By Andrew C. Kuchins, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Andrew C. Kuchins is a senior fellow and director of the CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program. You can follow the Center for Strategic and International Studies @CSIS. The views expressed are his own.
Vladimir Putin has dramatically raised the stakes with what amounts to a stealth annexation of Crimea this weekend, securing in the process a unanimous vote from the Russian parliament allowing for the deployment of Russian military forces in Ukraine.
To date, the Obama administration's response, including Friday's vague warning about "costs," has amounted to little more than a threat to boycott the G8 meeting taking place in Sochi in June. Did the president's team forget that Putin did not even show up when Obama hosted the G8 in 2012? Was that not a crystal clear message about what Putin really thinks about the G8 in general, and Obama in particular?
Regardless, the administration has clearly been caught flat-footed again by Putin. It is less clear, though, how the United States will respond.
What has taken place over the past two days merely underscores in the most urgent way that we must, together with our European allies, immediately step up with economic and security assistance to bolster the capacity and credibility of the interim government in Kiev. And in doing so, the Obama administration must abandon its oxymoronic inclination to "lead from behind" because the imminent danger is that of a broader use of military and quasi-military tools to effectively separate other eastern regions of Ukraine from the rest of the country. This would have disastrous consequences for Ukrainians and U.S. credibility around the world. Just imagine, for example, the takeaway for Japanese and Chinese leaders about U.S. commitment as they spar in their own territorial dispute.
Yes, Crimea may already be gone. But we have to make absolutely clear – and in the most credible way possible – that Russian military intervention in other regions of Ukraine is a red line that will mean war with Ukrainian and NATO military forces if it is crossed. U.S. and NATO naval forces need to be deployed to the Black Sea in close proximity to the Ukrainian Coast. Military forces of neighboring NATO member countries, meanwhile, should be deployed closer to the Ukrainian border.
This all presupposes that the government in Kiev will request such support, and that Ukrainian military forces, which have been largely absent for the past two days, also need to be ready to be deployed. If Ukraine's military and/or NATO is not prepared to take such measures, then we are simply letting ourselves look foolish with empty threats. But doing nothing would be a terrible misjudgment. Putin has proven agile in asserting Russian interests, and for the West to be effective in its response will require immediate, focused, and forceful action to make Putin recalculate his risk/reward equation.
In addition, the U.S. should work with its European allies to flesh out a package of economic assistance for the interim Ukrainian government. Significant commitments of money must be made immediately available to demonstrate a commitment to Ukrainians. Of course, Moscow and Kiev both have enough historical experience to be highly skeptical that we are ready to make significant financial commitments to Ukraine – that is the core factor that ignited this crisis back in November of last year. And Washington and the EU also have plenty of reason to doubt that any Ukrainian government can sustain its commitment to deep and sustained economic reforms that will get to the root of the endemic corruption among Ukrainian elites that has left its economy so weak and vulnerable.
But while such doubts are understandable, we must force ourselves to make the leap of faith that this time Ukraine will get it right, and the West should hope that the very real threat of the fragmentation of the country creates the sense of crisis necessary to break down the old patterns of behavior.
Ultimately, time is of the essence. And although the reality is that many Americans might feel perfectly able to live with a Ukraine without Crimea, any further fragmentation could be catastrophic not just for those living in Ukraine, but also for European security and the credibility of the U.S. commitment to it. Even if Ukraine is not at the center of Europe, it is still a part of it, and our failure to defend its sovereignty in this time of need could prove to be the final blow for a NATO that has in recent years struggled to find its place in the world.
Directly confronting Putin would not be as risky as many fear – Putin is, after all, a calculating opportunist who will take advantage of weakness where he sees it. He is extremely unlikely, therefore, to risk war if he clearly understands the "cost" of crossing a real red line. The question is whether he has any belief that the United States and its allies will step up.
I hope, for the sake of Europe’s security, that President Obama proves him wrong.
Do the same to CUBA and see if PUTIN want to teach Geopolitics again.
what's the credibility worth in terms of human lives?
The U.S. is a bully of bullies. We butt in where we dont belong.
Our President said not to cross the Syrian "red line" and if done then we would drop bombs. It happened and we did not doing anything, probably because we had not received any authority from UN and would be considered a war crime. Now, Russia threatens to do the samething. How can we expect other countries to act if our own country does what we want?
The US has not lost credibility over the Russian invasion. We do not need to establish credibility with anyone. We need to stop Russian Imperialism in conjunction with the remainder of nations. I would initially refuse US troops on the ground anywhere near this region. NATO nations and Europe need to be the principals in the military operations, if any. This is their backdoor.
