Zakaria: Putin improvising in Crimea
March 11th, 2014
10:03 AM ET

Zakaria: Putin improvising in Crimea

CNN speaks with Fareed about the latest developments in Ukraine and what might be motivating Russia’s policy in Crimea. This is an edited version of the interview.

The general feeling over the weekend appeared to be that Crimea is pretty well lost and that Russian President Vladimir Putin has won the day with this. Is that your take, and what happens then with regard to Ukraine?

There's no question that Russia has created these facts on the ground. They've taken over Crimea, they've sealed off the borders – right now flights out of Crimea into Kiev are now taking place from the international terminal, no longer the domestic terminal.

So they've almost created their own new country, Crimea. The question, though, is what does Putin want to do with the rest of Ukraine? Because Russia has long wanted to have Ukraine as part of its protector and sphere of influence. And the real game is going to be whether Russia tries to continue in some way to influence it. They've done it in the past for money – huge amounts of cash – and they've done it informally throughout, by the use of low price gas.

But I'm not sure that this has all been thought through. There’s this theory out there that Putin is this genius strategically playing this game. Here's what I actually think happened. I think he was watching events in Ukraine slip out of control, this country that Russia has dominated for 300 years, but couldn't do anything about it because it was happening during the Sochi Olympics. And so Putin is sitting there seething, watching this country escape his grasp.

The minute the Olympics ends, he scrambles to figure out what to do, and he improvises brilliantly and has been able to detach Crimea. But he hasn't figured out what he's going to do about Ukraine, and the Ukrainian people are increasingly becoming anti-Russian and have watched this Russian takeover of Crimea with great apprehension.

What’s also happening is all the other neighbors are watching – from the Poles, the Baltic states, and also countries like Kazakhstan. The countries around Russia. And remember, there are 25 million to 30 million Russians who live in all these other countries, so imagine if you are the president of say Kazakhstan, and you're watching this news. You say, "Gosh, if Putin doesn't like what I'm doing, he's going to stir up secessionist movements in all my country."

So Putin has a lot on his hands and I don't think this is as much a plan as a lot of improvisation.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine

soundoff (183 Responses)
  1. Alex279

    OK. It is less than one page todey resycling a week-old photo. Looks like punditry runs out of steam.

    March 11, 2014 at 10:28 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      There are millions of ethnic Russians remaining in their countries of residence after the collapse of the Soviet Union. No doubt leaders from the Baltic states to Central Asia are watching the development in Crimea very carefully. Perhaps Crimea's strategic location is key to Putin's moves. Also the toppling of Yanukovich offered an unique opportunity to Putin to recapture Crimea. Had he missed it, he might never have another one in his life time.

      March 11, 2014 at 4:49 pm | Reply
  2. sg

    So, does it follow that the Chechnya can vote to separate from Russia?

    March 11, 2014 at 10:32 am | Reply
    • DP

      > So, does it follow that the Chechnya can vote to separate from Russia?

      absolutely... you might want to google the results of voting in Chechnya, then google "Kadyrov", then think a little... that is if you know how to use google... Fareed, for example, doesn't... so he invented Crimean-Tatar terrorists fighting in Chechnya... so do not be like him, it does not suit you to look stupid

      March 11, 2014 at 10:55 am | Reply
      • Andrey

        Thinking should be the most difficult part!

        March 16, 2014 at 10:02 pm |
  3. DP

    Fareed, where all the "off ramping" disappeared ? are you taking "off ramp" yourself ?

    March 11, 2014 at 10:51 am | Reply
  4. DP

    > so imagine if you are the president of say Kazakhstan

    indeed, Fareed, you probably don't know how the northern part of Kazakhstan ended up in Kazakhstan ? you might want to learn in advance.

    March 11, 2014 at 11:00 am | Reply
  5. Michael

    All Putin wants is stability in Ukraine and the government elected by the people of Ukraine. He said it numerous times. Crimea and Sevastopol always had an independent status, and their government decided that they want to have a referendum so PEOPLE of Crimea and Sevastopol can decide want they want to do. (Please note people will decide, not Putin). They invited the international observers to be a part of this referendum.

    March 11, 2014 at 11:04 am | Reply
    • Mike

      Putin manipulated the situation in Crimea to make it possible for the "will of the people" to line up with his aims. The upcoming referendum is a sham. The false threat of ethnic discrimination against ethnic Russians in the new Ukraine is the same propaganda that popped up in Yugoslavia. And we all know how well that turned out.

      March 11, 2014 at 12:06 pm | Reply
      • JiminNM

        America and Europe have been orchestrating chaos worldwide for way more than a hundred years, and Putin is saying not here on my watch.

        March 11, 2014 at 4:20 pm |
    • victor

      They invited the international observers to be a part of this referendum giving them TWO day advance notice. Not bad for the independence referendum . Last week some unknown but most likely Russian armed people did not even let observers from Europe to enter Crimea by threatening them. A group of journalists was brutally beaten and their equipment destroyed when they tried to film events in Simferopol.
      I strongly doubt that any “normal” country will risk to send any observers to this so called “referendum”.

