March 2nd, 2014
01:44 PM ET

How U.S. should respond to Russia

By Fareed Zakaria

In a strange act of historical coincidence, it is 60 years ago this week that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev handed the Crimea over to the Ukraine. It might not have seemed a big deal in those days – everyone was part of one big, unhappy Soviet Union. But that act has created today’s geopolitical crisis.

Russia has now made its move. It has essentially detached Crimea from the Ukrainian government’s control. What remains unclear is what Vladimir Putin wants to do with it. Incorporate it into Russia? Use it as leverage to negotiate a deal with Ukraine? Both?

In any event, Washington’s response should be clear and forceful. Russia has violated all kinds of laws and norms, including most crucially, a treaty that it signed with Ukraine guaranteeing that country’s borders, in return for which Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons.

For Washington, for Americans, for people around the world, it would be a terrible precedent to allow issues like this to be resolved not through diplomacy, but by force. If Russia could detach parts of neighboring countries with impunity, won’t other great powers like China decide that they too can act in such ways?

So what can be done? Well, for starters President Obama should cancel entirely his attendenace at the G-8 summit to be held in Sochi in June. He should try to persuade the other major powers to follow suit. Russia’s membership in the G-8 should be suspended. Remember,  the G-8 was created to recognize that post-Soviet Russia was behaving like an honorable member of the international community, not a rogue state . If the behavior has changed, Russia’s status should also change.

Militarily there is less that can be done. After all, Russia’s military budget is about 18 times that of Ukraine. But NATO should restart talks on providing assurances to countries like Poland – including perhaps building the missile defense system that was abandoned.

In economic terms, Washington and the EU should consider the only sanctions that would be effective: ones targeted specifically at individuals who could be held responsible for these acts of aggression against Ukraine.

Washington cannot do much to stop Vladimir Putin as he creates facts on the ground in Crimea. But step back and consider what a strategic disaster this is for him. Ukraine has slipped out of his orbit and most of the population there is going to be hostile to Russia for generations. Countries like Poland that had eased up relations with Moscow will now view it with great suspicion. All European countries will put their relations with Russia under review. Even China will surely oppose the brazen violation of national sovereignty, something Beijing is always concerned about. Within Russia people have seen that Putin is terrified of a democracy movement and will brutally oppose it, not really the image he wants to present.

So Putin gets Crimea, which is only 60 percent Russian. Parts of it will be deeply hostile to this Russian takeover – including the population of Crimean Tartars, who are Muslim and getting radicalized. Remember, Crimea is in the Northern Caucasus, the area where Russia has been battling a ferocious Muslim insurgency.

So even as he lines up one more piece – or half piece – on his chessboard, Putin will find that the price he has paid for it will be quite high.

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Topics: Fareed's Take • Russia • Ukraine

soundoff (1,638 Responses)
  1. Tom

    Obama's response will be what it always it....threaten, draw a line, back up, repeat. The community organizer is so far over his head he's way beyond simply being clueless.

    March 3, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Reply
    • skarphace

      Thus far, the "community organizer" has kept the US out of any large scale wars. I am pretty sure he will keep us out of this one as well, although it may set a bad precedent to allow Russia to usurp the Crimea region of the Ukraine.

      I only wish your hero, W. Bush, had been as good of a leader. Two wars and a great recession? The "community organizer" left that guy in the dust.

      March 3, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Reply
      • Bryan

        If by keeping us out of large scale wars, you mean being the air force in one that blew up in our face, and getting blocked by public opinion from joining another.

        March 3, 2014 at 4:34 pm |
      • Marina

        What? Name one "large scale war" of the 21 century that went without the US involvement.....

        March 3, 2014 at 4:35 pm |
      • skarphace

        Merina, I was referring to the time when Obama was POTUS, not all of the 21st century.

        March 3, 2014 at 4:43 pm |
      • skarphace

        Bryan, I would in no way consider the Libyan conflict as a "large-scale war", unlike Afghanistan or Iraq. In addition, if the US had gotten involved militarily in Syria, then it would have resulted in a large-scale war. This, fortunately, did not happen. Although, one could argue that it emboldened Russia to the point where it felt it could annex the Crimea region of the Ukraine.

        March 3, 2014 at 4:49 pm |
    • Bryan

      Yep. Cancel the meetings! We are serious. Cancel the meetings! No wait, we want meetings! Diplomacy first. Why won't they come to our meetings!

