How to understand Putin's Ukraine strategy
March 1st, 2014
08:57 PM ET

How to understand Putin's Ukraine strategy

By Leon Aron, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Leon Aron is resident scholar and director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are his own.

To understand what motivates Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Ukrainian crisis and how he will proceed, we have to recall two key things about his strategy and his tactics.

First, Russian foreign policy – whether under Brezhnev, Yeltsin, Putin or anyone after him – is informed by three imperatives: Russia as a nuclear superpower, Russia as the world’s great power, and Russia as the central power in the post-Soviet geopolitical space. And a power that is political, economic, cultural, diplomatic and most certainly military.

What differs from one Russian political regime to another is interpretation and implementation, that is, the policies that support these objectives.  Putin’s have been far more assertive and at times riskier than those of his predecessors. The nuclear “superpowership” has been translated into a vehement opposition to missile defense in Europe.  Russia as a great power has been defined largely in opposition to the U.S. and the West in general. And the centrality of Russia in the post-Soviet space has been re-interpreted as dominance and hegemony.

Ukraine’s European breakout – caused by Putin’s first major political blunder in openly and heavy handedly betting on ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, and thus escalating the issue from corruption and thievery to Ukraine’s sovereignty – is hugely important to Putin’s Russia. Why? Because it has dealt a very heavy, perhaps fatal, blow to not one but two elements of the Russian geostrategic triad as defined by Putin: to the "great power" pillar (the West has won in the Ukraine!), and to Russia's hegemony in the post-Soviet space.

From Moscow’s point of view, the double whammy must be mitigated – or better yet reversed – before the consequences become irrevocable and the geopolitical map of Eurasia permanently redrawn.  As a result, for as long as the eye can see, containment, de-stabilization and, if possible, derailment of the Europe-bound Ukraine will be by far the most important objective of Russian foreign (as well domestic) policy.

As to the tactics, in his effectively 14 years in power, Putin has been very lucky both in his domestic and foreign endeavors, in part because of objective factors (when he took over as acting president in 1999, a barrel of crude averaged around $17 a barrel) and in large measure because his opponents, at home and abroad, were politically or economically handicapped.

As a result, Putin has trusted his luck and his smarts while counting on his opponents' weaknesses. This means he has operated in accordance with Napoleon’s principle: On s’engage and puis on voit, which I would translate as “First get into a fight, and then decides what to do."

And that is how he has proceeded thus far,  gradually escalating the pressure on Ukraine, seeing what works and what does not, pausing and looking over his shoulder at the response from the West, primarily the U.S.  From the expression of concern for the safety of ethnic Russians in Ukraine (which proved ineffective), to the questioning of the legitimacy of the Ukrainian government, to the introduction of forces in the Crimea, to his “request” to the Federation Council of the Russian parliament for the “use” of troops in Ukraine. In accordance with his tactical habits, Putin will likely stop now and assess the reaction.  A full-scale invasion and occupation of Crimea is therefore likely to be next – unless the response from the “West” proves effective.

What will that response be? We know (and so surely does Putin) that the U.S. is not going to go to war over Ukraine.  Yet even with the military option off the table, the U.S. still has quite a few diplomatic and economic tools at its disposal, to be deployed publicly and, most crucially, privately.

The U.S. and its allies also must keep in mind that most, if not all, of these measures are aimed not only at Putin but at the elites around him and at the Russian public at large. Dominant though he is, Putin is not Stalin or Brezhnev. Russia is not the Soviet Union, the Iron Curtain is gone – the internet exists and public opinion matters.

The West’s steps are not difficult to divine. To begin, in the public domain, separate statements and phone calls to Putin by U.S. allies would be replaced by a joint statement from the heads of state of NATO and EU countries warning about the “consequences” of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Such a statement should stress that Russia risks isolating itself from the world – economically, politically, culturally – with disastrous results for the people of the Russian Federation.

These “consequences” may have been spelled out in President Obama’s private call to Putin (with an understanding that what is private today may become public tomorrow). Ideally, the conversation would have been one in which the American president was speaking not only for the U.S., but also for NATO and the EU. The president is likely to have pointed out that the risks would involve Russia's membership in the G-8, the safety of financial and other assets of the Russian elite which are located outside of Russia, as well as the ability of the members of this elite and their families to visit, live or study in the U.S. and the EU. In addition, Moscow's behavior could trigger new export controls, which given its dependence on Western technology, particularly in the oil and gas sector as well as in the food industry, could have a very negative impact on the Russian economy.​

Alongside these measures, the U.S. and its allies might also provide – publicly and in private – a few face-saving devices for Russia, such as guarantees that the Russian-speaking Ukrainians will be free from harassment or discrimination of any kind; an introduction of U.N.  peacemaking forces in Crimea to protect the political rights of all  Crimeans, and the reaffirmation of the pre-existing “special status” of Crimea within Ukraine, as well as the continuation of the pre-existing Russian sovereignty of the leased naval base in Sevastopol.