      March 11, 2014 at 3:38 pm | Reply
      • Alex279

        The OBSE observers who were turned back last week were actually military inspectors from EU/NATO invited by Kiev Government. Their mandate was dubious as it does not map to any international arms control treaty. There are no nuclear weapons in Ukraine, including Crimea. Even Russian Navy stationed in Crimea does not possess it. As far as the so-called Conventional Arms Treaty in Europe of 1992, which was, indeed, signed by most European nations NONE of the NATO countries ever bothered to ratify it. Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus both signed and ratified it, but in 2007 Russia/Putin cancelled its ratification saying that Russia will consider ratification again if it is ratified by key NATO members.

        So military inspectors may be welcomed on voluntary basis as a gesture of good will, but there is no legal obligation to accept them.

        March 11, 2014 at 3:56 pm |
      • victor

        I guess to beat or not to beat jornalists depnds on good will too

        March 11, 2014 at 4:18 pm |
  6. DP

    > and the Ukrainian people are increasingly becoming anti-Russian

    ethnic westen-Ukranians (do not mix then w/ Rusins though), mostly greco/greek-catholics – the same abomination as ethnic Serbs turned muslim Kosovars, were always anti-ethnic-Russian (mostly orthodox)... it is a different story in the eastern part of the country.

    March 11, 2014 at 11:04 am | Reply
  7. Adam

    Fareed: There's no question that Russia has created these facts on the ground...

    arent we supporting israel for creating the same facts on the grounds in Palestine? 74 years of this support and forcing the Palestinians to negotiate at gun pointed to their head

    March 11, 2014 at 11:24 am | Reply
  8. Joseph McCarthy

    So what? We've taken over both Iraq and Afghanistan and now these right-wing nut jobs in the West are going ballistic over Crimea! Besides, the Russians are giving the Crimeans a choice in the form of a plebiscite next Sunday. Did we give either the Afghans or the Iraqis a similar choice? Of course we didn't!

    March 11, 2014 at 11:32 am | Reply
    • Bob

      As a matter of fact,yes we did

      March 11, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Reply
  9. Ed Bodi

    Pres. Obama has said many times that he will do whatever it takes to protect the interests of the US. So, why not Russia?
    US hypocrisy?

    March 11, 2014 at 11:35 am | Reply
    • Zach

      That is is, Ed. Saying that we had the perfect right to invade both Iraq and Afghanistan while going ballistic over Russia's sending troops to Crimea is hypocrisy at it's very worst! Besides, how many ethnic Americans lived in either Iraq or Afghanistan prior to these infamous invasions of ours?

      March 11, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Reply
      • alan s

        Zach and Ed: Al Qaeda personnel based in Afghanistan attacked the U.S. on 9/11/2011, resulting in the U.S. decision to send military forces there to root out Al Qaeda and the Taliban government that supported Al Qaeda. The U.S. invasion of Iraq was more difficult to justify (although it's hard to feel sympathy for Saddam Hussein and his psychopathic sons), but the U.S. entry into Afghanistan was done for reasons that were better than, and vastly different than, Mr. Putin's reasons for his military intervention in Ukraine.

        March 11, 2014 at 4:13 pm |
  10. DP

    > Fareed: There's no question that Russia has created these facts on the ground

    look how fast the facts on the ground were created (matter of few days)... don't you think that it means they were simply existing indeed w/o Putin in Crimea ? how much time US spend killing people in Iraq to be able to conduct puppet elections ? and in Crimea... zero dead and results are in place... what does it mean ? it simply means that there is enough popular support and no opposition either.

    March 11, 2014 at 11:43 am | Reply
    • Bob

      It means the Ukrainians know they can't defeat Russia in a war to keep their country together.

      March 11, 2014 at 4:18 pm | Reply
  11. vraina

    http://cushionkautilya.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/crimean-solution-a-zero-sum-game/ this is how its going to end.

    March 11, 2014 at 12:19 pm | Reply
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    March 11, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Reply
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    March 11, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Reply
    • jack2

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      March 11, 2014 at 3:59 pm | Reply
  14. русская украинка

    Фарид, Вы нормальный? Вы такую чушь пишите, противно читать! Что Вы употребляете перед сном?

    March 11, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Reply
    • jack2

      Farid, You normal? You write such rubbish, where is your love to read! That you answer me before you go to bed at night? ..

      March 11, 2014 at 3:55 pm | Reply
    • Alex

      Через 20, максимум 30 лет, Европа и Япония перейдут на другие формы энергии, более дешёвые и чистые. И тогда будет намного меньше желающих на Российское гражданство. Но Олигархи уже приготовили свои наворованные миллиарды на чёрный день в офшёрных банках. А народ будет есть то что заготовили в маринованных банках.

      March 11, 2014 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  15. Emmi

    The US has enough on their plates. Perhaps it is time to mind our own business and clean up the USA.