      March 3, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Reply
      • Marina

        skarphace, thanks to Putin Obama did not have to bomb Syria.

        March 3, 2014 at 4:49 pm |
      • Marina

        Bryan, are talking about Russians not coming to the meetings? If yes, then it is strange.... Putin been talking on the phone with Obama, Merkel, and others every day since the conflict began, and they meet with European representatives and Foreign Ministers of European countries all the time.

        March 3, 2014 at 4:52 pm |
  2. Bryan

    Oh, NOW we should build that missile defense system. Two weeks ago that was supposedly an antagonistic provocation from Bush, and Obama was right to cancel it. I'd like to have a new website. Fareed arguing with himself through some sort of time machine. And the "radicalized" Tartar comment. Really? Has even been to Crimea? Does any of that population look radicalized? I mean, Russia is taking it, and there isn't even one shot fired. Three years from now he'll be whining about the economic sanctions he wants and how they aren't productive to diplomacy.

    March 3, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Reply
    • skarphace

      Two weeks ago Russia had not invaded the Ukraine.

      March 3, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Reply
      • Bryan

        3 Days ago Fareed said it was unlikely there would be an invasion. The man is a true lilliputian.

        March 3, 2014 at 4:35 pm |
      • Marina

        Did Russia ever invaded Ukraine? What are your sources? I would like to read it.

        March 3, 2014 at 4:56 pm |
    • Okoh

      Bryan, build it and let a new arms race begin. It serves no useful purpose since it has widely been reported that Russia can overwhelm such system. Everyone needs to take a step back and come to the table to work out this issue to the satisfaction of all keeping in mind that Russia may never give up Crimea and their military interest there which they have had for more than 200 years. Let's be real here. Inciting words are just that – words- military planners knows there are no military option against great powers like Russia unless we all plan to end the world in world war III over Ukraine. I doubt it.

      March 3, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Reply
  3. Yaakov Sullivan

    Why doesn't Mr Zakaria raise the same concerns over the US when facing Israel's violation of international law, its occupation, expansionism, that has ben going on now for over 5 decades? Was not the overthrown government of Ukraine the legitimate elected government? If so, and they were overthrown by the mob, then how is this different that Syria? Further, Crimea may be close to the North Caucausus but it is not part of the same territory as Chechnya or Dagestan. Further, we the attempt to exclude Russia from the G-8, Germany would not agree.

    March 3, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Reply
  4. Yakov Pachepsky

    It is sad to see that the lead CNN commentator has no idea about the location of Crimea. "Remember, Crimea is in the Northern Caucasus, the area where Russia has been battling a ferocious Muslim insurgency." He might at least look at the map. If he does not know where is it, why should I believe that he knows what is he talking about?

    March 3, 2014 at 4:45 pm | Reply
  5. sirhuxley

    Fareed, seriously we don't run the world.

    The USA unilaterally invades whomever it wishes, and we do whatever we want when it comes to defending our interests.

    Russia is doing the same, the Ukraine is their back yard, and Russia is armed to the teeth.

    Also, and this should be carefully considered, the USA scares the heck out of the rest of the world with its Jumbo Upsized Military Machine, its willingness to view itself as beyond reproach, and the very worse part of our global persona is our legions of delusional xtians who stand Zombie-like in Megachurches rhythmically waving their hands, praying for the Apocalypse.

    Until we grow up and become a rational sane country that is focused on solutions through innovation, instead of stealing oil resources, we have no leg to stand on.

    March 3, 2014 at 4:46 pm | Reply
  6. Challenger

    There are no 8 G. There are only 2: Russia and USA

    March 3, 2014 at 4:48 pm | Reply
    • Challenger

      China could add later

      March 3, 2014 at 4:50 pm | Reply
  7. palintwit

    " Analyzing anything Sarah Palin says is like trying to read into the secret messages you think your cat is leaving you when it rips up the toilet paper or pees in your shoe. It's pointless and you will only drive yourself slowly insane, babbling to yourself while your friends beg you to go outside and get some sunlight or something. "

    March 3, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Reply
  8. Charles France

    How should the US respond? Answer: Please please invade Canada!!!!!

    March 3, 2014 at 4:59 pm | Reply
    • capit

      what's your thinking behind that bizarre statement?

      March 3, 2014 at 5:55 pm | Reply
      • Bill R in Oakland

        Why invade Canada? Because it's a war nobody would expect and it's one we know the U.S. could win 😉

        March 3, 2014 at 7:03 pm |
    • satty

      What Canada has done buddy? Just send back Bieber, won't that enough!

