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.

Post by:
Topics: Russia • Ukraine

soundoff (373 Responses)
  1. Lysette

    The simple answer here is now for Ukraine to request Nato led UN forces to assist it, with the explicit intention of ensuring that all the civilians of Ukraine remain safe pending new externally monitored elections and referendums by the people of Ukraine on what they want for their nation. Putin will wait to see what happens next – and if German soldiers with UN shoulder tags suddenly appear in Ukraine, then he will know pushing further will be one step too far. It is legitimate to position forces to protect civilians. But if someone else is protecting the civilians at the invitation of the host government, then that legitimacy evaporates.

    If I was the German chancellor, I would get a UN nod and send in troops to Crimea and formally thank Putin for taking swift interim measures to ensure the absence of bloodshed – i.e. a face-saving way out for Russia, but getting them back to their bases before someone makes a mistake. And they should keep the bases for now – after all they paid for them, you can't realistically just wish away major bases, and there really should be new elections before region defining decisions are made. Should Crimea be a separate nation? I'd get the people who live there to vote on it, because if they don't make the choice on their own, things will get far worse.

    March 2, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Reply
    • Peter

      Let's ignore the total unmitigated sillies of that suggestion. But even your starting point is ignorant of the facts. How exactly is anyone going to get UN approval? Are your forgetting (did you even know?) only the Security Council can authorize such action? Did you know that Russia can veto this?

      March 2, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Reply
      • Gyos

        Totale agree. UN willnever athorize this is strong political and economical pressare we have to put on. Putin has to realize that Russiq exists in an economically integrated world not anymore behind a curtain and not respecting international laws brings negative effects.

        March 2, 2014 at 5:35 pm |
    • smjhunt

      You're forgetting one little fact. Russia has veto power in the UN Security council. As far as NATO led goes, remember that neither China nor Russia, two members of the Security council are members of NATO and both actually oppose it. You can forget UN action and Putin knows it. In fact you may also be forgetting that Russia was crucial to getting whatever minimal progress has been made on Syria such as destruction of chemical weapons. They are also in a position to defy any sanctions against Iran. Putin is betting that neither the U.S. nor Europe really wants to go to war with Russia especially over the Ukraine which is not of vital interest to either of them. You're thinking is a product of years of Republican neo-cons who see war as a cheap effective alternative to diplomacy. It's amazing that after the terrible human and economic costs of Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention the meager gains the US got from them that you are anyone can with a straight face suggest a military response in a situation like this.

      March 2, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Reply
    • Johnny G

      German soldiers? German soldiers??
      Surely you might see a small problem with that?

      March 2, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Reply
  2. Alen

    All world's power leaders were well aware of the Crimea card being played by Putin and his hawks from the military intelligence ( they did it multiple times in Chechnya, Georgia, Moldova, Latvia, Estonia etc.)after pro-russian corrupted criminal Yanukovich was ousted by Ukrainian people from power.
    Stakes are extremely high. It's all about Putin's contradictions with civilized world and his personal ambitions towards ex-soviet countries.
    At the same time, while the Ukraine has been declared its independence and became free from huge nuclear weapons stocks, major world's powers like USA, Great Britaine, Russia, France and China garanteed country's integrity and security in front of posible external threats by signing respective Memorandum in Budapesht, Hungry.
    Once Putin has decided to invade Ukraine by military force, he has broke the Memorandum and didn't meet his obligations with accordance with mentioned above agreement.
    It means, that the rest super powers mentioned in Budapesht Memorandum have to take action and protect Ukraine against any military aggression on Ukranian soil.
    NOWADAYS UKRAINE NEEDS HELP FROM ALL FREEDOM LOVING NATIONS AGAINST PUTIN'S AGGRESSION BEFORE BLOODSHED TAKE PLACE!!!

    March 2, 2014 at 3:42 pm | Reply
    • Khalid

      I'm no fan of Putin, but didn't Yankuvich win the elections fair and square?! How would Obama feel if Republicans occupied the streets of DC and government buildings to force him out?! Is this a new way of Democracy that we've to accept the ruling of the loud, angry and armed mobs?! And let's not forget, Russia agreed to the deal signed between Yankuvich and opposition leaders, which took them a day to throw in the history bin. Seriously, why are westerners blaming Russia for the failures of their own Western leaders?! It beats me.

      March 2, 2014 at 5:47 pm | Reply
      • necronicus

        Yes, that is a question that Western leaders will simply ignore and refuse to answer....

        March 2, 2014 at 5:52 pm |
      • smjhunt

        He did but after the massacres he was impeached. Americans know all about that process.