Given the size of the hole that the Ukrainian revolution has torn in the fabric of Russia’s geopolitics, these measures may not stop Russia from attempting to reverse the crisis. But they will certainly convey the increasing costs of the course in which the Kremlin seems to be embarking, and possibly provide a way out without losing face.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine

soundoff (373 Responses)
  1. jammer1297

    Ok, what am I missing? Oh, yeah! What exactly are the economic sanctions the US and the EC can apply against Putin and the oligarchs? I am sure that we can come up with something, like...stoping them from buying up Mayfair and multimillion dollar condos in NY.

    What can Russia do in return? I don't know. How about cutting off gas supplies? What would that do to e EC economy, let alone the lives of Ukrainians?

    The arrogance of policy makers and pundits never ceases to amaze me. First they think they can determine the shape of the future government of Ukraine (see telephone calls of the State Department, recordings thereof) and now they blissfully prescribe unspecified sanctions in apparent ignorance of the importance of Russian gas to Europe.

    God save us from the chattering class

    March 1, 2014 at 9:29 pm | Reply
    • Andrey

      and by EC you mean EU??

      March 1, 2014 at 10:16 pm | Reply
      • Rowan

        Yeah, you have to be a genius to realize that EC stands for European Community.

        March 2, 2014 at 2:54 am |
      • randomguy9999

        Russia could be seriously harmed by economic sanctions, they know that... and oil and gas delivery won't be that much of an issue as the US and our allies have ramped up oil production in the last 6 years and in 2013 we became self sufficient in oil and natural gas production....

        March 2, 2014 at 3:36 am |
      • stephen

        EC was the predecessor to the EU; It's still more accurate in many ways. Before that it was the Coal and Steel organization and other economic ties.

        March 2, 2014 at 9:09 am |
      • j. von hettlingen

        Let's hope Putin has more common sense than Napoleon.

        March 2, 2014 at 6:26 pm |
      • j. von hettlingen

        Napoleon invaded Russia in 1812 and suffered a devastating defeat. Two hundred years later, the world is even more complicated. The more parties involved in a crisis, the more unpredictable the outcome.

        March 2, 2014 at 6:27 pm |
    • metequeholdings

      I don't entirely disagree, but the freezing of the oligarchs' assets would be rather unpleasant for them.

      March 1, 2014 at 10:17 pm | Reply
      • Zippity Doo Da

        But 'freezing assets' just shows that the US government and EU don't respect property rights. What are the US and EU going to do when there is a global boycott of American goods and services? What are they going to do when angry crowds in foreign countries start burning down McDonald's restaurants, and all other rotten US brands?

        March 2, 2014 at 10:23 am |
    • Alex

      There is no one to stop Putin and the gang in Crimea or in Russian-speaking Ukraine. He may take over the Belarus someday too, and die a bigger hero than Stalin in his 90's. But that does not mean that once the oil is replaced with solar and hydrogen in transportation, Russian economy tanks and the Empire will not break up again, and his corps won't be smuggled out of mausoleum as Stalin's was one night.

      March 1, 2014 at 11:04 pm | Reply
      • dirkmudrock

        Yeah, because that's gonna happen tomorrow!

        March 2, 2014 at 5:46 am |
    • I hope you are smarter than you present yourself

      Easy. Sanctions on trade. If placed by the US and EU every single trade agreement the US and EU countries have with other countries will be affected, that would be basically every country Russia currently trades with besides Iran and Venezuela. The citizens of Russia would be directly affected in a negative manner and that could spell the end for Putin's grip on Russia.

      March 1, 2014 at 11:50 pm | Reply
      • русская украинка

        вводите- не умрём! это же не 1941 год!

        March 3, 2014 at 2:06 am |
    • rad

      Sanctions or possible actions ...
      Us may start selling theirs oil and gas to EU half price of RU. and then begin some technological race – first man on mars, best spy u-boot or something similar, at the end rip of Belarus form RU and Kaliningrad region , get them into EU.
      On the other hand I don't understand why we don't see yet any action in other post or almost post soviet regions ... lets get them on theirs feet.
      But when economy will fall down, president P will not hold. Maybe they will eventually start building normal government

      March 1, 2014 at 11:53 pm | Reply
    • Whatdoyouknow12345

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/shifting-energy-trends-blunt-russias-natural-gas-weapon/2014/02/28/7d090062-9ef7-11e3-a050-dc3322a94fa7_story.html

      March 2, 2014 at 1:40 am | Reply
    • Sandvichmancer

      We can't sanction Russia unless Russia and China allow us.

      Sounds about time we call for a vote on whether to keep Russia IN the United Nations.

      March 2, 2014 at 2:19 am | Reply
      • boomboom

        Russia will not survive a boycott of their only export worth anything........

        March 2, 2014 at 9:20 am |
    • neist

      Actually, the West have considerable & significant leverage-economic, political, diplomatic, cultural etc.

