Zakaria: Sanctions strategy could work against Russia
May 5th, 2014
01:53 PM ET

Zakaria: Sanctions strategy could work against Russia

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the latest developments in Ukraine, tensions between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian militants, and whether sanctions can deter Russian aggression.

There is a fear that Vladimir Putin might look at the violence over the weekend in Ukraine and say “we now see a reason to invade.” Do you see Russia really wanting to invade eastern Ukraine or do you think Putin is just happy with the instability that's already being created within the country right now?

That's the million dollar question – is he doing this to create an atmosphere of instability, which allows him to prove his point, which is that you can't solve Ukraine without him. You can't hold elections there. And this is all about the run-up. We're 20 days away from the elections and he’s trying to prove, it seems to me, that nothing can happen in Ukraine unless he decides it's going to happen.

Now, the West has made several offers of diplomatic meetings and solutions. Right now, he doesn't want to take them, because I think he still wants to continue to prove that he can destabilize the place much more than we think. Now, the danger is that things can get out of control. We don't entirely know what his calculation is. But you know, in the back of everyone's mind, the big question is, could you imagine Russian troops and American troops in some way being locked in a military confrontation? Remember, the entire Cold War that never happened. We seem to be getting a little bit closer to what is still a very unlikely event. But we're getting a little bit closer to it.

My fear about those kind of gestures, military gestures, is you want to do something that would actually work and would make a difference, and where the threat is real. One of my old professors said two things are very dangerous and expensive in international relations – threats when they fail and promises when they succeed. So be very careful when you make threats and promises. I think it would be very hard to muster a military threat that will be meaningful, other than presumably a lot of air power.

But again, you would be talking about an American-Russian direct confrontation. Remember, these two countries each have 3,000 nuclear missiles. We always stopped short of that during the Cold War for fear over what if this escalates.

Over the weekend, you spoke with the man at the U.S. Department of Treasury who is in charge of applying sanctions pain to Putin and to his inner circle. How are they defending the sanctions, especially the unilateral sanctions the U.S. has put in place? Because many experts don't think they have been effective enough.

The interesting question is what does one mean by work? So if you look at the sanctions, there's no question, of course, the Russian stock market is down 13 percent. Russia was going to grow at 2 percent, 2.5 percent this year. Estimates are now it will grow zero. They tried to borrow money last week. They tried to do a bond offering. They had to cancel it because there was no demand.

You asked the key question – does Vladimir Putin care?

Right. There is no question there is pain. The question is, is that pain meaningful to the only guy that matters? My guess is in the short term, it doesn't matter, because Putin is actually up maybe 10 or 15 points in the polls because of this. This is nationalism – he wraps himself with the Russian flag.

But eventually, any ruler has to care, especially in an oil-rich country. Because remember, the way these oil-rich countries survive, they give subsidies to people. They dole out a lot of money, and Russia is no exception. So, if the money starts running out, my guess is it will make a difference, and he will want to cut a deal – a deal that proves, at some level, he's won by proving and reinforcing the idea that Russia needs to have enormous influence in Ukraine.

The reality is that the pictures we have seen, in part of eastern Ukraine, they are pro-Russia. They may not all be, they may not want independence, but it's very clear that the Kiev government is not very popular there, and that these local separatists do have some backing.

And the government cannot calm this by itself.

And if they can't do it by the elections, we have a real problem, because will the elections be held in eastern Ukraine or not? We're on a 20-day clock here, where things can get much worse.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been making the rounds in Washington. She obviously met with the president. You've got some insight into what she, potentially, together with President Obama, might be able to do to rein in Putin.

I think that there has been a tendency to believe that Europe isn’t going to do anything here. But I think they realize they have to respond to the Putin challenge. I think military options aren’t off the table because we're weak, they're off the table because they are, you know, impossible to imagine. You're talking about going to a place that borders Russia, where Russia spends 20 times what Ukraine does on its defense budget.

And it's not entirely clear what the composition of the Ukrainian Army is. Remember, large parts of this Ukrainian Army in the east are ethnic Russians. It's not entirely clear that they would side with the Kiev government if there were to be some kind of war. So the sanctions route has to be the one that is tried. And the German chancellor seemed pretty firm that if this continues, the Germans, the Europeans, would join in broader sanctions. And they want to keep ratcheting them up.

But I think it's very important to note how much of an effect they've already had, because they have created so much uncertainty about Russia that no one is investing. So let's keep in mind that the economic sanctions strategy could work if it were more broadly implemented. And let's hope that that is a track that these two leaders are on.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine

soundoff (81 Responses)
  1. sanction korea

    No 'us-s.korea military collaboration' – no more.

    May 8, 2014 at 9:05 am | Reply
  2. D.Bose

    US sanctions against India ( in 1974 and in 1998) never had worked.
    Sanctions against Iraq never worked either and that was the justification for the US invasion of Iraq.
    Russia`s main trading partners are China, India, Germany and they will not follow sanctions.

    May 8, 2014 at 2:37 pm | Reply
    • George Patton-2

      Let's all hope you're right, D.Bose. The politics of hunger need to be outlawed at the UN as countries like the U.S., Great Britain and France try to use it as a way to impose their will on other countries.

