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. Wesdog

    Wonder how US Astronauts will get access to the Space Station if we sanction and punish Russia? Will Russia cut off it's oil and gas supply to Europe if they participate in sanctions? What about Russian support for destruction of Syrian WMD? Those are just a few of the potential consequences of this situation. Careful what you ask for....

    March 2, 2014 at 4:06 pm | Reply
    • Olympic Eagle

      If the Russians don't sell oil to Europe, who will buy it?

      March 2, 2014 at 4:18 pm | Reply
      • Wesdog

        China maybe....

        March 2, 2014 at 4:19 pm |
    • theorycraft

      Russia isn't as important as you'd think... they've always had unopen markets so the EU doesn't depend on them for gas. If Russia is out of the G-8 and I assume the security counsel, we won't need them to manage Syrian chemical weapons, it will be much easier then to just convince China to allow direct intervention. And Americans are using private companies to get to the space station.... anything else?

      March 2, 2014 at 4:21 pm | Reply
      • thecorrector

        Russia is a permanent member of the Security Council.

        March 2, 2014 at 4:29 pm |
      • Wesdog

        Yes, Europe can buy oil/gas on the open market but it will be more expensive. The only current human access to the ISS is via Russian spacecraft. The only other nation that currently has manned flight capability is China and they aren't an ISS partner nor is it desirable for them to be. NASA and Private Industry man rated space flight capability is still at least a couple years away. Russia (formerly USSR) is a founding UN Security Council member and can't just be 'kicked out' of the UN Security Council. Russia is also a key Syrian ally and their cooperation is key to the WMD destruction. They can throw a monkey wrench into any Western Syrian 'peace' imitative. My point is, if Russia is 'punished' it can reciprocate.

        March 2, 2014 at 4:39 pm |
    • duh

      This isn't the cold war anymore. Russia can't shut off west European oil simply by turning a valve anymore. Western Europe is now heavily reliant on sustainable nuclear power, and they get most of their oil from North Africa and the Middle East.

      March 2, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Reply
      • Wesdog

        Yep, Russia can't cut off the entire supply of oil/gas to either western or eastern Europe. They do have oil and gas pipelines into eastern Europe and can cut off their portion of the oil/gas supply to their eastern European customers which would have an impact on some EU / NATO countries and their economies. China is oil/gas hungry and would love to get more Russian supply, so would India I suspect. The world economy is a fragile thing and Russia could do significant short term harm if provoked. My whole point is actions have consequences and Russia has a history of playing hardball. They are also Syrian and Iranian allies and can thwart our efforts with those countries among other things. All this talk about punishing Russia is understandable, but people need to look at the counter moves Russia can make. I'm sure President Obama is constrained by many factors that haven't even been mentioned. Just like President Bush was when Russia intervened in Georgia in 2008.

        March 2, 2014 at 5:21 pm |
  2. John Murray

    There certainly are measures Obama can take to neutralize Putin. Put the US military on alert and surround Cuba, claiming that many cubans are asking the US to intervene. Put Obama on Air Force One and fly to Kiev so he can show support for the new country's democratic aspirations. Put the anti-ballistic missiles in Poland as Bush promised. Give the world the impression that the US believes that more can be done than just whining and calls for sanctions.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:11 pm | Reply
    • steven harnack

      What does Cuba have to do with any of this? Seems that you are still stuck in the Cold War. Anything that we do should be in concert with and at the request of Europe as they are the ones affected, not us.

      March 2, 2014 at 4:24 pm | Reply
    • thecorrector

      It's not a new country. And it had a democratically elected president who was just ousted. So I guess they didn't' really like the whole democracy and rule of law thing.

      March 2, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  3. ghourzang

    Did I read something “only 60%”? Do you know anything about statistics? Or statistics are damn difficult to be plagiarized? Shallow and completely naïve

    March 2, 2014 at 4:13 pm | Reply
    • David Pratt

      You clearly missed the point, didn't you, ghourzang?

      March 2, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  4. Jakob Stagg

    Personally, I believe we should watch and learn. The first thing I wish we would learn is to NOT invade and occupy with every international event. I sincerely doubt there would be anything to be gained by immediate military response, and much to be lost if that were to happen.

    A country that has been constantly at war for 75 years, spies on everyone on the planet, and uses drones to assassinate any person the administration dislikes enough. No wonder we are losing friends and allies.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:13 pm | Reply
    • Olympic Eagle

      If we have a military response, let's combine it with re-introducing the draft. Then will see how important our military action really is to us.

