Is confrontation with Russia inevitable?
April 18th, 2014
01:24 PM ET

Is confrontation with Russia inevitable?

By Fareed Zakaria

Over the past 2 months, we have watched what has looked like a minor version of the Cold War ramp up between the West and Russia. And it has left many people wondering, "How did we get here?" Was this confrontation inevitable or did the West mishandle Russia, from the start?

In the mishandling camp is Jack Matlock, former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, who watched from Spaso House in Moscow as Mikhail Gorbachev presided over the end of the Cold War and then the end of the Communism. He argues, as the title of his recent Washington Post essay puts it, "The United States has treated Russia as a loser since the end of the Cold War."

In the years right after the Cold War ended, several American statesmen and writers urged a more generous policy towards Moscow.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine
April 16th, 2014
11:45 AM ET

Move from Kyrgyzstan to put (a little) space between U.S., Russian militaries

For more Last Look, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

Believe it or not, there is one country on earth that is home to both U.S. and Russian soldiers, the opposing nations stationed a mere 20 miles from each other. It's a landlocked, mountainous country, and its parliament has been known to sacrifice sheep.

We’re talking about Kyrgyzstan, where the Transit Center at Manas has been a main staging ground for American troops and supplies to move into Afghanistan since 2001. It's less than an hour's drive from Russia's Kant airbase – so close they could practically borrow cups of sugar. But you can see from the pictures in the video that this military neighborhood will soon come to an end.

The Kyrgyz parliament voted not to extend the American lease, and the U.S. has been given its eviction notice. It must vacate by July. U.S. forces are getting ready to go, packing up boxes and breaking down large tents.

Will this put some much needed space between the United States and Russian militaries? Actually, not so much. The U.S. will now use its newly outfitted Transit Center in Romania – 250 miles from Sevastopol, where there is, of course, a Russian base on the Crimean peninsula.

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Topics: Last Look • Military • Russia • United States
Why Ukraine crisis has China in a bind
April 15th, 2014
02:31 PM ET

Why Ukraine crisis has China in a bind

By Christopher S. Chivvis and Bonny Lin, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Christopher S. Chivvis is a senior political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and expert in European and Eurasian security issues. You can follow him @cchivvis. Bonny Lin is an associate political scientist at RAND and an expert on Asia-Pacific security issues. The views expressed are their own.

At Sunday night's emergency U.N. Security Council meeting, Western countries denounced Russian efforts to destabilize eastern Ukraine. Depending on your reading of its statement, China either refused to do the same, or refused to back Russia. Either way, the meeting was just the latest example of how the Ukraine crisis has put China in a bind.

Russia has tried to parry U.S. threats of isolation by talking up the possibility of a closer Sino-Russian alliance. But while there is some concern that Chinese hardliners could seek to use Crimea as a precedent for moves against disputed territories in the Asia-Pacific has others worried, Sunday's meeting suggests concerns should not be overplayed.

To be sure, it will be hard for China to take a tough position against Russia for several reasons. Geopolitically, China shares a long border with Russia, which it views as a key trading and strategic partner. President Xi Jinping's first foreign visit as head of state was to Russia and Xi made developing closer relations with Russia a foreign policy priority. In the event of a U.S.-China confrontation, Beijing would likely hope to be able to rely on Moscow for neutrality, and, if necessary, a supply of energy and other war essential resources.

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Zakaria: Ukraine needs to get tougher
April 15th, 2014
08:50 AM ET

Zakaria: Ukraine needs to get tougher

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about recent developments in Ukraine, and whether Kiev has lost control of the east of the country. This is an edited version of the transcript.

A Russian air force plane reportedly made 12 passes near a U.S. Navy warship in the Black Sea over the weekend, a move the Navy is calling provocative and unprofessional. Something like that doesn't just happen. Is Vladimir Putin sending a clear message here or are we reading too much into it?

No, these things don't happen by accident. But I think that rather than a clear message, the way we should think about this is that Putin really is playing a game where he's pressing and pushing and trying to see what reaction he gets. It's almost like a wrestler that is trying to throw you with a couple of fancy moves and scattering them around.This is really how things seemed to happen during the Cold War, and it was routine and there was an almost agreed upon pattern of behavior. But for 20 years, this has not really happened at all.