      Russia's entire economy depends on selling its gas to EU–EU can buy the gas elsewhere, it can switch to oil (in fact, it switched from oil from Mid east to Russian gas only 15 years ago, & still has the full infrastructure in place. Also, Russian gas only accounts for 20% of EU's energy–most of its energy is nuclear, hydroelectric, oil,& some coal). In contrast, 60% of Russia's economic revenue come from its gas sales to EU. So by cutting off supplies (which it wouldn't bc it'd be shooting itself in the foot by drying up its cash supply), it'd harm itself.

      But, Russia imports most of its products–just as US, Europe etc. do eg. computers, electronics etc. More importantly, the hardware & technology it requires for its gas manufacturing. yes, surprising but almost all of this hardware is produced in the West. Again, Western companies would be losing a lot of revenue by not selling them to Russia, but the overall effect on EU US economies would be negligible.

      But a very big effect would be on the 2-3 million Russian elite (millionaires & billionaire, government officials, military officials etc.) most of whose families & children do not permanently live in Russia. They live, study, or work/have businesses in the West. They are the people on whom Putin relies & they support Putin bc he is the hand that feeds them ith caviar & champagne. Putting severe restrictions on them & their families–travel esp. will hit them directly, & hit them very hard. The last thing a Pro-Putin general or MP wants is to have his son & daughter sent packing back to Russia in the middle of their studies, their bank accounts in Switzerland & UK frozen, their ability to take montlhly vacations to Paris, New York & Monacco taken away etc. These people will begin putting a squeeze on Putin & hopefully force a rethink on whether having Control over Ukraine, or even having any kind of military base there is worth the price.

      March 2, 2014 at 2:42 am | Reply
      • русская украинка

        так что предполагать, действуйте! очень интересно, что последует дальше!

        March 3, 2014 at 2:09 am |
    • russian wish could be their nightmare

      The original Russian capital is Kiev.
      Talking with Russians years ago I quite surprised as to their disdain toward the Khokhols, those simple peasants.
      Keep screwing with your natural allies and they will become your natural enemies.
      The Russians can lead to stabilize or do a land grab.
      Crimea has only been part of Ukraine in since 1954 when the Russian Soviets deeded it over thinking the USSR would never break up.

      March 2, 2014 at 3:37 am | Reply
    • Alaskanbear

      Really...WHAT can we do to Russia? Ukraine has always been theirs and how would we react if Russia was trying to wean Texas out of our arms! The arrogance and stupidity and lack of foresight here of the evil ones playing politics is amazing! Yes, Russia could probably hurt Europe by cutting them off!

      March 2, 2014 at 6:14 am | Reply
    • Glenn

      Your blog entry is arrogantly and poorly written. Sorry.

      March 2, 2014 at 8:16 am | Reply
    • Glenn

      Poorly written.

      March 2, 2014 at 8:17 am | Reply
    • Blakk

      EC means EU but in russian...nice try mr. russian pro putinist 🙂

      March 2, 2014 at 8:37 am | Reply
    • CarlWstCoast

      The western powers should kick Russia out of the G8. Putin wants Russia to be in the game; it should be made clear that to do so, one must play by certain rules. Given their actions, there is no reason for Mr. Obama and the other western leaders to head to Sochi in June and pretend it's business as usual. Mr. Putin will then realize that these activities come with consequences, and that Russia's standing in the world community comes with certain responsibilities, not the least of which is not invading its neighbors...

      March 2, 2014 at 9:08 am | Reply
    • John

      If the extent of your supposition truly lies within the boundaries of your comment, then you know very little of the actual sanctions and consequences held by the U.S. and EU.

      Putin is merely testing the resolve by the rest of the world by determining how far he can reach. Just as the U.S. and NATO will not risk war over the Ukraine, Putin will not actually risk sanctions that would essentially be imposed upon the Russian people.

      He will eventually withdraw the troops.

      March 2, 2014 at 9:26 am | Reply
      • Alex Russian

        I disagree. It's not another Iraq or Syria. It's too close to us (Russia). Evidently US and Europe don't understand this or wouldn't have supported this 'government' so fast . US is far away but Europe... I'm really scared. It's getting unmanageable. The stronger public rhetoric from the West the more likely full scale invasion. Ukraine is too important to us. Much more than Syria, Afghanistan and so on put together. I'm afraid Putin is really ready to go till the end. And everybody should understand the consequences.

        March 2, 2014 at 12:09 pm |
    • Transporter

      So, because you don't quite understand how sanctions would work, they therefore won't work? Really?

      March 2, 2014 at 9:35 am | Reply
    • Hung Trinh

      This is the logical consequence for America voting to elect a community leader instead of a world leader. You cannot protect America's interest aboard if we keep voting for Democrat.
      Democrat and Republican old guard are not the answer for America's future. Please think before you vote.

      March 2, 2014 at 10:07 am | Reply
      • Transporter

        Great analysis. Obama's fault. Wow.