      March 2, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Reply
      • SGMMalone

        So, you think that as long as we have a volunteer military it is okay or easier to commit than a military made up of predominately draftees. Let someone else do the fighting as long as you don't have to. Hmmmmm, wonder what my service of over 40 years really means to you...better you than me? How long do you think people like you can ask us to do what you don't want to do and still have a country?

        March 2, 2014 at 4:59 pm |
  5. SKIRACR

    I don't the price Vladimir Putin is paying for the Crimea is too high as Fareed states. Putin asserts Russia's influence in to Southern Europe and the Middle East by maintaining influence in the Crimea. Ukraine will have to give in since it geographically is surrounded. Resolve by the EU and the United States is fair from guaranteed.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Reply
  6. khanji48

    okay time to invade Russia.....#Sarcasm

    March 2, 2014 at 4:18 pm | Reply
  7. steven harnack

    "If russia could detach parts of ..countries with impunity" , you mean like the the way that Western Powers created Israel, the two Koreas, Viet Nam, carved up Poland, created African nations with no regard for ethnic homelands, etc, etc?

    March 2, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Reply
    • David Pratt

      Steven, if you are using that as a way to justify Russia's actions, it is pretty lame don't you think?

      March 2, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Reply
      • steven harnack

        I don't have to justify Russia's actions, but Ukrainian atrocities on Jews and Russians a mere 70 years ago should explain why they may feel that they might need to protect ethnic Russians from fascist leaning Ukrainians.

        March 2, 2014 at 4:29 pm |
  8. JJJJ

    Suggested Action Plan:

    – Freeze all overseas Russian assets.
    – Send home the Russian Ambassador from each European / NATO alliance member including the USA.
    – Recall US Ambassador in Russia for consultation.
    – Forbid International travel from Russian officials including flying over NATO air space.
    – Remove Russia from the G8 and suspend them from the security council in the United Nations.
    – Send the fleet to stations in the Mediteranean and Middle East.
    – Give a 48 hour ultimatum for Russia to retract their forces if not complied with fire surface to surface missiles at specific targets in agreement with the Ukranian authorities.
    – Hold elections within Crimea and split the province based on Russian and Ukranian populations. The majority may be Russian, but it is not acceptable to harm the existing minority population.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:22 pm | Reply
    • Sokaz

      That's a ridiculous plan. Why antagonize one of the most powerful countries in the world when they are only trying to to resolve the mistakes of the past? The Crimea should never have been given to the Ukraine. Once Gorbachev the weak allowed an empire of hundreds of years to fall apart (much to the applause of the west), the Crimea should have at that time been claimed by Russia as was Kaliningrad for instance.

      The Crimea is predominately Russian and should be part of Russia.

      March 2, 2014 at 4:35 pm | Reply
      • Andrew M.

        The ethnicity of Crimean people has nothing to do with fact that Crimea has been part of Ukraine for 60 years, including 22 years in the independent Ukraine. And speaking of historical mistakes, was it legal for Russia to annex independent Crimea in the late 18th century? Was it legal for the US to add new western territories in the 19th century? Leave history to historians. What matters is that Russia recognized Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity in 1991 and confirmed it again in 1994 (together with the US and the UK) when Ukraine gave up its nukes.

        March 2, 2014 at 4:50 pm |
    • Mr Right

      I cannot be serious, I hope. If you are you understanding of foreign policy is less than zero.

      March 2, 2014 at 4:48 pm | Reply
    • Andrew M.

      Agree with almost all points (except the last). Crimea already has a special autonomous status in Ukraine with its own parliament, no other region has that. Russian is main official language there.

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

      Russia cannot be suspended from the Security Council. They are a permanent member. The rest of your plan is too absurd to contemplate.

      March 2, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Reply
    • Vasiliy

      HA HA HA HA - TROLOLOLO !!!!

      March 2, 2014 at 5:32 pm | Reply
  9. joe man

    Cubans have been asking for US intervention what would happen if the US does the same with Cuba?

    March 2, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Reply
    • steven harnack

      When was Cuba populated with ethnic Americans?

      March 2, 2014 at 4:33 pm | Reply
    • Mr Right

      Amerika used exactly the same reason when they invaded Panama ! Remember, "the students"

      March 2, 2014 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  10. Grigory Ioffe

    Please correct this geographically illiterate statement. "Remember, Crimea is in the Northern Caucasus, the area where Russia has been battling a ferocious Muslim insurgency." Crimea is definitely not in the Northern Caucasus.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Reply
    • vonodenheim

      Exactly. I posted too on this, before seeing this comment. It's either a gross and contrived generalization, or utter ignorance. Hard to believe this from a major news source. This is one reason why I rarely if at all follow CNN anymore.