The only exception to the USA credibility is the NATO/European nations that should be stepping up with all possible means of containing Russia. If Europe (once again) fails to contribute the lion share of efforts, perhaps our alliances need to be reexamined.
Deploy our forces to the Eastern border of Poland both US and Nato. We can send naval forces toward the Russian naval base in the North Pacific. That was the base used to send fighters that shot down the Air Korea 747. Give Putin a wake up call that WW 3 could be a possibility. Talk at this point and hollow threats wont work. Maybe shut down all the Starbucks in Moscow -LOL
You're not too bright, are you Paul D (D for dumb!)
Wow Paul, you truly are a mental giant. Very quickly now go and apply for a job at the pentagon.
You mean flight 007 as in James Bond 007, widely acknowledged as a CIA attempt to use human civilians to test the air readiness of the Soviets...a big mistake...while a military shuttle flight was coincidentally overhead monitoring...in 50 years we will learn the truth.
CNN has no credibility. What has happened in that nation is a direct result of U.S, U.K. intervention. We are on the brink. Why/ Money , Greed, Power. Meanwhile people in the street will die if this out of control government is not reeled in. Russia is doing what we would do if our security was threatened.
CNN doesn't care who dies. They get STORIES that are hot by creating chaos! Just remember how these corporate media outlets walked us into war wit Iraq! We had no business there.
I embarrassed to be an American ...You must be blind depth and stupid to think our (Americans) greedy bloodstained hands didn't have part in that "coup" ...sickening!!
Doors of Venezuela are wide opened for you comrade..
I'm 67 years old and all my life I've heard about how each crises is a test of US creditability well it is all nonsense pure nonsense. We really don't have to do anything other than sanctions now do we. Putin has done about as much as he can do. If he goes into the areas of ethnic Ukrainians then the war gets hot. They will blow up the Russian pipelines that goes across Ukraine into Europe. Then Russia and Europe are in trouble. People have to defend themselves or they are not worthy of our help.
That scenario does not hurt Russia but the EU. There are no winners here but a stalemate. If Putin pulls out of the Crimea, this is just temporary as he will turn his attention towards another former republic but the next time that republic will not have any strategic significance to Europe but the Middle East.
Oh please with this nonsense about the Russians. Their army is spread thin and the recruits there are poorly trained. The Ukrainians and the Tartars can cause a lot of problems for Putin. The sanctions can and do work. Already the ruble fell and billions were lost on the market by Russia. Russia is simply not the all powerful nation that you make it out to be . The Europeans are reducing their dependence on the Russian gas and if we get off our butts we can sell them liquified natural gas. Actually the Russians have painted themselves into a corner and they are going to suffer.
I agree with Gerald O'Hare let the other countries start to be less dependent of Russia for gas. If so who hurts more? Second with the sanctions in place they will sink like the ship Russia destroyed in Ukraine. Third America can probably make money by the sales of gas to these countries. Now all we need is the other big G8's to step forth and show aggressive sanctions on Russia. Choke them out!!!!!!!!!!!
Very well said @ Gerald! And im quite sure Putin is aware of that as well, which is why he is just posturing! I also think he may be a relative of "chubby bubba" who runs North Korea! If not then he trained him! Their tactics are very similar!
I was in the Ukraine two years ago in September. I went to five different cities including Kiev, Kharkov, Nikolayev and Odessa. I met many wonderful friends there and all of them complained about their corrupt government and leaders. I told them their are two ways to make change; vote them out or overthrow them. Now that they have chosen the latter, the Ukrainians face huge economic struggles, inter government transition, along with many other problems and issues. Russia wanted the Ukrainians to join with them instead of choosing the EU option. Ukraine owes money for fuel to Russia and the Ukraine as a country at the moment is weak economically and militarily compared to Russia. Russia doesn't like any intervention from the west, and the Russians were insulted by Ukraine's choice not to join with them instead of the EU. Further Russia is uncertain about the New Ukrainian government in regard to dealing with them especially considering Ukraine's previous president was Russia's so called "right hand man."
The Crimea region is predominately an ethnic Russian community and they know what greater power Russia has VS what the New Ukrainian government has. Basically people will go where the money is in times of uncertainty for the sake of better potential stability. Russia has a Naval base in Crimea and the unrest and protests that have happened between the opposition Ukrainians and ethnic Russians in Crimea create a situation where the Naval facility belonging to the Russians faces potential risk. The Russians will protect their interest.
Russia came to the Crimea region for a number of reasons: 1. To stop violent confrontations between Ethnic Russians and ethnic Ukrainians, to protect their Russian naval facility. 3. To make the new Ukrainian government clearly aware that they are the big dog on the block they need to respect, and negotiate with.