        March 2, 2014 at 6:19 pm |
      • McSimych

        Absolutely right. Besides there were nazi gunmen among those who undertook the coup in Kiev. How should American president act if he were in Putin's situation? It seems sometimes that US and NATO would condemn Russia anyway and approve any actions directed against Russia.

        March 2, 2014 at 6:52 pm |
      • dfgdfghdfgh

        dfghdfghdfghdfghdfhdfhdfh

        March 2, 2014 at 6:52 pm |
      • Chako

        Russia didn"t agreed to the deal signed between Yankuvich and opposition leaders- russian representative refused to sign it.

        March 2, 2014 at 7:06 pm |
      • jammers

        you are right! that's what i want to say

        March 2, 2014 at 7:41 pm |
      • Pepe

        Don't forget that Yukanovik, before beeing elected, had promised to become or undertake a pro-UE policy totally the contrary he has done when he was ellected.

        March 2, 2014 at 8:04 pm |
      • Pepe

        Don't forget that Yankuvich, before beeing elected, had promised to become or undertake a pro-UE policy totally the contrary he has done when he was ellected. (Best regards from Catalonia, Spain)

        March 2, 2014 at 8:06 pm |
      • Pepe

        Don't forget that Yankuvich, before beeing elected, had promised to become or undertake a pro-EU policy totally the contrary he has done when he was ellected. (Best regards from Catalonia, Spain)

        March 2, 2014 at 8:07 pm |
      • chris

        Whatever strategy the West applies without addressing the question raised by you Ukrainians will not feel justified if the pro-Russian supporters are considered as Ukrainians in the definition of the EU and US. If the pro-Russian supporters are not Ukrainians then Russia did the correct thing.

        March 2, 2014 at 8:47 pm |
      • ed

        Remember this. In a democratic world the people has the authority to elect the kind of leader they want be. But they can also do something against you if you're doing against the good of the majority. In other words "It's the government of the people for the people and by the people. The people is the boss. And you know what it means.

        March 2, 2014 at 9:28 pm |
    • Sergei

      Putin has no contradictions with the civilized world. There is dissent ask for permission on everything from the Western partners. But behave so most heads of state. Or not?

      March 3, 2014 at 7:32 am | Reply
  3. Keith B Rosenberg

    Russia also thinks in terms of keeping the European states and their allies as far from their border as possible.

    March 2, 2014 at 3:48 pm | Reply
  4. Bamiyani

    it s simple , yes he has Hitler strategy ! and he can,t understand nothing just fist! all the world people and also all of Bamiyan citizens are with Ukraine, we Afghanistan people , hate Russia and soviet union !

    March 2, 2014 at 3:54 pm | Reply
    • Peter

      Did you notice that the Ukraine used to have a legitimately elected (sanctioned by EU observers) government that was deposed by the "fist" a week ago? So as usual when you like the people doing the deposing it's a revolution, when you don't it's a coup.

      March 2, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Reply
      • fred

        Well put

        March 2, 2014 at 5:44 pm |
      • Ianis

        No, you are wrong with it. Parliament was elected and it is still here. Because of protests, old pro Kremlin coalition dissolved and new one was formed.

        March 2, 2014 at 7:46 pm |
    • olivier

      I totally agree with you sir, the similarity with Hitler strategy is incredible, to invade countries like Austria by saying " to save them from the west " every time doing a propaganda as a saver , our problem is that we are in Europe and United States REAL democracy , and therefor, we cannot fight back until we are "directly" hit , i am reading the memories of Winston Churchill , and it is obvious.Gratefully with you from France : Olivier Legrand

      March 2, 2014 at 6:01 pm | Reply
  5. karl

    I am a EU citizen. please tell me what gives you(US) a rights to slaughter people in afganistan,iraq, and all that in name of american freedom, and now to moralise over russian action.not everybody wants american freedom you know,or russian

    March 2, 2014 at 3:56 pm | Reply
    • Ianis

      No one nation has killed more people than Russia/Soviet Russia. Starting from massive red terror of 1920s to man-made famine in the Ukrainian SSR during first half of 1930, mass killings of 1937-1940, annexation of parts of Poland (together with german friends), Baltic countries in 1940 with mass murders and deportations of local people, deportations of Crimea tatars, invasion in Afghanistan, etc. after WWII, list of "frozen conflicts" in 1990s, mass killings of Chechens in 1990-2000s and now "blessed imperial expansion" towards Europe. Do you see that its size of 1/6 of world has been acquired by constant expansion, annexation – grim process, during which local people are either killed and replaced by Russians or undergo heavy russification to the point they become Russians.

