers from France, Prussia, and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth fighting on their side. Also study up on history because France jumped in to help us in a big way during the revolution. In fact the Revolution was pretty much a proxy war between France and England. France support us so majorly that they went pretty much bankrupt.

      February 20, 2014 at 1:34 pm | Reply
    • PLG

      Couldn't agree more. As a Russian, I wouldn't want Russia to get involved as well. Internal affairs are "internal" for a reason.

      February 20, 2014 at 3:03 pm | Reply
      • Mariana

        First off, if Russia was NOT involved, this would NOT be happening. Overtly and covertly Putin has been nudging Yanukovich. And there are multiple reports that the special forces shooting people are Russian, from Russia. Sorry to shutter your dream about squeaky clean "friendly" Russia.

        February 20, 2014 at 3:26 pm |
      • Ted

        Russia is 100% involved, while socialist islam-infested EU is just playing games to prevent Ukraine falling under Putin's boot.

        February 20, 2014 at 5:37 pm |
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Thank you, R white. I couldn't have said it any better! We have absolutely no business butting into Ukraine's internal problems and those who say otherwise are totally ignorant!

      February 20, 2014 at 3:06 pm | Reply
    • Agreed

      Stay out of this for sure, unless we wish to promote WW3

      February 20, 2014 at 3:30 pm | Reply
  2. frsi

    The US should condemn the violence and urge peaceful discussions.
    Other than that, we should stay out of this problem. This is between Ukraine, the EU and Russia....not us.

    February 20, 2014 at 11:21 am | Reply
    • Ted

      This is between Ukraine and Ukraine. Neither Russia nor EU should interfere in any way.

      February 20, 2014 at 5:39 pm | Reply
  3. palintwit

    And the latest news in the literary world has Sarah Palin hosting another book signing event this weekend. Tens of people are expected to show up.

    February 20, 2014 at 11:28 am | Reply
  4. US citizen for truth

    Fareed, It is time for you to tell the truth – and not what Gov. wants you to say. Time to stop being a puppet for CNN and fit events to their opinion.
    "My guess is it was leaked by the Russians because they do have the capacity to overhear that kind of conversation."- everyone has capacity to install phone bugs – even you, so don't be ridiculous on this one. Look at the bigger picture – Russia was supplying Ukraine with lots of goods, which in return did not pay back the debt. The latest forgiveness of huge debt, which you call "bribe" is one of those good deeds. EU obviously wants Ukraine as a spot no matter what consequences are.

    February 20, 2014 at 11:36 am | Reply
  5. a gift, not force

    Ukraine is between a rock and hard place. Most people there are poor in ways U.S. citizens have trouble imagining. The E.U. and U.S. can *offer* economic incentives as a way out and into the community but we cannot do any more than that. Bully Putin will win and keep Ukrainians as slaves to serve Russia's will. We can only offer a path to freedom that Ukrainian's must decide to take.

    February 20, 2014 at 11:36 am | Reply
    • Truth

      Give one example of why Russia needs Ukraine – what do they have? So far all we hear that Russia keeps giving those in Ukraine billions of dollars with only troubles in return.

      February 20, 2014 at 11:39 am | Reply
      • paul

        Pukin' needs Ukraine for many reasons. 1) He needs her to create a successful Customs Union. it won't see the light of day without Ukraine, 2) he needs her so that he can control the Crimea and maintain a southern navy fleet, 3) he needs her because he wants to return Russia to the "glory" days of the USSR and without Ukraine it will never happen, 4) he needs her to protect their corrupt system of government with their buddy oligarchs..

        February 20, 2014 at 12:25 pm |
      • uncleric

        1) Heavy Industries;
        2) Oil/Gas Transit to Europe;
        3) Farm Land – bread basket of central/eastern Europe;
        4) Warm-water port: Sevastopol; and
        5) Buffer from Europe.