      March 2, 2014 at 4:53 pm | Reply
  11. lividemerald2013

    Since "it is 60 years ago this week that Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev handed the Crimea over to the Ukraine," and since "Washington cannot do much to stop Vladimir Putin," I believe we should draft a three-way treaty in which Russia recuperates the Crimea, along with a slice of Eastern Ukraine, and agrees to let Western Ukraine align itself with the EU and the United States. Ukraine would be giving up a bit of territory, but it would suddenly be totally free of Moscow's reins and be able to benefit from worry-free foreign investment. I think this compromise would make everyone quite happy, and it would certainly avoid an escalation in East-West tension that could cost billions of dollars and millions of lives.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Reply
  12. BobPA

    Who are we to lecture others about national sovereignty, considering all the countries we have invaded or sent troops into? Talk about arrogance...

    March 2, 2014 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  13. Boris&Gleb

    If you all really want to help, how about this, instead of thinking about sanctions and other nonsense:
    1. Immediately start negotiations, including all the interested parties: Ukraine, EU, US and Russia
    2. Confirm returning to February 21 agreement, including guarantees of truly free elections, later this year, not in May: without constant interference by other countries, intimidations by ultranationalist, lustrations, parties, language or nationality restrictions, etc.
    3. Agree immediately on neutral status of Ukraine, similar to Finland, no military block membership, NATO or any other.
    4. Agree that the EU and Eurasian Union association questions will be decided only by a newly elected government, though negotiations between EU, Ukraine and Russia, not by the current coup d’état imposed group of people
    5. Confirm that all the previous agreements between Russia and Ukraine, including those related to Black Sea Fleet bases are valid and will be honored
    Before these steps are accepted by the West, Russia will stay in Crimea and may be in Eastern Ukraine, period, end of story.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  14. oharris30

    President Obama has done everything Farreed has said. President Obama needs to stand back. are we ready tor a nuclear war because of other people? Are they on our land. We need to stand down. those calling the president weak are fools.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Reply
    • eddieb

      yes you are right. we just got out of one war and ending another time to take care of us.

      March 2, 2014 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  15. osilama Abu

    This is really going to get ugly and at the end Putin wont only lose politically, but will be overthrown in Russia. Islamic extremist will also join the Tartars in Crimea and make life unbearable for the Russia forces. Bad move Putin, real bad move.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:31 pm | Reply
  16. Egor

    'everyone was part of one big, unhappy Soviet Union. ' unhappy? western parts – may be... eastern Ukraine, including Crimea actually were happy to be a part of Russia... I'm so sick of hearing 'we know how to deal' from those who know nothing.. Please, learn the history from various sources..

    March 2, 2014 at 4:32 pm | Reply
    • SVK

      Some may have been happy indeed, but I bet you that the Crimean Tatars and the other ethnic groups that were expelled from Crimea and sent to Siberia were less than happy... Perhaps you should diversify your perspectives in order to get a more multi-layered understanding of history too.

      March 2, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Reply
  17. reader10

    Time for alien invasion.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  18. TruthandConsequence

    Fareed, as usual, is a day late and a dollar short on his cheap advice. Does he really think he has some keen insights on how to instruct Americans in dealing with international crises? For that matter, Obama is at least several days late. What we have needed is a President who has a nose for international affairs – not a city boy politician.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:34 pm | Reply
  19. Jack Anderson

    Fareed again, masking himself as a disinterested party, but brightly concerned with Muslim issues, as is Obama. As if plagiarism wasn't enough, they still let him spew bullcrap and tangential garbage as if he had credibility.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:35 pm | Reply
  20. edy

    wait guys didn't the united states invade iraq in 2003 under the pretext of WMD, nobody was able to stand against it. Now the scenario happens once more, the russians have interests as well especially with a country heavily indebted to them. This is how big countries operate, they don't look at it in a humane way, it is only about interests. I understand both the states and the Russians.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:39 pm | Reply
  21. DB

    There is a strategy in the Art of War that is not pretty, but would end all of this right now. Those who know what I am talking about knows Mr. Obama must be very brave indeed and let go over the Military to do it's job, and I don't know if he has it in him? In the the Art of War, Sovereignty and the Military are complete separate, and for good reason. Do not be lured into Putin's hand, he has Syria, Iran and others powers in play. One thing needs to happen, and one only. There will be fallout, but the traditional Military can stamp that out.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Reply
  22. J.R.

