Enough with the tough guy debate
March 7th, 2014
12:07 PM ET

Enough with the tough guy debate

For more on the latest developments in Ukraine, watch a special live edition of "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.

By Fareed Zakaria

Inevitably, the crisis in Ukraine is being discussed in Washington largely through the lens of political polarization. It seems like any and every topic is fodder for partisan dispute these days, even the weather – actually, especially the weather.

Many Republicans are arguing that Russian President Vladimir Putin intervened in the Crimea region of Ukraine because of President Barack Obama's weakness. Putin saw that Obama didn't want to go to war in Syria, for example, and this emboldened Putin.

Well, who knows right? It's tough to know what would have happened in an alternative universe. Imagine that we still had Putin around in charge of Russia, but imagine he faced a different president, one who was tough, aggressive, who had no compunctions about invading countries.

Oh wait, we ran that very experiment in 2008! Putin faced George W. Bush, a president who had invaded Afghanistan and Iraq for good measure (and, in the latter case, defying massive international pressure and opposition). And yet, Putin invaded Georgia. And not, as he did this time, in a stealthy way with soldiers who were already there who simply switched their uniforms. He sent in Russian tanks roaring into Georgia and – without any referendums – simply annexed two pieces of that country.

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Topics: Barack Obama • Russia • United States
Zakaria: Sanctions against Russia are just symbolic
March 6th, 2014
01:59 PM ET

Zakaria: Sanctions against Russia are just symbolic

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the latest developments in Ukraine, newly announced sanctions against Russia, and what the United States can and should do moving forward.

The parliament in Crimea voted to join Russia, and they've called for a referendum 10 days from now to let the people there vote. Does this pose a problem for the United States? What if the people there vote to become part of Russia?

Exactly, because if we believe that the people's voice should be heard, the people of Crimea should decide what they want. As has been said, it’s 60 percent Russian majority – there's a large group of people who are historically tied to Russia.

Remember, Crimea was part of Russia until 1954, and it was gifted in a kind of internal transfer, because it was all part of the Soviet Union. Khrushchev, the then-Soviet leader, transferred Crimea from Russia to Ukraine, but all within the one country, the Soviet Union. So, it sort of stayed part of Russia until 1991. This means Ukraine hasn’t really had Crimea that long.

What's likely to happen is a referendum would go in the direction of Russia, and the Ukrainian parliament would not accept that referendum. And so then what you have is two different legal realities, but the political and military reality, of course, is that Russia will have taken over Crimea.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine • United States
Does Putin want a new Cold War?
March 5th, 2014
02:10 PM ET

Does Putin want a new Cold War?

By Olga Oliker, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Olga Oliker is associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. The views expressed are her own.

Russian troops appear in control of Crimea. Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly said “the possibility still exists” that Russian forces could be sent deeper into Ukraine to defend the rights of protesting ethnic Russians. Russia’s much-voiced belief in principles of sovereignty, it seems, have been trumped by its long-held view that ethnic Russians must be protected, wherever they may live.

Two competing narratives are at work. In the narrative heard in the United States and Europe, democracy-seeking protesters forced Russia’s puppet president from office and are building a new government, which represents Ukraine’s Western values. In Russia’s narrative, a freely elected government was illegally deposed as a result of street violence encouraged by the United States and EU. Ukraine is in chaos, with ultra-nationalists threatening ethnic Russians throughout the country. Washington and Brussels saw Russia invade Ukraine. Looking from Moscow, Russian troops are trying to bring peace and stability to a neighboring state on the verge of civil war.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine
March 5th, 2014
09:51 AM ET

What a solution to Ukraine crisis might look like

CNN speaks with Fareed about the latest developments in Ukraine, the U.S. and EU efforts to find an "off ramp" for Vladimir Putin, and why a political solution is essential. This is an edited version of the transcript.

What do you make of the U.S. talk about deescalating the crisis and reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is working to try to figure out a way off, a kind of a ramp-off for Vladimir Putin?

The way the Russians have handled this is brutish and thuggish. Men in ski masks coming in taking over an area using military force – obviously, that is totally unacceptable. It has to be deterred. But there is a political crisis in Crimea and in Ukraine that requires some kind of solution where Russia is going to be involved.