The U.S. is currently a "paper Tiger" government economically. We can't put our own budgets together much less have money to give to other countries to help them with political transitions substantially. The U.S. has to now make economic and military in associations with NATO as a group to help the Ukraine. The U.S. desires to help Ukraine more but financially we are incapable of it. Military intervention in the Ukraine against the Russians isn't necessary and would be the biggest mistake The Ukrainian's, NATO and the U.S. could make. Deadly mistake. The U.S. understands this and our leaders are still intelligent enough to know probably the best thing to do is to allow the Russians to show the New Government of Ukraine their potential power, as they are doing in Crimea. Note that Russia hasn't killed anyone in Crimea. This is because Russia is making only a show of force for the new Ukraine government for a few weeks and the Russian military will return to Russia again once they have achieved their position to the New Ukrainian government. So I think the U.S. needs to not make sanctions against Russia. I think the U.S., the European Union, and all NATO countries need to work together with the Russians positively and peacefully as a union for the betterment of the Ukraine and its new government. Will Russia be willing to do this? I think so if there is some benefit to them as will be the case with all countries becoming involved to help the Ukraine. Peace and unity can happen in the world without the gun if we can lower our pride and desire to all be "King of the hill."
The Ukraine is a wonderful and very beautiful country. Ukrainian people are very intelligent, friendly, caring people. I encourage everyone to go visit the Ukraine and tour the country. That will help the Ukraine economy too and it is something we as people of the world can do to help them economically while reaping the benefit of interacting with the wonderful Ukrainian people and their wonderful culture.
Anderson Cooper (evening March 7, 2014) just interviewed a professor, a Dr Cohen (California U?) who claims that in November 2013 NATO came to Ukraine and demanded that Ukraine decide then and there, "are you with us or with Russia". No in between, or fence-sitting position. Yanukovych said he could not do a Sofie's choice so cancelled the econonic deal with the EU, i.e. he said no to NATO and EU. Putin of course would have heard about this. The dust-up in Kiev caused Putin and other Russian politicians to likely surmise that 'here we go, it is happening'. Another NATO base is on the way whether we like it or not. What would you do? Dr Cohen says "check it out, it happened". Will Cooper check it out and tell us if this indeed did happen?
I agree with your analysis, Chris. Ukraine is facing poverty and a nation in default. They solicited a bailout from both Russia and the EU. Russia offered $15B in more immediate aid. The EU deal, to work, required deep reforms to work out the corruption and to ready the nation for trade with Europe. None of the improvements would have been felt overnight. It doesn't appear that Ukraine's protesters, who favored the EU deal and rioted when it was rejected, had full grasp of the facts. The president was tossed out, Putin doesn't recognize the acting or interim prime minister, and the stage was set for conflict between Putin and the EU/US.
The media is contributing to the problem by failing to elucidate why there are differences of opinion as to whether it is appropriate, under international law, to recognize an unelected prime minister (current) vs. the ousted (but elected) former president of Ukraine. American pundits, who carry great public opinion sway in the US, have said little in the way of encouraging the EU and Putin to step back from their respective positions. The EU should not rush to solve Ukraine's problem until Ukrainian's can go to the poll and reinstate a democratically-elected leadership. Likewise, Putin should not be pushing for a Crimea referendum before the dust settles.
Ukraine's protesters, understandably to some extent, feel that for as bad as austerity may be in Greece and unemployment rates in Spain and Italy, the EU deal still represented greener economic pastures. What American media has failed to do, with few exceptions, is to explain why this conflict can largely be attributed to grave misunderstandings. It was in a USA Today analysis that I found a Council on Foreign Relations member out of Europe who conceded that Ukraine is so over-run by corruption, and requires so much modernization to bring it online for trade with Europe, that before things improved for Ukrainians they were likely to suffer far, far worse than those protesters appear to have appreciated. Just think if the protesters had been a little bit more informed, a little bit less inclined to view the EU agreement as an economic panacea? They might have appreciated why their former president rejected the EU deal. Instead, the protests turned to riots, the president was run off and the stage was set for international crisis.
Media in the U.S. is doing the public a grave disservice by not reporting impartially. Putin is said to have "seized" and "invaded" Crimea "unprovoked", when it could be expected that with a naval station there they might have cause to go in and secure the region — just as Putin claimed. Putin may not be a friend to the West but sometimes face-value really is just that — the truth. Until we know otherwise, the rush to judgment must stop. It will serve no one if for the sake of fear-mongering we widen a conflict that essentially began with Ukraine's version of Occupy Wall Street.