      March 3, 2014 at 6:03 pm | Reply
  9. The Mayor of MEdinah

    Putin could care less what President Obama or John Kerry has to say or even do.

    March 3, 2014 at 5:03 pm | Reply
    • JJ

      The US and Nato are preparing to push Russia back to their borders by force.

      March 3, 2014 at 6:04 pm | Reply
  10. Really?

    The USA has an agenda in other countries that involves controlling oil field contracts and corporate/economic interests not human rights. At the core of our foreign policy that is our strategy. Human rights barely ranks in American interests.. Look at the obscene human rights violations going on all over the world that the US doesn’t give a second thought.

    March 3, 2014 at 5:09 pm | Reply
  11. JJ

    We can't afford , literally, anymore wars.
    Economics is the answer.

    March 3, 2014 at 5:12 pm | Reply
  12. brian

    Zakaria's little essays make him look like a high school English student.

    March 3, 2014 at 5:12 pm | Reply
    • Ted

      More like madrassa student.

      March 3, 2014 at 6:54 pm | Reply
      • Tim

        Ted, you're a racist.

        March 3, 2014 at 7:03 pm |
  13. mylesgarcia

    Very sensible analysis. Well, Putin shows his real colors after the Games of Sochi. Once a KGB agent; always a KGB agent.

    March 3, 2014 at 5:13 pm | Reply
    • bob

      Z makes no mention of the fact that the US intentionally subverted the elected government of Ukraine, when it voted against EU membership according to the following leaked conversation: “…the United States has already spent five billion dollars ($5,000,000,000) to subvert Ukraine.” — Victoria Nuland, U.S. Asst. Sec’y of State (wife of Robert Kagan, former advisor to Bush, the lesser).

      March 3, 2014 at 7:00 pm | Reply
  14. sam

    it's none of our bidness!

    March 3, 2014 at 5:14 pm | Reply
    • GHynson

      Ukraine is an Ally to Western Europe and NATO.
      What' the point in having alliances, when your allies turn their backs on a member in need?
      So,.. being a member of NATO, it is the US's "business".

      March 3, 2014 at 6:48 pm | Reply
  15. palintwit

    " Well Sarah Palin would like you to know that she was right, IDIOTS, and who is even laughing now! Also, she added, “flimmer globbin salumission anye enya rumi raffi tinkywinky dipsy laa-laa po spiritu christo jeanne claude OW!” because that was when the copperhead that she was handlin’ for Jesus struck. "

    March 3, 2014 at 5:14 pm | Reply
    • Party of Yes

      Lol. I couldn't have said it better myself!

      March 3, 2014 at 6:50 pm | Reply
  16. chrissy

    The US needs to stay out of this other than maybe humanitarian aid to Ukraine! No one has asked for an intervention by the US and if this country decides to interfere than we are no better than Russia! Although...i wouldnt object at all if McCain and Graham wanted to go over there and try their hand at directed things! Good riddance if ya ask me! And take Palin with ya johnny!

    March 3, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Reply
  17. Fish

    I disagree entirely the G8 must be detached from this situation as this is an internal struggle and the G8 is about global players ad issues!! To elevate this ruckus to global status is to negate Russian sovereignty and slap Putin publicly. Continue on with the meetings as planned, congratulate Russia for a great job on the Olympics then schedule a follow-up with Putin afterward but at least treat him as an equal!!!

    March 3, 2014 at 5:18 pm | Reply
  18. Oh_No

    How did we expect Russia to react when we invaded Iraq?

    March 3, 2014 at 5:26 pm | Reply
    • Bimbo the Birthday Clown

      Well put, Oh_No. It's alright for us to invade a sovereign country like Iraq but go ballistic when the Russians invade Crimea which has a Russian majority. Just where is the American "majority" in Iraq? Non existent!

      March 3, 2014 at 5:32 pm | Reply
      • Bloat24

        Except there was no agreement with Iraq to respect their sovereignty in exchange for their nuclear weapons program. It's comparing apples to oranges.

        March 3, 2014 at 6:50 pm |
  19. telecastle

    Crimea is in the Caucasus in Fareed's head – the same way as Syria is a landlocked country. It's embarrassing, Fareed.

    March 3, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Reply
    • telecastle

      Fareed Zakaria, "Remember, Crimea is in the Northern Caucasus, the area where Russia has been battling a ferocious Muslim insurgency."