In Kiev, you had an elected president who was deposed by a kind of mass movement against him. Now, it has to be figured out how that country moves forward since it's still living in the shadow of Russia. Crimea has a 60 percent Russian population. Historically part of Russia, it was gifted to Ukraine in 1954 and is the home of the Russian Black Sea fleet.

More from CNN: Russia warns over U.S. assets

So, how are those things going to be resolved? There's no way to keep Russia out of it, so what I think President Obama is trying to figure is that although the way in which Russia handled this – militarily and stealthy and frankly in violation of international law – has to be condemned and opposed, you get to the question of how do you politically resolve this in a lasting fashion, as Russia is going to have to be involved.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine
March 4th, 2014
04:27 PM ET

Zakaria: U.S. should push for Russia sanctions

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the latest developments in Ukraine, and how the United States should respond. This is an edited version of the interview.

If the U.S. doesn't have much support from some critical European allies like Germany for tough sanctions against Russia, where does it leave the Ukraine crisis?

It's very tough to do sanctions if you don't have the Germans and the British on board. Remember, Europe imports almost 30 percent of its energy from Russia, from Russian natural gas. Sometimes it goes even higher than that. So they are going to be very reluctant to do the kind of comprehensive sanctions which would deprive them of that energy. And as you point out, London's role as a financial center is dependent on, among other things, Russia's capital.

I think we should still push for as comprehensive sanctions as we can get. You're never going to get totally comprehensive sanctions, but they do exact a price. And what we're trying to do here, as I see it, what the United States is trying to do with many members of the international community is to make Russia pay some price, some significant price, isolate it, and send a signal that this is not how we want business to be conducted in the 21st century. You're not going to be able to stop it in its tracks. You're not going to be able to send troops into Crimea. But the fact that we can't get 100 percent leak proof sanctions doesn't mean we shouldn't try to raise the bar and exact some price.

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Topics: Russia
March 3rd, 2014
11:36 PM ET

Zakaria: Men in ski masks not the answer in Ukraine

CNN’s Piers Morgan speaks with Fareed about the latest developments in Ukraine, Russia’s deployment of troops and how the West should respond. Watch the video for more.

Vladimir Putin is clearly pretty paranoid about what he perceives has gone on here. He probably thinks the West has ganged up, and has been pretty duplicitous over this whole issue and therefore is perfectly justified in taking this action. What is your reaction to that if that is indeed what he is thinking?

I think that’s exactly right. But here’s Putin’s problem: Whether in Georgia or Ukraine, the West has not been particularly provocative in regard to Putin. They have been trying to deal with him. George W. Bush said he looked into his eyes and saw someone he could trust. Obama tried to reset the relationship with him…

…But the point is this – the people of Ukraine, the large majority of them, have wanted to move West, to have their destiny to be with Europe. They have wanted a modern future in the 21st century. It’s similar to what happened in Georgia. And that is the dynamic on the ground that Putin doesn’t know what to deal with. What you have in Ukraine surprised the West as much as it surprised Vladimir Putin.

…I readily admit it’s a complicated situation. But surely the way to respond to that is not to send in thuggish paramilitary troops who don’t have markings because you don’t even have the courage to admit that you have effectively invaded Crimea, and so you are doing it in this surreptitious way with gangs and paramilitary forces.

The best way to have dealt with this, I think, would have been to have negotiations, diplomacy, perhaps ask for a referendum in Crimea to see what the people there want. And if they want a special autonomous status, or even if they wanted secession, then maybe that’s possible. But surely no one would argue that this is a good principle of international life to argue that anytime the country next door is acting up then they go and gobble a piece of it up. If China were to do that with its neighbors, how would we feel? If other countries were to do that.

That is the principle that is at stake, not the fact that Ukraine is divided and complicated – that’s true. But surely the answer is not the men in ski masks.

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Topics: Protests • Russia • Ukraine
U.S. credibility at stake in Ukraine
March 2nd, 2014
06:58 PM ET

U.S. credibility at stake in Ukraine

By Andrew C. Kuchins, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Andrew CKuchins is a senior fellow and director of the CSIS Russia and Eurasia Program. You can follow the Center for Strategic and International Studies @CSISThe 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.