      March 2, 2014 at 8:06 pm | Reply
      • Moonshine

        wrong! European colonists once slaughtered almost 500 millions of native Americans, new DNA studies revealed that genocide! but this is too complicated topic for your brain to digest.....

        March 2, 2014 at 11:20 pm |
    • Pepe

      Karl.. I am a Spaniard (better say Catalan) from EU and I prefer the EU/USA freedom than the "Russian freedom". I am not sure you are from EU.... Where from Europe are you? Are you enjoining a real democratic country?

      March 2, 2014 at 8:11 pm | Reply
  6. Oleg, Kharkiv, Ukraine

    Cui prodest – for whom it advances… Who mentions “neo-nazi Ukrainians” most often in their rhetoric? Was the West that allegedly financed “neo-nazi Ukrainians” so stupid not to understand the consequences? Considering what’s going on right now in the Crimea (and what is to follow), Kremlin is the most likely origin of financing as they now have a plausible pretext for the invasion.
    Meanwhile, there are Russian troops amounting to a few thousand now in the Crimea, with some 60%-70% UA military facilities blocked or brought out of operation.

    March 2, 2014 at 3:56 pm | Reply
    • fred

      that's one stupid post. you are allerging russia sponsored the same neo nazis who met with senator McCain to act against an elected leader they supported

      March 2, 2014 at 5:51 pm | Reply
  7. krehator

    Putin wants to restore the Soviet Union.

    March 2, 2014 at 3:57 pm | Reply
    • McSimych

      Wouldn't American president like to restore the United States if they had disintegrated into independent states?

      March 2, 2014 at 6:57 pm | Reply
  8. Tom Mones

    Thes is very simular to Hitlers opening moves when he moved into Austria.

    March 2, 2014 at 3:59 pm | Reply
  9. desertvoice

    I do not think that Putin cares what the West thinks about Crimea. It was precisely there, in Yalta, that Stalin imposed 44 years of supjugation on Poland, never even asking what Churchill anr Roosevelt thought. Those Poles who disagreed, were systematically eliminated! Now the karma ricohets back in Crimea! Once again, Putin acts exactly as Stalin did: he imposes subjugation on Crimea itself, without asking whether the people want it of not!

    March 2, 2014 at 4:04 pm | Reply
    • karl

      people in crimea wants to come back to russia. Nikita Hruscov gave that russian teritory to the Ukraine in 1965. the russian fleet had their base there for 300 years,it was russian land for eons. I supose that the best thing to do is that putin ask obama for permission. well if you dont know,putin is one sick motherf...even more than your president. if you can sloughter children in Iraq,so can he in Crimea

      March 2, 2014 at 4:14 pm | Reply
      • Gyos

        Dear Karl I am sorry but nobody really asked Crimea citizens what the wanted to do. Russia sent commandos and
        invaded and because thy new this was totally illegal they even tried to avoid Russian soldiers to be identified .

        In Crimea the new government was elected with armed pro Russians occupying parliament and forcing the vote. The coming referendum will be of exactly the same no real value as Crimea is now militarily occupied and any dissent and opposing vote will be impossible.

        But there is no way this terror strategy we repair the blow that Putin had in Ukraine and this will only accelerate the process of Ukraine joining EU and NATO and will be isolating even more Russia by scaring any former Soviet Union nations.

        Instead of looking at WW2 or Soviet era you should have a look to contemporary European Union that has been able to maintain peace for over 50 years. Former enemies like France and Germany, after fighting and killing each other's for centuries, are even integrating armies to have a common defense policy after integrating their economies in a free market.

        March 2, 2014 at 6:13 pm |
      • Ianis

        In fact, Crimea was exchanged for Belgorod. Russia received Belgorod, Ukraine – Crimea.
        Regarding demographics, its is about 50:50, russians to non russians in Crimea, because of Tatars returning to their land. Last census was 13 years ago and there were decrease in Russian population from 67% to 58% from 1989-2001, so by the moment we can assume it is about 50% or less, so it was last moment for Russia to annex Crimea.

        March 2, 2014 at 8:22 pm |
    • Peter

      Not exactly. Churchill traded Poland for Greece. It was the British army which "suppressed:" the Greek leftist partisan units who were in the majority. That was the deal. There were entire Greek villages of refuges in Hungary for example.

      March 2, 2014 at 4:47 pm | Reply
    • Sladjan

      And we had been wondering when you've robbed Kosovo. Almost a dance began.