        February 20, 2014 at 1:12 pm |
      • Carlos


        Paul, you said: Pukin' needs Ukraine for many reasons. 1) He needs her to create a successful Customs Union. it won't see the light of day without Ukraine. Answer: Don't we need to have our own successful trading agreements with our neighbors? 2) he needs her so that he can control the Crimea and maintain a southern navy fleet. Answer: Don't we need also a Navy Fleet ready to control our area of influence? 3) he needs her because he wants to return Russia to the "glory" days of the USSR and without Ukraine it will never happen. Answer: Aren't you enjoying our glory days? 4) he needs her to protect their corrupt system of government with their buddy oligarchs.Answer: Don't we need to protect our honest bankers? Yes, that 1%?

        February 20, 2014 at 11:05 pm |
    • Ted

      Yes, Ukrainians must decide. Now tell this to Putin and his puppet gov't in Kiev and the army chiefs hand-picked by them.

      February 20, 2014 at 5:43 pm | Reply
  6. chrissy

    Agreed @ Rwhite and very good anology by the way! We should practise minding our own business a little more, because lets face it, we sure have lots of business that NEEDS minding!

    February 20, 2014 at 11:38 am | Reply
  7. sly

    "Stay out"?

    No way – let's call George "Bomb Bomb Bomb" Bush.

    Georgie can send another 5000 American boys to their caskets.

    February 20, 2014 at 12:26 pm | Reply
  8. Roland33

    The EU's long term interests lie more with Russia then Ukraine it is why the U.S. must do the heavy lifting on this.Europe cannot go around bashing the Russian leadership on the head since European industry depends on Russian raw materials.The U.S. does not depend on Russian oil or gas,it can afford to bash Russia on the head.

    February 20, 2014 at 12:32 pm | Reply
    • PLG

      For what greater good?

      February 20, 2014 at 3:15 pm | Reply
    • Ted

      In 30 years, EU will not need a drop of oil or gas from Russia. Let's hope Putin is still around crawling on his knees to Chinese to buy some.

      February 20, 2014 at 5:45 pm | Reply
      • Vitor

        In 30 years Europe will not have any money to pay for the Russian oil

        February 20, 2014 at 9:48 pm |
  9. Deliot

    What the Ukrainians don't realise is that they are not wanted in Western Europe. Killing themselves and setting their country on fire makes no difference. The West European Union does not want more cheap labour from Ukraine or any other East European Country. How desperate can they be, this is disgraceful.

    February 20, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Reply
    • hmmm369

      Deliot, what an idiotic thing to say! They are not killing themselves to become part of Western Europe, they are trying to change the corrupt government that has been stealing, lying and killing for many years. They want change so that they won't NEED to be cheap labor for Western Europe. Will US do anything to intervene? I'm sure NOT. There is nothing in it for US government, no oil to fight over, no real gain.

      February 20, 2014 at 3:24 pm | Reply
    • V.Y.

      European Union is shortsighted. They will be very happy to discover Mr. Putin's armed personnel vehicles on their streets one sunny afternoon. As for Ukrainans, they don't fight exactly to become bargain-priced maids and gardeners, but to have a transparent, competent, and democratically selected government. If they will fall silent now, there will be no next elections in Ukraine, only Russian-Belorussian-style mockery. People fight because they know it.

      February 20, 2014 at 3:28 pm | Reply
      • Ted

        More likely one sunny afternoon Russians will discover that a new dictator just moved Putin's remains from Kremlin.

        February 20, 2014 at 5:47 pm |
    • Sandy

      Deliot you made good point.EU-modern word for an another political/economical form of bondage.And again some self proclaimed leader (Mr.Klitchko)uses People for his own political agenda(in this time at bloody way).

      February 21, 2014 at 7:55 am | Reply
  10. Rene591

    this country is officially non interventionist and socially libertarian . we are coming home. deal with that world as you guys are going to be getting bills for the past 50 years(allocating 17 trillion) please make the check out to american taxpayers. thanks in advance

    February 20, 2014 at 1:59 pm | Reply
  11. Gary

    Several weeks ago I called for creation of Russian – Polish force to stand by for escalation in Ukraine. There was a way to prevent mayhem without a single shot fired. It was clear that government did not have enough troops to handle unrest, and protesters did not have any demands that could be easily met. If both sides knew that responsible powers are ready to step in there would not be so much burning desire to kill each other. There tangible chance of full scale Yugoslavian playbook in Ukraine now.