        March 2, 2014 at 10:56 am |
  2. Russia = Stupid

    Russia's military spending is equal to 1% of the U.S. military spending. I am really scared of their 1980 rusting frigate that they have parked in Cuba. Russia will be overrun by China within 10 years due to Putin being a horrible and corrupt leader.

    March 1, 2014 at 9:37 pm | Reply
    • metequeholdings

      The US military spending is bankrupting the US economy, the Russian military spending is a lot higher than you think; Russian has the draft (and thus a quite large army); Russian navy is ALREADY in Crimea, and always was; Putin is no more corrupt than every other russian ruler for the last five hundred years. Do you actually know anything?

      March 1, 2014 at 10:14 pm | Reply
      • Jafo

        We know, you're pro putin.

        March 2, 2014 at 3:03 am |
      • Jafo

        How is US militarty spending bankrupting the US economy? US military spending is only 4.5% of the US GDP. To put it in laymans terms, my funny airhead friend, the US state of California has a bigger and larger economy than Russia and so does Texas. If you take Texas and California and combine them, those 2 states would be bigger economically than Russia and the UK combined. Put it this way, the economy of Atlanta, Georgia, is bigger than the entire country of Ukraine, lol. When you look at these factors, you start to have pitty for Russia and Ukraine.

        March 2, 2014 at 3:11 am |
    • Andrey

      Even though 1% of American military spending seems low, but don't forget that costs in Russian are 10 times less also. Anything from developing a jet to clothing costs 10 times less. So in reality that can buy and develop many more things with this 1% than American can

      March 1, 2014 at 10:19 pm | Reply
      • s

        Don't forget that the US military wastes probably 80% of all the money it receives. They just spent, what, a few billion dollars on uniforms and now they're tossing them eight years later? 15 billion on the f22 raptor, and they're shelving it. All of the money the military has, and they're not even building new tanks. The US military budget goes into the pockets of corporations with little of value to show for it, so comparing our budget to theirs like it's an analog of military capability is grossly uninformed, and shows little to no concept of how our government, or armies in general, function.

        March 1, 2014 at 11:53 pm |
    • Infidi

      Since when is 100 Billion 1% of 700 Billion? Did you fail third grade math?

      March 2, 2014 at 1:58 am | Reply
    • Russian wish could be their nightmare

      1%??? Are you insane or just stupid?

      4.4% of GDP, third largest military behind the US & China.

      The US does not have to do a thing to come out top. Ethically we should prevail on the Russians eating this elephant will destroy them in the long run.

      If the Russians screw this up, they will create their next long term enemy on their border and push the Ukrainians solid into the European Union.

      March 2, 2014 at 3:49 am | Reply
      • Hung Trinh

        I am agreed with you strategy. However, The West are so depend on Russia for their energy consumption. Russia will raise their energy price to support their domination goal. Just like we depend on China for cheat price that we sold our future to them. China will used the similar strategy as Russia did.
        Our government already declared Tibet is part of China. It is so sad.

        March 2, 2014 at 10:16 am |
    • Transporter

      You play too many videogames and watch too many movies.

      March 2, 2014 at 9:37 am | Reply
    • Hung Trinh

      They may have a rusty hardware and weapon. However, they are the best chess player in the world.
      Compare their current leaders and our leaders, We have no change.

      March 2, 2014 at 10:23 am | Reply
      • Dennis

        The U.S. has not had good leaders for some time,and Russia has not either.In fact,few countries have good leaders nowadays with the ability to negotiate or intervene in a crisis like this.Not since the Presidency of JFK has the U.S had leadership with the ability to diffuse or quell a crisis of this level.

        March 2, 2014 at 10:44 am |
  3. cdub

    This article is way off. Putin isn't isolating himself, and the U.S. has no diplomatic weapons other than maybe buying less crude oil and that really affects us more. Putin has the BRIC council for world trade, military, and economic support. If nothing else, they certainly have China and most of the Muslim world. They won't stop trading with him just because we ask nicely. We can't do anything and our President knows this. His lack of presence at the G* summit will probably make Putin more happy than agitated, so that strategy is pointless other than to get out of work. I don't know the right response, but this weak one is certainly not it.

    March 1, 2014 at 10:03 pm | Reply
    • Greg

      Then resort to plan B. Schedule a nice little meeting between Putin's motorcade and a drone's payload.

      March 2, 2014 at 2:16 am | Reply
      • Rowan

        Offff, as always, average americans that are exceptionally strong on words! And then those word strong americans get their asses kicked by 50 lb Somalians!

        March 2, 2014 at 3:01 am |
    • Russian wish could be their nightmare

      It all sounds like the superbowl ring, act II.

      March 2, 2014 at 3:52 am | Reply
  4. calripson

    What ever happened to self-determination ? If the eastern half of Ukraine wants to separate from the western half so be it. No problem with Slovakia and the Czech Republic separating, no problem with a forceful NATO led dismemberment of Yugoslavia. Whichever half of Ukraine holds power means the other half is being wrongly subjugated.