      March 2, 2014 at 6:45 pm | Reply
  10. Vlad

    I wonder, what people here think of US invading numerous other countries on our memory? Also, why would Russia feel happy to have NATO on its borders considering that within past 200 years Europe has invaded Russia twice.
    Were US and NATO in general shown understanding of Russia sensitivities form the very moment USSR fell apart a lot of things that you are complaining about would not happen.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Reply
    • McSimych

      I don't quite understand why NATO continues to exist after Warsaw Treaty had been closed down. NATO should either have been dismissed or include Russia.

      March 2, 2014 at 7:07 pm | Reply
    • Ianis

      Small difference: USA never stays in invaded countries, Russia always annex them.

      March 2, 2014 at 8:27 pm | Reply
  11. Evgeniy

    After following the news about this so called invasion for days, both in east- and west european media, as well as US one, I really wonder about a number of things:
    1. Why do the so called free media in the west show just that side of the conflict (i.e. armed forces killing "peacefull" protesters etc.), the same way the so called puppet russian media does, but vice versa?
    2. Why the so called free western world does everything possible to demonize Putin, compare to Hitler etc, the same way the soviet propaganda did during cold war time?
    3. Why does the so called western world keep showing the double standards, i.e. invading X is to bring democracy, Russia invading whatever is agression? Or not letting US invade Syria is bad, but letting radical islamist terrorist take over there is absolutely ok?
    4. Last, but not least, why should the US solely represent the whole western world, and who exactly elected the US to be the world's peacekeeper, so that some guys in the white house only can decide on military actions, embargos, etc. all over the globe?

    Hope all thinking people here, and all over the western world can think over those points every time before posting unargumented comment, or reading a biased article... Instead of focusing on muscle flexing between the russians and the us in Russia's backyard, think about the bloody protests in Turkey, or the terrorist actions in China, or go threathen North Korea the same way. Just to show that the double standards' story is not true

    March 2, 2014 at 4:29 pm | Reply
    • Erki

      So please tell us about the other other side. Have any of the Crimeans been killed or their lives been threatened?
      Is the violence more likely to break out with the presence of Russian armed forces or without?

      March 2, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Reply
    • fred

      Good luck finding one media outlet in the West which is professional enough to tell both sides of the story. We saw policemen set on fire by protesters but I wonder if American citizens saw that. In the States those armed protesters would have been gunned down. People in the US and UK get shot for holding a remote control or mobile phone for heaven's sake. The hypocrisy and lack of shame is what astonishes me

      March 2, 2014 at 5:59 pm | Reply
  12. karl

    list of countries bombarded by US after ww2
    China 1945-46
    Korea 1950-53
    China 1950-53
    Guatemala 1954
    Indonesia 1958
    Cuba 1959-60
    Guatemala 1960
    Belgian Congo 1964
    Guatemala 1964
    Dominican Republic 1965-66
    Peru 1965
    Laos 1964-73
    Vietnam 1961-73
    Cambodia 1969-70
    Guatemala 1967-69
    Lebanon 1982-84
    Grenada 1983-84
    Libya 1986
    El Salvador 1981-92
    Nicaragua 1981-90
    Iran 1987-88
    Libya 1989
    Panama 1989-90
    Iraq 1991
    Kuwait 1991
    Somalia 1992-94
    Bosnia 1995
    Iran 1998
    Sudan 1998
    Afghanistan 1998
    Yugoslavia – Serbia 1999
    Afghanistan 2001
    Libya 2011
    please, give the russian some moral words

    March 2, 2014 at 4:35 pm | Reply
    • supercreature

      Karll,

      Your forgot Pakistan in the list.

      March 2, 2014 at 4:49 pm | Reply
    • derek

      U.S hypocrisy every one must respect a country's sovereignty except the U.S who can do what they like, American murderers – war mongers – criminals – terrorists in every definition of the words

      March 2, 2014 at 5:11 pm | Reply
    • xpert

      and nearly all of them have improved as a result. Also what has that got to do with the current situation. We are not playing "i can if u can".

      March 2, 2014 at 5:13 pm | Reply
      • derek

        America just leaves lots of dead bodies behind with the only surety of lots more to follow, and the point is the hypocrisy of America politics, always trying to overthrow governments, murder elected leaders, kill women and children by remote control and on and on it goes, hope some one brings ye to book for it someday

        March 2, 2014 at 5:28 pm |
    • Ianis

      Which of these countries were annexed by USA, replacing local people by Americans?

      March 2, 2014 at 8:31 pm | Reply
      • Stan

        Which countries were annexed by the USA? None – because they were thousands of miles away! The object was not to replace the population by Americans but to put in a puppet government so that they could steal the countries' resources and establish bases in strategic locations.