The most important set of moves are the ones in eastern Ukraine, where he is trying to figure out how much trouble he can foment there. In the eastern part of Ukraine, where there are lots of pro-Russians, lots of ethnic Russians, he’s trying to see how much chaos he can cause. What will the government of Ukraine do? Will they be able to get control over that place? Or can he then step in and say, we need to look after Russians because, in the Ukraine, they're being discriminated against, they're being persecuted? And so maybe the Russian army moves in. Maybe he tries to negotiate some kind of separate autonomy. All of these are sort of moves to create chaos, which he can then say the Russian army is the solution to.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine
April 10th, 2014
11:13 PM ET

The tension between global norms and national interests

By Fareed Zakaria

Russia’s aggression in Ukraine has unified Western democracies, at least in their robust condemnation of the action. But farther afield, one sees a variety of responses that foreshadow the great emerging tension in 21st-century international life: between global norms and national interests.

Consider the response of India, the world’s most populous democracy. New Delhi was mostly silent through the events of February and early March; it refused to support any sanctions against Russia, and its national security adviser declared that Russia had “legitimate” interests in Ukraine — all of which led Vladimir Putin to place a thank-you phone call to India’s prime minister.

India’s reaction can be explained by its deep ties with Russia.

Read the Washington Post column

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Topics: India • Russia • Ukraine
'Russia trying to create climate of chaos in Ukraine'
April 9th, 2014
12:30 PM ET

'Russia trying to create climate of chaos in Ukraine'

Watch "Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about recent developments in Ukraine, what Russia might be planning next, and how the United States should respond. This is an edited version of the transcript.

You've got pro- Russian demonstrators taking over government buildings in eastern Ukraine. You've got this ultimatum being laid out by the Ukrainian government. What do you make of the state of play inside Ukraine right now?

It feels like we're now in phase two of the Russian operation in Ukraine. Remember, Crimea was never the prize. Putin took Crimea because he could, because there was a naval base, because he feared Ukraine was slipping out of his control and he wanted to take that one piece that he knew he could get.

Ukraine was the prize. The whole purpose of Russian policy for the last decade has been to try to dominate Ukraine. So now phase two is, OK, we have Crimea. But Ukraine has become more anti-Russian and wants to move to the West. What do we do?

So, they've done two things. Over the last week or two, they’ve tried to essentially crash the Ukrainian economy. So, they have really essentially cut off supplies, contracts, business dealings. Now what they're trying to do is foment pro-Russian forces in Ukraine so that they create an atmosphere of general chaos.

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Zakaria: Ukraine crisis very, very significant
April 8th, 2014
04:19 PM ET

Zakaria: Ukraine crisis very, very significant

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the latest developments in Ukraine, talk of a civil war, and whether Russia is likely to invade eastern Ukraine. This is an edited version of the transcript.

Russia's foreign ministry is now using words like civil war when talking about the possible outcome in eastern Ukraine. So what's going on right now? Are the Russians looking for an excuse to move in?

It certainly looks like they're looking for an excuse to further destabilize Ukraine so that they can reassert their domination of their relationship with Ukraine.

Remember, Crimea was never the prize. Ukraine was the prize. They took Crimea because they realized the situation was spiraling out of control. You remember what was happening in the Maidan – suddenly they found Ukraine moving very rapidly toward the West.

And Putin decided [on that] really as a last-minute maneuver, I believe, because he had been stymied during the Olympics – the minute the Olympics got done, he initiated that KGB-style operation to take Crimea. But the prize, the thing he has always cared about, was Ukraine and dominating Ukraine, influencing it. So now we move to phase two of the operation and that is, how does Russia assert some kind of control over Ukraine?

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March 27th, 2014
11:30 PM ET

Obama’s 21st-century power politics

By Fareed Zakaria

Compare what the Obama administration has managed to organize in the wake of this latest Russian aggression to the Bush administration’s response to Putin’s actions in Georgia in 2008. That was a blatant invasion. Moscow sent in tanks and heavy artillery; hundreds were killed, nearly 200,000 displaced. Yet the response was essentially nothing. This time, it has been much more serious. Some of this difference is in the nature of the stakes, but it might also have to do with the fact that the Obama administration has taken pains to present Russia’s actions in a broader context and get other countries to see them as such.