Because American media has done such a poor job — I read an AP story earlier in which the word "acting" or "interim" failed to even modify a reference to Ukraine's (unelected!) prime minister — readers who want to get to the bottom of this story ought to visit European websites, particularly news stories that date back to the Fall of 2013.
Outside the purview of US media gatekeepers, I found comments from residents of Russia, Ukraine and Europe in which it was acknowledged that those in support of the EU deal represented only a small margin of lead. Many recognized that the EU deal was a case of too little, too late. Europeans, in particular, were dubious as to how Ukraine's "Occupy" protesters had arrived at the conclusion that prosperity and jobs awaited them when the EU itself is grappling with severe financial problems, and many member states are still mired in an unemployment crisis.
Ukraine needs far more than the $10B Greece required for a bailout — estimates I've come across range from $35B to as much as $100B. The truth is, nobody has that kind of money to front. No matter what Ukraine did, the grass was not going to be greener for a long, long while given the state of their infrastructure (decayed) and political landscape (controlled by corrupt Oligarchs). It's too bad the youth protesting in Urkaine did not FIRST look to reforming their corrupt government to ready the nation for EU trade, but with imminent default they probably felt it was easier to jump ship (EU agreement) as opposed to patch their own affairs up (to give them more negotiating power at a later date).
The Economist reports that 50 percent of GDP in Ukraine is the elicit, underground variety. With that kind of corruption there wasn't going to be a cozy, productive relationship between Ukraine and the EU — or substantial IMF loans — for a long, long time. Had the 20-somethings who protested and later rioted against their president for refusing the EU deal appreciated the FACTS, we would not be facing international crisis. If Putin did anything, it was to take advantage of a situation a chaotic, misinformed cohort of Ukrainian protesters inadvertently handed him when they threw their government into disarray. This is something American media has failed to get across, and in turn why the rhetoric here has become so reckless and convoluted.
Glad to see someone with a serious statement.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said decisions on whether international observers should be sent into Ukraine are for leaders in the country to make. He pointed out that Crimea's newly installed pro-Russian regional government does not see the authorities in Kiev as legitimate.
So what makes a newly installed pro-Russian government legitimate????
The fact that they "run" the country there, not the US/UK or its proxies who started trouble there???! That might give you a CLUE!
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We need to do the same thing Russia is doing, set up our military in key positions around the world and key on technology, so if the need arises we can speak with authority and be feared and respected for good reason. Be prepared for the worst and for world peace. This will make other countries think twice, and don't threaten without follow up, it makes us look as though we don't have the means or capability.
Following Obamas recent decision to significantly downsize the DOD, US has no teeth and little credibility. Putin is free to do whatever he wants and not just in Ukraine.
The US has a Military budget larger than all of the developed Countries combined...
The US has pledged one billlion in loan guarantees... the EU has pledged 11 billion...which of these two are more worthy of discussion?
Blaming Obama for all of the worlds ills should be left to the Southern politicians where it is considered normal.
Money has motivated Putin through all of this.
The US is not now, nor has it ever been a significant threat to Russia militarily in that part of the world. The US with Nato is.
Reasons why sanctions are a bad idea:
Russians can counter sanctions by refusing space cooperation with NASA, thus rendering American astronauts grounded.
Russians can offer a military base in Kalinsgrad/ Prussia to the Chinese and North Koreans or simply lease the land out to Chinese migrants.
Chinese will benefit enormously from business contracts which had been developed by Europeans and Americans.
When sanctions are over it will be harder to re-establish those business relationships again.
European companies are not ready to loose Billions of dollars for Madian protesters.
Finally, Iran wins because it will simply get its wish of toys to block the strait of Hormuz and if that happens, even for a week, US economy will stall.
In Egypt, general Asisi will do the same with Suez canal, also stalling the European economy. These two Russian allies will be the decider of any confrontation between US, EU and Russia.
The U.S. lost its credibility 5 yrs. ago. There are no signs it will be regained. Perhaps not ever.
I think that until the top income brackets and their TEA Party pawns are willing to pay for the wars they want to start, with much higher taxes and a fair share of their children's blood, we just have to face reality that we cannot afford any more wars on a credit card. Its easy to support war when you and yours are not the ones dying in them, when you and yours are not paying for them..