        March 2, 2014 at 10:42 pm |
    • SHP

      You forgot Iraq and Syria (thanks to Putin it's non bombed yet)

      March 2, 2014 at 10:12 pm | Reply
  13. John

    In 1970 my Psych 101 professor spoke of a time in the future when computers would be made much smaller, more powerful, more affordable, and in nearly every home. He cautioned that this new mode of communication would stress its users in various ways, and from that stress may come unhealthy anger, and miscommunication. There are some well thought out posts on this thread. Perhaps it is time to put speculation aside, and embrace not what is different in all of us, but rather that which is alike in us. We inhabit a pearl of our galaxy, a peaceful planet, in want of people of peace to make it complete. Peace Earthstronauts!

    March 2, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Reply
    • Ivo Wolger

      Bravo John

      March 2, 2014 at 6:11 pm | Reply
      • John

        Thanks Ivo 🙂

        March 2, 2014 at 7:31 pm |
  14. alex

    EU cant do nothing when bullets there start flying the gas stop flowing...GAME OVER for west in evry way!

    March 2, 2014 at 5:09 pm | Reply
  15. Paulo Simardi

    The most important thing is to recognize that current Ukraine is a divided country :the East are pro- Russia and the West pro- EU.and USA
    The UN has to step in, announcing a referendum and letting them decide what to do.
    It is very clear that Ukraine, nowadays, is not a single nation.

    March 2, 2014 at 5:17 pm | Reply
    • Ivo Wolger

      Agree with you. This decision must be exclusively political

      March 2, 2014 at 6:13 pm | Reply
  16. Clavers

    I don't know how Mr Aron can write this article without even discussing the possibility that Russia will attempt to annex the Crimea, and possibly other parts of Ukraine. If Putin cannot control Ukraine as a puppet state, the next best option for his is to tear off the most strategically valuable pieces of territory where there is a substantial pro-Russian element in the population.

    It is likely that Putin, after taking control of the streets with his formal and possibly informal military forces, will then propose and carry out a referendum in Crimea on transferring to Russian sovereignty. Of course, the referendum would be run in traditional Russian style, at which Putin is already expert. The result is therefore a foregone conclusion.

    A good counter-move by Ukraine would be to hold a nation-wide referendum on the total expulsion of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory.

    March 2, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Reply
  17. Julia, Russia

    With full confidence I can say thank you Obama, thanks to you, I had become from the enemy of Putin to his supporter. And I'm not the only one. You did not need touched the Ukraine, we are friends with Ukraine more then 1000 years. Do you wanted this?? With love from Russia. Julia.
    P.S. nothing personal Americans, just for politicians.

    March 2, 2014 at 5:38 pm | Reply
    • Julia, America

      *waves to fellow Julia*

      No offense taken. I've actually been very interested in hearing more Russian opinions on this matter. None of us common folk (from any country) desire conflict, of course. What are your thoughts and feelings as to what's going on? Personally, I despise Putin's actions on many fronts (no offense to you or the other people of Russia). Would you care to share more opinions on his politics? Again, I'm very interested. Thank you for joining the discussion.

      March 2, 2014 at 6:01 pm | Reply
      • Eugene (Russia)

        I apologize in advance for my foreign language skills. Writing a letter with Google Translator. I live in Russia, 80 km from the border with Ukraine, read a lot of comments on this site, writing residents of your country. And I saw enough surprising number of comments related to the fact that Putin planned to seize the Crimea for more financial gain. I can totally confident to inform you that it is absolutely not true!I think that the media: TV, radio, press facing Russia and the United States' foreheads "- is visible to the naked eye. Rumored organizers Artificial Revolution in Kiev is the U.S. PTO and, in turn, said that the organizers of the riots is Putin, although it is not so! I can say with 100% accuracy say that Putin asked for permission to send troops to Ukraine in order to protect the Russian population is imminent danger to the West of Ukraine. Additional funding does not need Russia, a country rich in resources. Therefore, the idea of ​​capturing the Crimea Putin's not logical. No offense =) Do not believe the mass media! They are facing our state for war! Information warfare has already begun. Now there is mass brainwashing towards assigning peoples hatred for each other. Yours faithfully, your friendly friend from Russia.)

        March 2, 2014 at 8:28 pm |
      • Eugene (Russia)

        Putin good president and has done a lot for our country. To blame the mass media.

        March 2, 2014 at 8:34 pm |
      • Eugene (Russia)

        Sorry, but still would like to add. People of Crimea voluntarily wishes to attach the territory to Russia, because everyone wants to protect their home and family, and this is possible only if they have their territory will belong to the Russian Federation. Everything else is a performance!