    March 1, 2014 at 10:05 pm | Reply
    • cdub

      Thing is if they separate then the capital loses access to the port, and that is a very, very important naval port. Look at most empires and how they started and you will see that each empire's capital/start were near water. If Russia takes the southern region- as well as the east considering where Russian troops are spotted-then Kiev and the east will become land-locked. Resources will then deplete to the point that they will have to join Russia again just to stay afloat as the EU and west will most likely turn a blind eye-as they already seem to have done like with the Georgia incident.

      March 1, 2014 at 10:14 pm | Reply
      • jeremyhornephd

        Aaaagh, Alfred Thayer Mahan lives – still! Love it!

        March 1, 2014 at 10:21 pm |
    • metequeholdings

      You are not entirely right. The Russian and Ukrainian populations are heavily intertwined, and have been for centuries, so the separation you suggest would need to be accompanied by rather painful ethnic cleansing.

      March 1, 2014 at 10:15 pm | Reply
      • cdub

        The country will split, Putin will move more Russians into the western areas, and then he'll come for the rest under the same premise that he's taking the southern region. When he starting allowing and moving such a large mass of Russians into the southern region years back, I don't see how they didn't see this coming.

        March 1, 2014 at 10:26 pm |
      • Russian wish could be their nightmare

        The original Russian capital is Kiev, 1200 years ago. Very intertwinned.

        March 2, 2014 at 3:56 am |
    • heebeejeebee

      Ah well if South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Virginia, Louisiana, Tennessee, Kentucky, North Carolina, Missouri, Arkansas and Texas want self-determination... wait a minute... that didn't work out so well. Actually I'd be all for Texas going away again.

      March 1, 2014 at 10:32 pm | Reply
  5. Morik

    Moscow's readiness to escalate the crisis in Ukraine reflects panic – sure and weakness, not. When Obama hit the reset button, that turned off the sanctions put in place by President Bush because of the invasion of Georgia. Russia controls all the roads including the one to the space-station. Panic?

    March 1, 2014 at 10:14 pm | Reply
    • cdub

      I would think if anything it reflects confidence. Putin knows he has the backing of several muslim countries as well as any communist country including China and the BRIC council. I doubt Russia is panicing. I believe Putin is testing Pres. Obama and that proverbial "red line" and he knows that the President won't do anything. Boycott the G8? Would probably make Putin happy.

      March 1, 2014 at 10:19 pm | Reply
  6. jeremyhornephd

    Aron has overlooked two elephants in the room: China and alliances with other major industrial countries. No longer is it a world of two superpowers but several, i.e., a multi-powered world. For example, while one does not think of the country as such as probably isn't anywhere near a factor in this dispute, Mexico is about 12th or 14th down from the top of industrialized countries. We, of course, have Brazil, Argentina, etc. Don't forget Iran, Venezuela, and others. Sanctions are not as easy as before, and dependence upon Europe and the US for economic vibility not as much an issue as before. The hegemony the EU and the US think they has over the world may not be as secure as is thought in their arrogant capitals.

    March 1, 2014 at 10:18 pm | Reply
    • cdub

      Also the man is attempting to create a currency to combat the dollar. Looking at every country that has tried to do the same (Lybia, Iraq, ext.) and what happened to them, and compare that to the fact that we can't really touch Ptuin the same way and I'd say he's probably pretty confident. If he gets this naval port, he'll own Ukraine (see my earlier post for why) and that's one more country that will be using the BRICs currency and one more shot at the dollar. I'm afraid we have some turbulence ahead.

      March 1, 2014 at 10:22 pm | Reply
  7. Michael

    Crimea has always been Russian. To suggest that Putin taking back Russia is a geopolitical catastrophe is to ignore the reality on the ground. The residents of Crimea speak Russian, and the vast majority would adhere to Russia in a heartbeat. The real question is what to do with the other major eastern cities, and cities like Odessa? Putin certainly has some idea of what he needs, and what he wants. He will settle for getting what he needs.

    March 1, 2014 at 10:38 pm | Reply
    • Russian wish could be their nightmare

      I was quite surprised the Crimea stayed with Ukraine after the breakup of the USSR. It is their major southern naval base. Ukrainians only got it because the Soviets thought it was good politics in the 1950's to move it from Russia.

      March 2, 2014 at 4:01 am | Reply
    • Russian wish could be their nightmare

      putin is being putin, the guy who steals a superbowl ring, parts of Georgia, and a few other property thefts.

      March 2, 2014 at 4:03 am | Reply
    • Brian

      I think you are correct. This does not involve us, so Obama should speak his peace and be done with it.

      March 2, 2014 at 9:42 am | Reply
    • Hung Trinh

      Are you going to give up Alaska to Russian too?

      March 2, 2014 at 10:18 am | Reply
  8. iouri

    for now small part of Ukraine became not Ukrainian; any shot fired? life lost? Independent Crimea is good first step. As for sanctions-what does Russia have to buy from West to survive?
    traveling sanctions to officials-will only solidify nationalism in Russia and policies of money investment at home rather than abroad.
    I see few options for west as to quietly sit and watch the show. By the way was there any politician injured during Maidan?