    Mind our own business and deal with this strictly with diplomacy. It's curious that whenever the U.S. Government want to invade other countries or use military force for their own needs, it is okay. Stop meddling in the affairs of other nations. The Ukraine, Russia and Crimea situation does not affect the United States and is simply NONE OF OUR BUSINESS.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Reply
    • DB

      In the short term (the very short term) you are right. Read Sun Tzu's, The Art Of War, then take another look at Putin and his recent power moves. A new picture may emerge. If not, then hold the your inactive position. http://www.victoryoverwar.com is the best version of Sun Tzu's book.

      March 2, 2014 at 5:05 pm | Reply
  23. Whatajoke

    It is totally inappropriate for Zakaria to mention China here. Russia is well known for territorial aggressions in it's history which is not the case for China. And in this case, Crimea was originally part of Russia, at least since 17 century, and they have a majority of Russians living there. USA will do the same, I am sure similar situation.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  24. Ruby

    "Even China will surely oppose the brazen violation of national sovereignty, something Beijing is always concerned about."

    What have you been smoking, Fareed?

    March 2, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Reply
    • Johnjo

      China said as much today, in that they don't like what is happening in Ukraine & that no country should invade another country's territory. They are going to watch this grievous event very closely as it acts out...also as there is a very large Chinese ethnic population in Eastern Siberia & because the same area is plentiful of water, excellent farm land & rich minerals...China might think ...well...if Russia's Putin can do it, so can we.

      I predict Putin will be ousted either this year or early next year 2015, I see the Russian population protesting en masse & this action by Putin will be one of the reasons as well as major corruption & the state of the Russian economy which is now floundering. Sometimes time folk gamble, well...this is one gamble too many Russia's Macho Man took, now wait & see how it will come back to uproot him. That the thing with Dictators they act first & think later...

      March 2, 2014 at 11:13 pm | Reply
  25. vonodenheim

    Crimea isn't in the Northern Caucasus. It is about 400 miles from there and practically an island in the northern part of the Black Sea. While it is somewhat linked culturally and historically to the Caucasus, it's had a very different history and ethnic makeup. I really cannot explain Mr. Zakaria's statement that it is part of it. It is either a gross generalization, which does not serve well his point, or gross ignorance. Either way, it detracts from his presumed competence on the subject.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  26. Chris

    As far as I know Russian forces have not killed anyone. Despite crossing the border, the Russians are at least acting responsibly. Couple that with support from the local populace and I'm inclined to wait it out. Revisit the situation later. Russians have to eventually return Crimea to Ukraine unless Ukraine cedes it with some deal. In my book: No harm, No foul.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  27. jmtaylor700

    Don't forget about the Syria. The only difference in the Russian response to Syria and Ukraine is that the side winning in Syria serves its interest and the side in Ukraine does not.

    Maybe we should be building up forces around Syria and putting boots on the ground in equal response to every action taken by Russia in Ukraine.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:44 pm | Reply
  28. H Douglas Walker

    I think going in Putin knew the price he may pay for this gamble. He is willing to play the price. Is NATO and the US willing to pay the price. I do not think so. Nuclear War is always in the background. Putin would be willing I think to play the nuclear card. He know we will not.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:46 pm | Reply
    • DB

      As I've said, this can be handled very quickly and effectively. One move, then have our Military handle the short but hard fallout. Read Sun Tzu's, The Art Of War, then take another look at Putin and his recent power moves. A new picture may emerge. http://www.victoryoverwar.com is the best version of Sun Tzu's book.

      March 2, 2014 at 5:16 pm | Reply
  29. David Major

    The US is the world police. That's why we are 18 trillion in debt. The US will keep getting into conflicts it has no business in. That is what happens when you elect stupid people. Elect smart people who will worry about our own people and our own borders and we can be a great country again and be respected around the globe.

    March 2, 2014 at 4:48 pm | Reply
  30. Bruce

    President Obama and other world leaders from both large and small countries need to make some hard decisions, both economic and military, on what they will do to counter the Russian Federation's aggression in the Ukraine. Then each leader should get on an airplane and fly to Kiev to announce what action their country along the world community intends to take. The boots on the ground should be those of President Obama as he leads other world leaders to do the same! Put Air Force 1 on a mission to Kiev! I hope Obama acts on this suggestion!

    March 2, 2014 at 4:48 pm | Reply
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