        March 2, 2014 at 8:42 pm |
      • Ask

        Protests against Ukrainian freedom movements and revolution look so old school, so staged, there are lot of advertisements in Russia social sites, where "fit people with military experience" are hired for "tourist" work in Ukraine. For example, district government at Kharkov were attacked and Russian flag placed on it by "local protesters", who in fact arrived from Russia (one were so stupidly proud to post pictures on his page). There are thousands of them being sent to Odessa, Donetck, etc. It is typical KGB style tactics to create visibility of "peoples movement". Anyone born in SU can quickly see through these lies.

        March 2, 2014 at 8:49 pm |
      • Gulius

        Eugine, thank you so much for your response! I value it greatly. Google Translate is doing a good job (I think, lol).

        Some of my responses to others have been dissappearing. It is probably just because of my mobile device.

        I understand that the South and and East Ukraine would like to join Russia (I mentioned this in a previous comment that didn't go through) and think they should be allowed.

        One moment. Before I add to this, I'd like to see if this comment goes through, as a test.

        March 2, 2014 at 8:57 pm |
      • Gulius (Julia, America)

        Okay, Eugene. Give me another moment, and I'll respond further. For the record, I was also making comments as Gulius earlier.

        March 2, 2014 at 9:00 pm |
      • Gulius (Julia, America) (also Julia C)

        Eugene, I never thought Putin organized the riots, nor did I hear that from our media. But I agree with you: our respective medias twist truths. I heard that your media is saying that the West Ukraine was threatening the lives of particular factions or ethnicities of Russians, and our American media is telling us that it is a lie. Who do we believe? It's best for us small people to band together to discover the truth.

        As most Ukranians (South and East) want to join Russia, I think they should be allowed. The West Ukraine was offered a very good deal, but turned it down...

        March 2, 2014 at 9:11 pm |
      • Gulius (Julia, America) (also Julia C)

        Dear Ask, thank you for your reply! That's very interesting, particularly the ads.

        Eugene, I personally side with West Ukraine, if I were forced to choose, but again, if the South really want to join Russia, I think they should be allowed to become part of that beast, and allow the EU to embrace the West.

        Putin's actions put everyone on edge. He's violating promises. Russia is a superpower, and capable of wreaking havoc on the world if provoked. We need and want Russia to remain calm, to not hasten to nuclear weapons that will destroy us all. Russia is a sleeping dog. While this dispute has nothing to do with nuclear weapons, it also has everything to do with them. Conflicts between major countries are always a preemptive threat in this manner. Russia, especially.

        Albert Einstein was once asked what WWIII would be fought with. He responded that he didn't know what WWIII would be fought with, but he that he did know what WWIV would be fought with: "Sticks and stones."

        March 2, 2014 at 9:27 pm |
      • Vitaly, Russia

        I believe, that generally author's analysis is pretty good.
        Mr Putin doesn't really care about russian-speaking population of Ukraine, because if he worried, he would send russian troops not only to the Crimea, but also to other pro-russian parts of Ukraine such as Donetsk, Dnepropetrovsk, Harkov and others.
        The main reason is to save naval base in Sevastopol and thus to save influence of Russia in the Black Sea Region.

        In addition, we should keep in mind, that Ukraine is on the brink of economic precipice. Predictably, if russians do nothing, new Ukranian anti-russian leaders can allow to create NATO military bases in exchange for financial help. That is likely to lead to disastrous effects on safety of Russia.
        To sum up, both russian and european leaders do not care of ordinary people. They just want to outwit each other in complicated geopolitical game and to keep probable enemy as far as possible from their own borders.

        March 3, 2014 at 2:19 am |
      • Julia, Russia

        My opinion is that we all are hostages in a big political game. USA in the person of its President made a bad political move, wanted to expel the Russian fleet from the Crimea. For this to prepay $ dishonest Ukrainian politicians, who staged a revolution in Kiev, thus divided the people of Ukraine into two parts. The next step was to enter NATO in Ukraine and hence the output of the Russian Navy from the Crimea. Problem was, that would involve revolution neo-Nazi "right branch". Thus enabled Putin to show his power, and not let NATO in Ukraine. And most importantly, Russians and Ukrainians – a single whole, a common history, culture, mixed families one big pain to fight the Nazis in the second world war. We cannot be artificially separated. And no matter how hard now, Russia is not against the independence of Ukraine. We won't take Crimea. We have only strengthened links with the Crimea, in the near future the issue with the Russian Navy did not arise. Russian soldiers will never shoot from the weapon at the Ukrainians, it is even not funny that so far Putin is viewed as some second Stalin. He is an ordinary man.