    March 1, 2014 at 10:39 pm | Reply
  9. Brian

    Putin may have painted himself into a corner here. If he has larger goals of essentially recreating the Soviet Union, and annexing the Ukraine, he should have done it yesterday via blitzkrieg–this is no logistical reason why this couldn't have happened if that is what he wanted. The US / NATO wouldn't have been able to stop it. If he wanted to move the Ukraine (as a whole) away from the West, this will have the opposite effect, at least in Kiev. If he wants to sever the Crimea from other Europe-leaning parts of the country, and redraw the map, this could have been done behind the scenes through (other) political puppets, and he showed too many cards with open invasion, and other political forces will move to prevent that from being worth his while. This move seems out of character for Putin–I wonder if he was goaded into it by other voices close to him, or at least moving before he initially intended. Psychological research shows that as you age, inhibitory ability decreases...

    March 1, 2014 at 10:41 pm | Reply
  10. KJ

    Putin will get a plebiscite from eastern Ukrainians legitimizing the Russian occupation. The Russians will occupy Ukraine at least up to the Dnieper River, quite possibly parts of the west bank, certainly greater Kiev will be occupied as far up the 535 highway as is practical. Possibly as far as Korosten. Odessa might also be occupied.

    The EU will inherit a burden in the western Ukraine, little or no industry and damn poor infrastructure. Heck, the Lvov Kiev rail line is not even electrified. The people are basically good but divided ethnically with small active groups of nutjobs and radical types.

    The unspoken truth is nobody wants anything to do with the westerners. They will become a large population of what will basically be slave labor to Poland and the rest of the EU. There is little effective that NATO, et al., can do to stop Russian aggression, including military force.

    March 1, 2014 at 11:08 pm | Reply
    • Brian

      I think that is a reasonable analysis, KJ, and I could see this as one potential outcome. Is that really what Putin wants though? It seems that the disadvantages in terms of the larger diplomatic picture would outweigh any gains in territory or infrastructure-now they have Russian military occupying the Crimea, but that was there already and before it was with a smiley-face and a puppet government–now they've given Europe and the US an excuse to mobilize diplomatic and economic forces against them; what was gained? If they attempt more aggressive military action, their 'humanitarian' motives as expressed at the UN will be undermined and they won't risk a spiraling escalation. It just seems like they would be better off fostering revolution in the Crimea behind the scenes; they're portraying the pro-Western groups as outlaw fascists (cf WWII), but if they keep the status quo as it is now, it will seem like the other way around, at least on the world stage.

      March 2, 2014 at 12:04 am | Reply
  11. John

    Technology has increased exponentially since the end of WWII. We, the EU, Russia, China, and all countries on this technology express will soon be near or at our next technological leap. It is going to take us to places never before imagined, especially with the new "N", not nuclear technology, but rather NANO. At this critical juncture in our world's history we must look to peaceful, forward thinking ways of solving the crises in a world out of sync on peace.

    March 1, 2014 at 11:14 pm | Reply
  12. Mike

    Your mention of Brezhnev? He has no consideration as related to Post-Soviet Russia? I think you mean Gorbachev.

    March 2, 2014 at 12:44 am | Reply
  13. knarayana

    There was an article by a British Ambassador who served in Russia during 1987-89 which suggested that EU and US are to blame for the mess in Ukraine and gives an outline of Ukraine's cultural and political leanings from 100 years ago. I think it is important for the US to diffuse the situation. We cannot do much as we have proven that we cannot even solve the terrorist problem from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Long boasts aside, the US influence has significantly declined under an overbearing State Department which perhaps has high school drop outs doing foreign policy. The US must encourage the Ukraine's political leadership to seek accommodation with Russia and to coexist. At the same time EU should seek ways to influence Ukraine's with its economic and cultural help. Obama may talk big, but American economy is so deeply in trouble, US cannot do much in the outside world. The reason we are running out of Afghanistan is because it is costing us money. Another adventure elsewhere, US will be another Soviet Union of yester years. Yes, American's can delude themselves of their great capabilities, like out state department. But there is very little that we can do, realistically with Russia. It is big enough to cause eye sores to US.

    March 2, 2014 at 12:53 am | Reply
    • Brian

      I think it's pretty tough to 'coexist' with a neighboring power that has just sent military forces inside your borders, regardless of the ethnic situation there. They'll uses the 1994 treaty to leverage diplomatic & economic support, even if there is no chance of US military action at this time (nor should there be). But neither seems in Russia's best interest. Obama needs to work with Putin to find a face saving way to reaffirm Crimea's "special" status within the Ukraine, they'll be a referendum for a new leader there with pro-Russian leanings, but Kiev can still call it "Ukraine". Putin can go back to inserting his puppets, and EU and the US will have to live with that.