    February 20, 2014 at 3:22 pm | Reply
  12. V.Y.

    This is very shortsighted for Americans to say: “We are not interested in what’s going on in Ukraine – if Putin wants it, lets him have it”. You forgot that even before the Cold War was one very hot war, all because some oversized ambitions were not checked in the timely manner. Without Ukraine Russia is only Russia, with Ukraine it is an Evil Empire again. Beware.

    February 20, 2014 at 3:23 pm | Reply
    • PLG

      Omg, I can't believe someone actually is still using the "Evil Empire" cliché)

      February 20, 2014 at 3:33 pm | Reply
    • hmmm369

      It's sad how quickly we forget not so distant history, or in many cases never learn it.

      February 20, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Reply
    • theoriginaljames

      What hot war are you referring to? The one in which the Soviets defeated the Nazis, or the many US meddlesome world engagements based on the flawed domino theory?

      February 20, 2014 at 3:50 pm | Reply
  13. theoriginaljames

    I find all of the cold war talk in regard to Ukraine revolting, pun intended. America is also 50/50 on most issues. We have a powerful army too. Both Ukraine and America are sovereign democracies. But the cold war perspective of commentators regarding Ukraine would never be applied to our country. The violence and disorder in Kiev must be resolved the same as any riot anywhere, such as our 1968 riots or all of the South LA riots, to allow democracy to work and progress to occur.

    February 20, 2014 at 3:45 pm | Reply
  14. civility1

    The US is on the other side of the world from this flare up. We have no business being there. It is simply a local internal issue and only the EU, Russia, and possibly the Ukraine's adjoining neighbor Poland, should be in this mix with the Ukrainian people. We need to stay out unless our industrial military complex is chafing at the bit to expand its base by starting WWIII. Putin is more than very capable of handling and leading on this crisis. He has no match on that side of the world. Watch and see.

    February 20, 2014 at 4:06 pm | Reply
  15. Khagaraj Sommu

    Is Samantha Power okay ? We are yet to hear from her on Ukraine.

    February 20, 2014 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  16. JT

    Non-intervention emboldens dictators. If you wait too long it becomes too late. Don't forget Hitler's early invasions as the world sat back and watched. Putin is a dictator attempting to blatantly bully its neighbors and rebuild an empire that challenges free democratic principles. It's sad how quickly those in the west forget the freedoms we went to war over.

    Western Europeans fear a strong Russia pushing its influence into East Europe. America is in the middle of every major powerplay because we remain the lone united super power. The EU, Russia, and China are all gathering their strength to challenge the United State's residual power and balance the power game. Every country acts in its own interest.

    The US has more to fear from another united soviet union under Putin than a loose confederacy of war-resistant Europeans. However, the US would benefit the most from a non-aligned Ukraine. Therefore, chaos resulting in gridlock is preferential for the United States. I'd guess the United States stays out of the conflict or merely offers humanitarian aid.

    February 20, 2014 at 5:33 pm | Reply
  17. Ted

    Zakaria – CNN lets you publish only because you are a muslim. Every one of your predictions is dead wrong.

    February 20, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Reply
    • sly


      Seems like "Ted" is a moniker for "Stupid" these days.

      Be it Nugent or Cruz or this bozo, the "Teds" of this world seem to all be ignorant country hicks.

      Ted, this is OUR America now – Love it or Leave it! I suggest you go back to Germany or Cuba or wherever and leave America to us patriots.

      February 20, 2014 at 6:04 pm | Reply
  18. Anti-Oppression

    Disagree with Zakaria. There is a lot that the US govt can and should do to support the Ukrainian opposition, and a lot that the EU can and should do, and not wash our hands because it is in Russia's "sphere of influence." The biggest trade partner for the Ukraine is actually the EU. It is actually in the EU's "sphere of influence" and the US should be the spine and get the EU body to stand up. It is inspirational to see people attempting to throw out corruption, get rid of a thugocracry similar to Russia's kleptrocracy, and make an effort to establish a representative government and system. We also should get off our couches and stop watching the Sochi propaganda facade and support these people by protesting enmasse in front of the Russian and Ukranian embassies and consulates throughout the US and do something constructive for somebody else and us, as it is actually in our interest in the long run to help.