You can see a similar pattern with Iran. The Bush administration largely pressured that country bilaterally. The Obama administration was able to get much more effective pressure because it presented Iran’s nuclear program as a threat to global norms of nonproliferation, persuaded the other major powers to support sanctions, enacted them through the United Nations and thus ensured that they were comprehensive and tight. This is what leadership looks like in the 21st century.

There is an evolving international order with new global norms making war and conquest increasingly rare. We should strengthen, not ridicule, it.

Read the Washington Post column

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Topics: History • Russia • Ukraine
March 13th, 2014
09:29 PM ET

Why (this time) Obama must lead

By Fareed Zakaria

Beyond the near abroad, Russia’s relations with countries such as Poland and Hungary, once warming, are now tense and adversarial. NATO, which has been searching for a role in the post-Cold War era, has been given a new lease on life. Moscow will face some sanctions from Washington and, almost certainly, the European Union as well. In a rare break with Russia on the U.N. Security Council, China refused to condone Russia’s moves in Crimea. Moscow’s annexation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia was recognized by Nicaragua, Venezuela and two island nations in the South Pacific. That might be as many as will recognize the annexation of Crimea.

I have generally been wary of the calls for U.S. intervention in any and every conflict around the world. But this is different. The crisis in Ukraine is the most significant geopolitical problem since the Cold War. Unlike many of the tragic ethnic and civil wars that have bubbled up over the past three decades, this one involves a great global power, Russia, and thus can and will have far-reaching consequences. And it involves a great global principle: whether national boundaries can be changed by brute force. If it becomes acceptable to do so, what will happen in Asia, where there are dozens of contested boundaries — and several great powers that want to remake them?

Read the Washington Post column

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Will Ukraine crisis hasten decline of Russia's global image?
March 12th, 2014
04:35 PM ET

Will Ukraine crisis hasten decline of Russia's global image?

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.

The Ukraine story no doubt has many acts still to play out, and what started in Crimea may yet spread to eastern Ukraine. Although the ultimate response from the West remains unclear, it already seems likely there will be few if any winners from this sorry episode. And regardless of what happens in the coming days and weeks, it is already apparent that the crisis has taken its toll on some key players in the court of international opinion: Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Western solidarity and U.S. President Barack Obama.

Global publics were already divided in their view of Russia before the Ukrainian incursion – just 36 percent had a favorable view of Russia, while 39 percent saw it unfavorably in a 2013 Pew Research Center survey of 38 nations. In that poll, just 37 percent of Americans had a positive take on Moscow, while 43 percent saw it negatively. A subsequent, early February 2014 Gallup survey found that 60 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of Russia.

Public judgment of Russia in much of neighboring Europe was even harsher: Almost two-thirds of French, 60 percent of Germans and just over half of the Poles surveyed gave Russia a thumbs down in 2013.

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Ukraine crisis is not a game
March 11th, 2014
03:11 PM ET

Ukraine crisis is not a game

By Ilya Lozovsky, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Program Officer for Eurasia on Freedom House's Emergency Assistance Program. The views expressed are the writer’s own.

During a complex, fast-moving crisis such as the one now unfolding in Ukraine, it is tempting for some commentators to advocate taking the “long view.” This school of thought, which carries more than a whiff of Cold War nostalgia, reduces the struggle for Ukraine to a geopolitical game in which the various competing actors – the United States, the European Union and Russia – become featureless billiard balls ricocheting off each other. Ukraine becomes Russia’s “historical backyard,” or even worse, a subordinate part of its “legitimate sphere of influence” which we are urged to respect. Approaching the unfolding Ukrainian crisis in this way has the advantage of appearing sober, practical, and dispassionate. It is also dead wrong.

It is wrong because it treats Putin’s Russia, the European Union, and the United States as equivalent actors on the world stage – opposites, but equally legitimate – when in actual fact, these countries’ systems of government are profoundly different.  Russia is undemocratic, authoritarian, and endemically corrupt, its natural resources and immense human capital plundered by Putin and his regime.

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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.

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