Jeff, Shut Up. This is an all volunteer military even the jobs within the military are volunteer and as such it is those who wish to fight who fight. Second, more people die being murdered in American streets each year than have died in 13 years of war in the middle east. 3rd, Shut up jeff
Ukraine is not a NATO member. If Nato would go into a war with Russia over this it would be clear the lack of intelligence of the people who run such organizations and countries. 1. Russia does not intent to invade Ukraine. Russia is defending its citizens in Crimea, which is about 90% culturally close to Russia and eager to join the Russian federation. Ukrainian radical and self proclaimed government is the one to blame for this situation. The people in Crimea and East Ukraine started all this uprising only after the new government had voted for a law that will criminalize the use of Russian Language within the territory of Ukraine. 2. Ukraine is 2 different nations. Crimea and East Ukraine are one nation. West Ukraine is another nation. Both have different languages, cultures, world views and goals. West Ukrainian radicals started to confiscate the property (homes included) of Russians. Russians had no chance but beg for Russia's intervention and protection. 3. I'm not sure this will stop in Crimea, since East Ukraine is also massively wanting to join Russia. 4. Should Nato enter a war with Russia over this? Wouldn't it be a suicide?... Think twice. 5. If Yugoslavia could split why can't Ukraine? If Kosovo could separate from Servia, why Crimea/East Ukraine can't separate from Ukraine?
How about this plan Anna: why doesn't every single human being on planet earth claim independence from every single other human being, and each human being claims sovereign territory is the one square foot of land that they are standing upon on that very moment???? That way, we can all become independent nations, we can have 7 billion different countries, each with our own individually designed flag and our name can be used as the name of our very own independent country!!!!!!! Thanks for sharing with us that the problem in Ukraine and Crimea is nothing new to human behavior.......... its all about gorillas fighting to control what they perceive as "their" clearing in the forest.......... how disgusting............ how sick......... how sad...........
Anna, sorry, but this is simply not true. There are no radicals confiscating property of russians – these are lies of Putin's propaganda. In fact there is russian army confiscating proprety of ukrainian government and citizens with the help of gangsters. I am russian-speaking person from the south-east of Ukraine, and I don't want Russia to be here. In my region (Odessa) most people don't want russian occupation. And Im sure in Crimea the situation is very complex and it can't be solved just by taking over by foreign troops.
I have to agree with Kirrr... Ukraine people I know and discuss this with, feel very deeply about their Russian heritage. Many speak both Ukrainian and Russian language, and have family in Russia still. Yet not one feels they would like to be part of Russia... even those I know in Simferopol, Odessa, or Lugansk. This reminds me of our 'generation gap' in the sixties... change is difficult for some conservative older Russian people. Ukraine youth is inspired by the new western world and all it can bring to the future, be it left or right. Moving forward is always a good thing... there will be no turning back... they have eaten the mushroom and witnessed the vision. Allow them the chance to build on that dream. CC
Mr Zakari… I enjoy your work so much, again this one is right on target. Thank you for your effort here... some of us a paying close attention to what this means. All of this is painting a much larger picture to the world now…. of perception and complexity. We must be as brave, and as proud, as Ukraine people are. We must not stand in the background with idle threats. We are looking weaker every day... and I am feeling betrayed by the new Russian persona, and now by our own government.
All should be concerned what happens in Odessa next, while others are looking to eastern Ukraine. If Russia takes a hold of that area they will certainly fill the gap between Crimea and Odessa, and strangle the Ukraine economy by halting access to the Black Sea. This could very well be the ultimate end game for Russian control ... and who will be there to stop this? Not meaningless US sanctions. CC
My apologies to Mr Kuchins, I just now noticed it was your piece. :-) and a well written article.Thank you too.
US and credibility are a contradiction in terms....
The entire argument in this opinion boils down to Russia might "fragment" the region beyond Crimea and so we must up the ante lest the wrong message be sent to Putin. Let's cross one bridge at a time. We do not need another world war to show for fear-based foreign policymaking. Spare us a disastrous self fulfilling prophecy!
Putin may have capitalized on Ukraine's chaos but he did not orchestrate the national default that led to the protests that destabilized the nation after the elected president rejected the EU deal. The protesters in a Radio Free Europe piece in November compared themselves to Occupy Wall Street and were characterized as sufferers of a "generational rift". They seem unaware that the EU deal their now-disposed president rejected would shutter businesses and raise unemployment. Before Ukraine's economy got better it would get a whole lot worse for the EU deal per the Council on Foreign Relations. Had the youth who rioted appreciated the reality of the EU agreement, the violence would not have destabilized Ukraine and no referendum to join Russia would be under consideration in Crimea. Putin did not create the crisis, misinformed youth and a Ukraine facing default set the stage instead.
Only way I'd be for this idea Mr.Andrew C. Kuchins, is if your sons/daughters get sent to the front line units of WW3 first. You talk a good game plan, but I bet your kind would be the least willing to fight and die for Ukraine.
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