      With political advisors like this, which I'm sure Fareed is advising Obama, it's better to read CNN forums to educate oneself than to listen to advisors like Mr. Zakaria.

      March 3, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Reply
  20. gerald

    Lets stop all imports of Russian goods, all travel to russia, all purchases of oil and gas. Lets do something about syria and russia's backing of assad.

    March 3, 2014 at 5:35 pm | Reply
    • telecastle

      and let Europeans freeze their rear ends next winter.

      March 3, 2014 at 5:41 pm | Reply
    • capit

      totally. let's show russia by example just how wrong it is to invade other countries by .... invading another country.

      March 3, 2014 at 6:24 pm | Reply
  21. sly

    Republican reaction to the Russian invasion was swift:

    "Lets shut down America again, that may help"

    March 3, 2014 at 5:37 pm | Reply
  22. Val G

    In 1982, at a special session of General Assembly of United Nations, the USSR pledged not to use nuclear weapons first, regardless of whether its opponents possessed nuclear weapons or not. This pledge was later abandoned by post-Soviet Russia. The Russian military doctrine today is much more dangerous. According to a Russian military doctrine stated in 2013, nuclear weapons could be used by Russia "in response to the use of nuclear and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it or its allies, and also in case of aggression against Russia with the use of conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened

    March 3, 2014 at 5:42 pm | Reply
  23. Get Real

    This is easy, this should be the start of our answer to all the world, "Sorry to hear that, wish you the best, give us a call and let us know how it turns out. Bye."

    March 3, 2014 at 5:51 pm | Reply
  24. Brent

    I disagree that there is so little the US can do militarily. The US and our NATO allies should send troops into Ukraine and guard the Ukraine/Crimea border. Nothing says "guaranteeing your security" like the United States Marine Corps with Air Force cover. I fully agree with using sanctions against Russia, but I think the US and Europe should be more forceful. A total EU/American trade embargo would cripple Russia and cause the Russians to rise up against their dictator. (Oh wait, I forgot. He was "elected".) If the US and Europe are serious about resisting this unprovoked occupation then we would both be better off taking rapid, decisive, and unambiguous action.

    March 3, 2014 at 6:01 pm | Reply
  25. We have enough issues here at home

    We shouldn't do anything, it's non of US Business, we have enough issues right here at home and we can't afford to get involved. I voted for you President Obama, stay out of their business. Let the UN handle it, we shouldn't do a damn thing. What we should do is get more jobs in the US, help the unemployed get re-trained for new jobs, help the families on welfare with Schooling and Child Care so they can get a job that will pay enough to get off welfare. We have al ot of issues right here and we have spent enough of our money and China's money financing the wars we are already invoived with that we don't belong in. Help our own and not other countries.

    March 3, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Reply
    • International Citizen

      Fund...
      Modernize the Infrastructure
      Innovation in Education
      Universal Affordable High Speed Access to Internet
      Support Infrastructure for Renewable Energy
      ....

      Avoid wasteful wars..... Let the Europeans pay for this looming war/revenge action against Russia....

      March 3, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  26. gahh

    We are in massive debt, and our soldiers are tired of 13 years of war. Putin knows he has the upper hand, and doesn't have to listen to anything Obama has to say. Putin hasn't wasted Russia's money and soldiers on unnecessary wars, like Bush and Obama have. We can't even protect ourselves any more, thanks to Bush and Obama.

    March 3, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Reply
  27. Scott Johnston

    Note on pronunciations- Sevastopo; is pronounced with the stress on the first "o" – Seva-STO-pl, Same with Simferopol – Simfer-OPAL. Our TV presenters need lessons.

    March 3, 2014 at 6:10 pm | Reply
  28. Rebecca

    I predicted in 2008 that Putin would make his move against the Ukraine-shocked it took so long but he is patient. If anything has taught us is that the Russian mentality is toward possession and turning inward; they prefer isolation except with a few exceptions (those countries with like minded governments or leadership... There is no threat that they will take seriously when they still have global partners to do business with and we know there are plenty wanting their arms and their friendship. Putin is not done at empire building; he is only beginning..

    March 3, 2014 at 6:11 pm | Reply
  29. International Citizen

    Who set the precedent?
    1. Afghanistan
    2. Iraq
    3. Libya
    4. Syria
    5.....

    March 3, 2014 at 6:11 pm | Reply
  30. Joshua

    Is this the guy who stole other writers' work in his article some time ago? Why is he still talking trash on CNN?

    March 3, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Reply
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