        March 3, 2014 at 4:09 am |
      • Eugene (Russia)

        Gulius, I'm sorry for the long answer, you can answer only 1 time per day. I will try to answer some questions. People in western Ukraine are experiencing hatred speaking population for quite some time, and in that moment, when people in Western Ukraine seized power in Kiev, they said that all Russian-speaking population displace violence, and for the kick hit Crimea and and for the kick hit the entire southeast Crimea and Ukraine, Russian speakers here because more than 85%. People southeast of Ukraine did not accept the new government, and at the moment a lot of people run live from Ukraine to Russia in order to protect their families from violence. Nuclear Posture Review -> In Russia, none of Civil people do not know the number of nuclear warheads. I unfortunately did not possess any information on this subject. But I think the experience is not necessary, warheads for many years used only for peaceful purposes.but if someone do not act remediable, then the human race will be destroyed. I am sure that no one can take responsibility for the disappearance of humanity ... As for Crimea, people just wanting to protect their families, but without protection, they will not survive. I do not have any information that people lose their lives in the Crimea, but yes, the people of Crimea threaten people of Western Ukraine violence because they speak in Russian language.

        March 3, 2014 at 7:38 pm |
      • Eugene (Russia)

        I am sorry, but in Russia there is no advertising "which requires people with military experience! work in ukraine" This is complete nonsense! People who have served in the army are mainly working in security is reconciled, and remain to work in Russia because the salary is much more than abroad. ))))

        March 3, 2014 at 7:53 pm |
      • Eugene (Russia)

        Gives the impression that the situation in Ukraine is someone's writing a script for a long time.

        March 3, 2014 at 8:02 pm |
  18. Martin

    A good analysis of Putin's motivations.

    Ii seems clear that the current move by Putin is primarily all about securing the Russian naval base at Sevastopol.

    “On April 27, 2010, Russia and Ukraine ratified the Russian Ukrainian Naval Base for Gas treaty, extending the Russian Navy's lease of the Sevastopol base for 25 years after 2017 (through 2042) with an option to prolong the lease for another 5 years (through 2047). The ratification process in the Ukrainian parliament encountered stiff opposition and erupted into a brawl in the parliament chamber.

    Eventually, the treaty was ratified by a 52% majority vote—236 of 450. The Russian Duma ratified the treaty by a 98% majority without incident.[27]"

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sevastopol#Russian_naval_base_and_ownership_dispute

    Note the closeness of the 2010 vote in the Ukrainian parliament (52% majority) and the fact that the debate was so heated there was a brawl on the floor of the Parliament.

    If that vote were held today after the recent turmoil and the expulsion of the Russian-oriented President, there is little doubt the vote would be defeated.

    I suspect that Putin believes those now in charge in Kiev had already decided to cancel the Sevastopol lease. Putin regards Sevastopol as strategically critical and will not contemplate its possible loss.

    Annexing the Crimea or at the least assigning this territory a ‘Special Status’ would secure this strategic chess piece and the surrounding squares.

    What is likely to happen?

    There will either be war, that Russia will eventually win, or there will be a decision to cede Sevastopol and the surrounding territory to Russia in perpetuity, although this will probably be done under the guise of a new 50 year lease. Putin has thought this through and seems to have decided that permanently assigning a ‘Special Status’ to the Crimea would be the best long term security option in terms of Russian control of the Black Sea. This ‘Special Status’ would be implemented prior to Russian withdrawal from the Crimea, assuming there is a withdrawal.

    March 2, 2014 at 5:40 pm | Reply
  19. tilek

    Why do you think that US cares enough about Ukraine to threaten Russia as heavily as you described?

    March 2, 2014 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  20. Luc from Belgium

    Putin made one mistake, probably the first huge political blunder he ever made: he supported an extremely corrupt president (Yanukovic) in a country that is divided in two massive groups: pro-russians and pro-EU people. A president of such a country should take care about the unity instead of being busy with steeling from the poor Ukrainea people. If Yanukovic played his role as a president of all Ukraineans and if he was doing all his best to give a future to Ukrainean population, than there would be not such a problem. But Yanukovic preferred to be the Putin of Ukraine. There were Tsars in Russia (although they were also killed finally) but there never was a Tsar in Ukraine

    March 2, 2014 at 6:03 pm | Reply
  21. John

    I'm from Ohio. Let's say for arguments sake Ohioan was a language only spoken here. Next door are the Indianians, Pennsylvanians, WestVirginians and so on. So we mingle we get along, pick up on each others unique language mostly for tourism and trade. Because of our fluid borders settlements are made first for trade, and then for homesteads. We're getting along for hundreds of years, our populations increase, and then one day people we accepted long ago start to rub us the wrong way. At first it's bickering, then pushing and shoving, demanding and denying, and then one day Bam, it's an all out free for all. I do believe the WashingtonDCtonians would have stepped in by then but let's say they held back, and cautioned us to settle our differences. Nope, we're talking ethnic pride here. The WashingDCtonians conduct trade on the Great Lakes, as we and our neighbors with shoreline do. I would guess the WDCT's would come in and secure the area. While that was going on, I also imagine rumors would fly rekindling embers of previous fires lighting them off again.