      March 2, 2014 at 2:15 am | Reply
      • Rowan

        Brian, are you born stupid or inability to read and understand has made be it? What occupation are you referring to? The population of Ukraine consists of 58% Russians. The percentage of those who claim Russian language is their mother tongue is 75%. What part of that don't you understand?

        The Western world used the Ukrainians from the west of the country as experimental monkeys and threw them in the hole that has no bottom. It's just a matter of time when those people of west Ukraine used for political goals will say f*** both EU and US!

        March 2, 2014 at 3:20 am |
  14. pogogyne

    Russia views the Crimea as the pudendum of its Black Sea naval power. Putin feels no shame warming the pool....

    March 2, 2014 at 1:08 am | Reply
  15. Bob

    "Russia risks isolating itself from the world – economically, politically, culturally – with disastrous results for the people of the Russian Federation."

    Really? There is something to be gained by the West isolating Russia? They have all the natural resources they need to run their own economy. Their technology is top rate. They only buy tech from us cause it's cheaper; they can make it themselves if they have to. For markets and partners, they'll just turn to Asia, the Middle East, South America and Africa if Europe and North America turn away from them. As for the elites that miss their vacation homes in Miami, they are replaceable – just ask Khodorkovsky. Culturally, it's a stretch argument to say the West is ahead of Russia.

    Just don't see how ostracizing Russia for protecting its own backyard is going to do us any good.

    March 2, 2014 at 1:34 am | Reply
    • Jafo

      Yet, the US State of California has a bigger and better economy than Russia. Heck, California is even set to surpass the British economy in 2019.

      Sure Russia can sustain itself on carp, bread, and oil. But sooner or later, the people will get sick of carp, brad, and oil. Russia is trying to run itself into the ground. With Putin taking the controls. Do you even know what you're say? Are you retarded? Take your nose out of Putins butth0le, friend.

      March 2, 2014 at 3:32 am | Reply
  16. Stephen Cohen

    What a crock! Lets face it both Obama and Putin made a deal. The big issue here is Money. The US, EU and the UN does not and will not bail out Ukraine who is broke and unable to meet its debt to Russia.

    At the same time, Russia is owed a lot of money by Ukraine due to their purchase of energy, Energy that is necessary to keep their people warm.

    This is a win win for Putin and for the Ukraine people. Ukraine get rid of a criminal president and gets the necessary energy they need to heat their businesses and homes.

    I have been to Kiev many times and I have had some wonderful times over there.

    March 2, 2014 at 2:27 am | Reply
    • Jafo

      Putin is weak and pathetic. He's only hurting the Russian people with his game. Because the Internation community will punish Russia, with the USA leading the way. Russia was making stardom in the G8, now that stardom has come to a bleak halt. Russia will have to resume selling weapons to bananna republics to make end meet. Like I said, the russia people will be the ones who suffer.

      March 2, 2014 at 3:27 am | Reply
  17. hugh angell

    Aron's analysis is spot on. I would only add that because the EU is weak at present, its ability to act is severely constrained and Obama's ability to lead has always been a question mark. Further, I has sensed an unsettling undercurrent amongst Euroskeptics on the left and right to actually sympathize with Putin's challenge to the EU. I wouldn't call it Hitlerian style appeasement but , on the right, a sense that Putin opposes multiculturalism, and on the left that Putin is against the capitalist/banker class that has become ascendent in the west. That Putin is far more anti-democratic than the EU and leads a corrupt oligarchy of billionaires seems to escape their notice.

    March 2, 2014 at 2:48 am | Reply
    • Jafo

      You're a retard. I dislike people who belive in what they make up. Facts exist for a reason.

      Fact: Russia will get kicked out of the G8. And this will only hurt Russia. The West wanted this. And the West has won. They put Putin in the corner, and now he's making mistakes, that will only cost him and the people of Russia. This thing has been brewing for a long time, and its climax was Syria, with Snowden being an extra thorn. This is nothing but a chess game, and we'll all read about it later. When the next US President offers russia another reset switch. Like it or not, but Putin has screwed up russia, just to make his point. And Russians see this.

      March 2, 2014 at 3:38 am | Reply
      • Tim

        bahahahahahahahaha You my friend are the idiot... Russia will be kicked out of the G8.... hahahahaha didn't even need to read further to know you have no clue what you're talking about. but hey its a fact... hold on breaking news Russia was just kicked out of the G8 lol, thanks for making me smile this morning.

        March 2, 2014 at 12:22 pm |
  18. Jafo

    Atlanta, Georgia, has a bigger economy than Ukraine. And the state of California has a bigger economy than Russia. Yet, the US State of California only accounts for 15% of USA GDP. Yet, Russia is fighting for Crimea, which is less powerful than Nicaragua, lol. We should all feel sorry for Russia, and let them have it, lol. This is a country being desprate, lol. Sending a 150k man Army to invade a country, about as powerful as a bananna republic, lol.