      May 8, 2014 at 3:30 pm | Reply
  3. raj

    if the arabs or russian use their oil , we call blackmail. hey, fareed explain to me, why our sanctions are not blackmail. please don't get fired.

    May 10, 2014 at 1:26 pm | Reply
  4. Rick McDaniel

    Nonsense.

    Sanctions never worked anywhere.

    May 10, 2014 at 2:45 pm | Reply
    • Harry Legg

      Sanctions never work against anyone. What sanctions in this case do is drive Russia, China and Iran closer as
      trade partners which is how it should be. The US doe not belong in that part of the world and has screwed up every country we have so called helped. Obama's foreign policy is a failure just as his Presidency has been. This is an
      experiment gone astray.

      May 12, 2014 at 7:32 am | Reply
  5. Val Sor

    There is an infinite number of planes between the status quo since WWII and thermonuclear war that relations between Russia and the west can exist. The side that can find the most advantageous position as close as possible to the thermonuclear war without the other side upending it, wins. If Putin is able to keep on getting what it wants by force for as long as the western alliance will not match Putin's moves due to fear of an escalation to a nuclear war, then Putin will keep on getting what he wants by force. The side that is NOT constrained by the Mutually Assured Destruction doctrine constantly wins, but only until the first atomic bomb explodes on target whereupon both sides lose.

    May 10, 2014 at 5:28 pm | Reply
  6. Dejan

    It appears to me that you do not understand problem. To be more accurate when I listen your guests and they proposal to solution it makes me lough. Formula and solution being proposed is too far from reality and facts. It is the same like you have a road with no exit but in reality you need to make right turn. I guess it is a problem and luck of understanding the cause of problem and continues dream that only one country has right to dominate and tailor policy or political system suits to US interest. The facts on ground including the historical fact are put on side. There is no doubts that removal of Ukrainian government has the label " made in US". What surprises me that the US did not predicted the outcome and was so badly caught in mistake. It also tells me that luck of professionalism of administration and proper analysis of various scenarios was not done or ignorant approach led to situation. The most striking fact is that US applies the same approach whether is the problem in the Central America or Asia. Hopefully Ukrainian people will come to sense and choose leader who will know to use own head instead of having US advisers or be driven by hate. I also hope that rather sooner than letter it will be a pragmatic resolution and US accept that dictating the other what to do will not turn against US.

    May 10, 2014 at 11:22 pm | Reply
  7. Rodger Olsen

    How are sanctions on Russia going to stop the government in Kiev from using the military to kill its citizens or stop the Right Sektor from bullying, beating up, and sometimes killing Ukrainians that disagree with them, or convince a disgusted population to accept the coup America engineered in Kiev? Russia isn't the problem, its just the excuse for screwing up.

    May 11, 2014 at 1:52 pm | Reply
  8. Rick

    Faraeed Zakaria is a CFR globalist shill neoconservative. don't be fooled by the dark skin

    May 11, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Reply
  9. Africana

    This zakaria is nothing but the US propoganda machine. He is solely teling us how worse things would become to Putin if further sanctions are imposed by western powers. Can he please give us any good & plausable reason if that was neccessary to punish the good guy in the first please ? Putin did nothing wrong as a mater of fact except responding geniusely to the west's stupid action & the whole crises was apparentely the result of western plots & unneccessary deep intervention in the ukrain politics.  Does Mr.zakaria realy understand what that mean to the Russians who r right next door? This is completely reckless & naive aggression so done by the west without regard to the consequences in the aftermath. Putin is the Inter(national) hero who he able to win the heart & mind of his own people as well as the vast majority of the global community. Again for me, if u guys considered urself in a state of war then any kind of economic sanction against the russians that would ultimately weaken their power can be also be considered as an attack by western imperialists on the soverign nation of the mighty Russian people which is worth of defending in any other way at any other cost.

    May 17, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Reply
  10. Africano

    This zakaria is nothing but the US propoganda machine. He is solely teling us how worse things would become to Putin if further sanctions are imposed by western powers. Can he please give us any good & plausable reason if that was neccessary to punish the good guy in the first please ? Putin did nothing wrong as a mater of fact except responding geniusely to the west's stupid action & the whole crises was apparentely the result of western plots & unneccessary deep intervention in the ukrain politics.  Does Mr.zakaria realy understand what that mean to the Russians who r right next door? This is completely reckless & naive aggression so done by the west without regard to the consequences in the aftermath. Putin is the Inter(national) hero who he able to win the heart & mind of his own people as well as the vast majority of the global community. Again for me, if u guys considered urself in a state of war then any kind of economic sanction against the russians that would ultimately weaken their power can be also be considered as an attack by western imperialists on the soverign nation of the mighty Russian people which is worth of defending in any other way at any other cost.

    May 17, 2014 at 6:37 pm | Reply
  11. fake chanel outlet

    doing this dvd is absolutely gruesomeI had a buddy once that consumed a universal remote 1/8th apparatus van an alcohol addiction beverages program to pursue dogs may possibly make sure to do ones own business during his garage and yard. He was probably outdated ones marines so disliked in which would not learn correct their dogs. worse was previously your dogs peeing with their own white colored picket pallisade coating them regarding garage. to start off with commonly figured it's really good

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