    March 11, 2014 at 1:32 pm | Reply
  16. Sebastine odoh

    Please public forum like this should not be used to say nonesense. Some people have phone but dont know hw to use it. I wil tell u how to use it. Give it to d orphanage close to u. Thanks

    March 11, 2014 at 1:47 pm | Reply
  17. Rob

    4give them

    March 11, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Reply
  18. Rob

    Russia is playing a game but how do we solve the riddle

    March 11, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  19. LT Fang

    Play the long game.
    People thought Bush and Rumsfeld were geniuses for taking over Baghdad in a few weeks. Look what happened after a few years?
    Drag this thing out for Putin, and bleed him dry drop by drop.

    March 11, 2014 at 2:00 pm | Reply
  20. Vladimir

    Behold: The True Colors of Putinism. Those who have been deceived by Putinpropaganda for over a decade now see the true colors of Putinism - avoid a “EuroManezh” at all costs.

    The only thing the Putinists fear is a Color revolution/Arab spring coming to their doorstep. At the core, these revolutions are about getting accountability into their political systems (e.g., democracy).

    Putinism is the tight melding of government agencies, oil & gas conglomerates, media, police, courts, military, and tax collectors, all under the control of the presidential administration/secret services (FSB).

    The Crimean invasion is a scheme to stop cold EuroMaidan from cascading into EuroManezh

    March 11, 2014 at 2:06 pm | Reply
  21. D.Bose

    Russians are not invading. They have not killed any Ukrainian soldiers. People just want to join Russia, as they will get pensions 4 time higher than what they normally get from Ukraine, their children can study in Russian Universities free of tuition and other fees, they can go to work in Russia. Who would not like it? How this can be an invasion?.

    March 11, 2014 at 2:28 pm | Reply
    • victor

      It is an invation because Russia signed a treaty along with UK and USA that garanteed Ukrainian borders. In exchange Ukraine accepted the status of non-nuclear state.

      March 11, 2014 at 4:26 pm | Reply
  22. sly

    Who cares – Russia, Turkey, Ukraine have fought over that penisula for thousands of years.

    Not a news story, especially for America.

    I wouldn't rate this issue in America's top 100.

    March 11, 2014 at 3:09 pm | Reply
    • alan s

      Sly: You are probably correct that the fate of the Ukraine is not a major issue for the U.S. But Russia's actions are, in the long run. First an invasion of Georgia, and now an armed intervention in part of Ukraine. A troubling pattern is beginning to develop.

      March 11, 2014 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  23. palintwit

    Putin would certainly be able to help us "re-settle" the tea party patriots.

    March 11, 2014 at 3:13 pm | Reply
  24. shwarts

    I used to trust Zakaria before. Liked his opinions. But this time he is disappointing. First: Olympic games are still going. Second, he is missing a very important point: a referendum should show if people of Crimea want to stay with Ukraine or not. I would like his opinion on this fact after a referendum.

    March 11, 2014 at 3:25 pm | Reply
  25. ram

    Ukraine has major financial problems. Russia wants Crimea. If Crimeans vote by majority to join Russia, why not have Ukraine sell Crimea to Russia for $2 trillion plus relocation costs for anyone living in Crimea who would prefer to live in Ukraine and not Russia. That would make everything legal and solve Ukraine's economical dilemmas.

    March 11, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Reply
    • victor

      I am pretty sure Ukraine would accept this approach but for Putin any agreement is the sign of weekness.

      March 11, 2014 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  26. John

    CNN, I believe I have a solution for this delima, simply have the UN suspend Russia's permenant membership to the UN security council. I am Sure Russia will think twice before proceeding further.

    March 11, 2014 at 3:52 pm | Reply
    • Zach

      Why not suspend our permanent membership in the UN while we're at it, John? After all, we invaded both Iraq and Afghanistan without legitimate cause and still occupy these countries!

      March 11, 2014 at 3:58 pm | Reply
  27. Rich

    With a goal, a plan, and an amazingly uncaring U.S. and EU Putin probably is improvising because things are working in his favor even better than he expected. Now the question, does he only take Crimea and the 4 eastern districts or go for the whole country. I would advise just Crimea plus 4 and say this will never have to happen again.

    March 11, 2014 at 3:59 pm | Reply
  28. jack2

    The important thing here beyond Putin invading Crimea is that Putin be stopped to go any further

    March 11, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Reply
  29. menisino

    Putin will start moving into East Ukraine next & war will breakout due to Merkel, Obama playing "patty-cake" with Putin. Then what Obama? Either show some resolve or please step down as "commander & chief".

    March 11, 2014 at 4:21 pm | Reply
  30. Zakaria has a copyright problem

    Zakaria – At least Putin doesn't PLAGARIZE!

    March 11, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Reply
    • victor

      actaully Putin does PLAGARIZE. He copied the approach Hitler used in 1938.

      March 11, 2014 at 4:36 pm | Reply
      • XTX

        You are comlete idiot !

        Putin has all the rights to protect Russian speaking people if they have been atacked or persecuted by ilegal neo-fascist regime in Kiev !

        March 16, 2014 at 6:26 am |
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