    February 20, 2014 at 6:02 pm | Reply
    • Vitor

      Europe can start by offering 15 billion dollars to match Putin's offer

      February 20, 2014 at 9:52 pm | Reply
  19. chrissy

    @ Ted, he isnt "predicting" anything. If you want a fortune teller you need to look elsewhere.

    February 20, 2014 at 6:28 pm | Reply
  20. Scottish Mama

    Hi chrissy just went on This Just In, found your post on where to go to find you. lol Thanks.

    February 20, 2014 at 8:35 pm | Reply
  21. Scottish Mama

    Ukranian people need a different president. We need a new government too. Like some honest people like Scott Sifton.

    February 20, 2014 at 8:37 pm | Reply
  22. chrissy

    Helloooo @ mama, im so glad you did. Its nice here, grown up talk most of the time ya know? And not at all like TJI lol

    February 20, 2014 at 8:54 pm | Reply
  23. chrissy

    And i agree we do need a new government. And if we vote responsibly we could have that!

    February 20, 2014 at 8:56 pm | Reply
  24. Mr.Butters

    While it is clear the Ukrainian government is severely corrupt. Ukrainians must also realise what it would mean to be accepted into the EU. They would have to change many things to be in line with EU code. Just upgrading all the hospitals could cost 100's of millions. And the big problem, is that the US and Europe are bother recovering from the financial crisis. They can't pay for any of this. Ukrainians would have to pay for it themselves.

    February 20, 2014 at 11:27 pm | Reply
    • Ivan

      Do you have any clue at all? EU is not even in the picture. Nobody cares about EU any more. In fact, there is a huge resentment towards impotent good for nothing EU that did absolutely nothing to prevent this nightmare in Ukraine.
      In fact, I am pretty once this crisis is over, Ukraine will try to be staunchly independent from both EU and Russia. And for starters they will get the nukes: all the technology is there, Ukraine has all the missile and nuclear (and other sophisticated military) technology from the USSR times.

      February 20, 2014 at 11:49 pm | Reply
  25. Ivan

    When Zakaria does not plagiarize, he makes no sense at all. US can do a lot. In fact, it can force the criminal regime in Ukraine to stop murdering protesters within hours. All US needs to do is to freeze the accounts of some 30 people close to Yanukovich family and put liens on their properties in US. That's all it takes. But Obama will make obscene meaning nothing speeches instead. No wonder he has the Putin foot print on his behind. How did he put it? "Tell Vladimir I will have more flexibility after the elections?". That's his flexibility: people who just want freedom and dignity are slaughtered.

    February 20, 2014 at 11:45 pm | Reply
  26. Sandy

    I was born in Drohobych(Western Ukraine)city of salt,oil and muses lined with Carpathian fair-trees.The 80s was very difficult time for us in every aspect our life ,under socialist rule.On Dec.1,1991 the national referendum proclaimed the Act of Independence of Ukraine.For us it was HOPE and according to our poet,T.Shevchenko's words:In my house there's my truth and power and will!".But hope of thousands were betrayed by corrupt leaders.And again some self-proclaimed "patriot" Mr.Klitchko uses People for his own political agendas at this bloody way.EU? modern way for an another form of bondage.

    February 21, 2014 at 8:39 am | Reply
  27. John

    There is zero chance that we don't get involved.
    We were probably involved since day one and will be sure to spread
    our special interest democracy fertilizer all over both sides so a few
    here can get rich.

    February 21, 2014 at 9:19 am | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      Well said, John. Thank you.

      February 23, 2014 at 1:02 pm | Reply
  28. Martian

    The country USA,needs to have a strong leader.Mr.Obama and Mr.Biden are very good in their "Let's move compaign" jogging around WH neither have any capability solving global nor domestic issues.

    March 2, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Reply

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