    At what point does the peacemaker decide, in spite of world opinion, that enough is enough? Is the Ukraine at that point yet? I don't know. I hope not. Wow I can't stand any ones basic rights being infringed on anywhere. I hope this ends in a win-win. You know with all the recent crises, we need a win-win to restore faith in humanity's ability to settle differences without violence regardless of who steps up to the plate to make it happen,

    March 2, 2014 at 6:23 pm | Reply
    • Gulius

      Are you the same John that hailed the bartendender on page three? If so, I believe you only desired one drink. I lost you a bit in the analogy, lol, but I agree with your sentiments. - What a mess. And here's to not wanting basic human rights infringed upon anywhere. Cheers to the seemingly impossible dream of world peace.

      March 2, 2014 at 6:48 pm | Reply
      • John

        No, I'm another John but thanks, even I get confused by my analogies. If Russians have been in the Crimea as residents for so long, I'm just "guessing" they may have felt threatened enough to warrant this...guessing...but a political diplomatic solution would put the world at rest. We went into Granada to protect our people. Crisis after Crisis gets a bit wearing on me, no matter whose it is. I long to see peace for my children and grandchildren and those of all people before I die. The majority of people on the face of the Earth at this time will be gone in 100 yrs. I hope we're spoken well of then.

        March 2, 2014 at 7:52 pm |
      • Gulius (Julia, America) (also Julia C)

        John, I wrote you a long response earlier; unfortunately, it did not go through. Our sentiments are the same in hoping for diplomacy and a better world.

        March 2, 2014 at 9:33 pm |
      • John

        Hi Gulius, Thanks! It's nice that we share this sentiment as I've seen also here by others, and imagine voices yet unspoken. I too had some posting problems...perhaps particular words...nothing bad..some kind of auto check...guessing. 🙂

        March 2, 2014 at 10:54 pm |
  22. John Weberz

    Putin & Merkel agreement = "Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact" ver.2.
    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molotov%E2%80%93Ribbentrop_Pact)

    March 2, 2014 at 6:35 pm | Reply
  23. AladdinSane

    Article doesn't consider the most obvious motivation. Putin wants to protect Russians living Crimea from a fascist gang that just violently took power from a democratic government. The US doesn't respect democracy when it suits it.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:36 pm | Reply
  24. Denys Ukraine

    Without help of the wetern countries, half of Ukraine would be occupied by Russian troops. You will a have a new "cold war", new Soviet Russia near your borders. I read some news from western media about "neo-nazis" in Ukraine. I was shcoked then I see it. Russian propoghanda is even in Europe and USA... The truth is – we don't have a real Ukrainian nazis. Almost 90% of nazis in Ukraine are ethnic Russians or Russian-speaking Ukrainians!
    Stop Putin or years later he would be a much bigger problem

    March 2, 2014 at 9:12 pm | Reply
  25. rene

    The situation between Crimea and Russia is similar to the situation between USA and Texas during 1845.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:59 pm | Reply
  26. Robert

    Because the Russians really indifferent to the situation. Therefore come to the Crimea. Russia backs away, from whom does!

    March 2, 2014 at 10:49 pm | Reply
    • Ivan Venke

      thank you Robert . look, what is actually happening in Crimea. http://on.rt.com/c2vk93

      March 2, 2014 at 10:55 pm | Reply
  27. Ivan Venke

    Ukrainers are our brothers and sisters. We share the same kulture and religion. We all were baptised in Kiew's font. And Mr. Putin want to protect those russians uranians who are threthened by nationalists. All this OFFICIAL information you can get from Vitaly Churkin – russian representative in New Yotk (UN) and other officials.

    "We share the same biology
    Regardless of ideology
    Belive me when I say to you
    That Russians love the children too" (Sting)

    March 2, 2014 at 10:51 pm | Reply
  28. Ivan Venke

    look, what is actually happening in Crimea. http://on.rt.com/c2vk93

    March 2, 2014 at 10:54 pm | Reply
  29. Ivan Venke

    on the other hand there is an information that all what had happened in Ukraine is a planned criminal and actions of terrorists. http://on.rt.com/zdg0n0 This means that the people who are in power now – are illegitimate

    March 2, 2014 at 10:59 pm | Reply
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