    March 2, 2014 at 3:22 am | Reply
    • Junior

      You do not what are you talking about. The US IS BROKE AS HELL. WE FOUGHT TWO WARS, AND TAX CUT FOR MIllionaires. The US middle- class is almost wipe out. College Grads working in Mc Donald to make ends meet and huge they have to payback to U.S government.

      March 2, 2014 at 9:29 am | Reply
  19. nobody gives a shat

    WHo cares? take Ukraine. Take georgia. Take the *stans too.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:08 am | Reply
  20. gork platter

    If the goal is to get Russia to back down and get out, the answer is to get NATO inside Ukraine. Not to fight Russia, mind you, but to become the obstacle that Russia must contemplate whether it wants to escalate a war against the West.

    So how would you accomplish this? Have Ukraine invite NATO to lease agricultural land to transform into NATO bases, and place them across the river from Crimea. Then, whether or not Ukraine gets invited into NATO, President Obama and NATO would issue press releases announcing a $100B investment into MEADS (missile defense) to be built and installed along the exterior borders of its members, by the end of 2015. Finally, while Russia is preoccupied with Crimea, also announce US plans with Britain, France and others to end the war in Syria by creating a demarcated line and splitting Syria up.

    It's an asymmetric game plan, one in which Russia has to determine its priorities and just how much it wants to risk escalation into a war that it can't win, but would most certainly see its own lands split.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:30 am | Reply
  21. Cyril Dene

    How hypocritical is the USA? The USA launched 2 wars to "protect its interests" in lands that were thousands of miles away. Why was tha ok, but not this?

    March 2, 2014 at 5:51 am | Reply
  22. Joe the Stack

    What I do not understand includes:
    – why we are all so ready to accept Russian military action as a way to "resolve" its problem with Ukraine
    – why so many people do not understand that every dollar in the US defense budget is a dollar that will never appear in any other budget. Things like transportation, scientific research, education, health care, mitigation of pollution and carbon buildup; these are a few things that come to mind as examples of what and who loses when defense wins.
    – why we are still sort of at odds with Russia even though they aren't even communist anymore!
    – why we are buddies with China – a country with the worst human rights in the world for a country of that size. And are they still communist? If not, when did that stop?

    Military intervention means killing people. This is madness. We are truly the most social species and also the most violent species in planetary history. It doesn't have to be this way. All we need for a better future for all is a simple change of minds.

    March 2, 2014 at 7:37 am | Reply
  23. Andrew, NBC

    Now, the worlds stands with Russia. US fooled the world with UN (Chinese-Ban Ki-Moon), China and S.Korea. FRANCE and GREAT BRITAIN should be leaders for NATO, not USA. Because of US faults, NATO member Great Britain lost HONG KONG to China.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:16 am | Reply
  24. z

    The people of Ukraine have managed to oust their corrupt, mismanaging, incompetent president (something the people of the U.S. can't seem to do) When governments (including Russia), realize the people far out number the "leaders" they will understand future governments are truly going to be of the people.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:18 am | Reply
  25. IdiotsAbroad

    The writer of this is kind of an idiot to underestimate Putin

    March 2, 2014 at 8:26 am | Reply
  26. Blakk

    What US and EU could do, is to SUPPORT runaway countries in their pursuit for freedom from russia.
    Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia etc. DO NOT WANT to stay under pro-russian government or under direct russian control.
    and in current state- US and EU should block all russian government assets in US and EU banks.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:40 am | Reply
    • Tim

      umm actually most of the population in the states you've mentioned do want to stay with Russia, but you have no clue... I understand

      March 2, 2014 at 12:28 pm | Reply
  27. John

    As immigrants came to this country to gain a foothold in freedom, there should be no dismay over a nation striving to get a foothold in a free world.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:43 am | Reply
  28. Just a thought...

    Seems that the Europeans should be leading the response. Is this going to be policy of appeasement (again). Didn't work out to well the last time with Hitler.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:56 am | Reply
  29. muttmutt

    Responding to several posts on this board: We, US and allies, certainly can [and should if things progress] impose some economic and political sanctions on Russia, but we need to consider the feasibility and repercussions.
    Imposing sanctions that make life tough on the citizens of Russia can also be used as a tool by the Putin government to foment anti-west resentment internally and thus gain support to act more boldly.
    A concern I think is also our announcement to make large cut in our military. We don't seem able to learn from our past mistakes in this area. After nearly every conflict we have reduced our military and nearly every time been caught with our pants down.
    Furthermore what message does this say to other counties – ally and antagonist ?
    Surely countries like Russia, China, N Korea will feel somewhat emboldened as they continue to grow their military assets and capabilities.
    Allies may be a little nervous as we ask them to stand up in tough situations that surely will continue to present themselves. Future tensions over the worlds resources and geopolitical alignments will likely only become more intense.
    I realize the economic concerns of this country [US], but this is not a good time, and there may not be in foreseeable future to considerably cut our military.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:09 am | Reply
  30. G_Edwards

    Pres Obama would do well to read this.

    .

    March 2, 2014 at 9:38 am | Reply
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