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Topics: Europe • NATO • Russia • Ukraine • United States
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.

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Topics: Fareed's Take • Russia • Ukraine
How to understand Putin's Ukraine strategy
March 1st, 2014
08:57 PM ET

How to understand Putin's Ukraine strategy

By Leon Aron, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Leon Aron is resident scholar and director of Russian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute. The views expressed are his own.

To understand what motivates Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Ukrainian crisis and how he will proceed, we have to recall two key things about his strategy and his tactics.

First, Russian foreign policy – whether under Brezhnev, Yeltsin, Putin or anyone after him – is informed by three imperatives: Russia as a nuclear superpower, Russia as the world’s great power, and Russia as the central power in the post-Soviet geopolitical space. And a power that is political, economic, cultural, diplomatic and most certainly military.

What differs from one Russian political regime to another is interpretation and implementation, that is, the policies that support these objectives.  Putin’s have been far more assertive and at times riskier than those of his predecessors. The nuclear “superpowership” has been translated into a vehement opposition to missile defense in Europe.  Russia as a great power has been defined largely in opposition to the U.S. and the West in general. And the centrality of Russia in the post-Soviet space has been re-interpreted as dominance and hegemony.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine
Why is Russia moving so fast?
March 1st, 2014
08:05 PM ET

Why is Russia moving so fast?

By John Lough, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: John Lough is an associate fellow on the Russia and Eurasia Program at Chatham House, a U.K.-based think tank. The views expressed are his own.

The speed of Russia's actions in Ukraine has taken many by surprise. While the methods have been seen before – notably in Moldova and Georgia, where Moscow has openly backed separatist regimes with military and economic support – Russia's apparent backing of Crimea's government against the new authorities in Kiev crosses a significant threshold.

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has never challenged Ukraine's independence in such a way. But Russian intervention in Crimea over recent days, and the decision today by the Russian parliament to give President Vladimir Putin the authority to deploy additional forces to Ukraine to protect Russian citizens, marks a significant escalation of the crisis in Ukraine.

Indeed, the reality is that if these plans are enacted, they would signify a violation of Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity. In other words, this would in essence be a declaration of war, and would demonstrate Russia's readiness to disregard the principles of the post-Cold War security order enshrined in the 1990 Paris Charter, as well as its commitment in the 1994 Budapest Declaration to respect Ukraine's independence.

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Topics: Russia • United States
February 28th, 2014
06:32 PM ET

Zakaria: Russia unlikely to invade Crimea region

CNN speaks with Fareed about the latest developments in Ukraine, why the Crimea region matters to Russia, and whether Russia might consider invading. This is an edited version of the transcript. For more on this issue, watch GPS this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN when Fareed will be speaking with former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski.

Before we get into the bigger picture questions, what is your reaction to the news about armed troops, maybe they are Russian, in two airports in the Crimea region? And also, as one correspondent was saying, even surrounding peacefully a TV station?

It seems very unlikely that Russia has no hand in this “border patrol.” It's possible they are not Russian, actual Russian official troops. They may be some kind of paramilitary. Remember the Ukrainian army tends to be drawn from the region it's from. There may be Ukrainian army forces that are more loyal to the Crimean area than they are to Kiev, which is a very pro-Western anti- Russian part of Russia.

But the Russian intelligence services have been active in Ukraine ever since the breakup between of the Soviet Union and the independence of Ukraine. You have to assume that what they are trying to do is create facts on the ground – take over the key areas, which are the airport and government buildings. And then you have some kind of autonomous local government that is trying to act in a way that creates facts on the ground that Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, cannot do very much about.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine
February 24th, 2014
09:06 AM ET

2014 not looking so good for Putin

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

By Fareed Zakaria

Last year seemed in many ways to be the year of Vladimir Putin. The Russian president had consolidated power in his country, crushed any possible opposition, kept his ally in Syria from being toppled and brokered a deal to remove Syria's chemical weapons.

This year was also going pretty well for Putin. The Sochi Olympics was not the disaster many had suggested it might be and, above all, Putin had maintained Russia's historic relationship with Ukraine, outmaneuvering the European Union, which had made Ukraine a complicated and conditional offer that Ukraine's president turned down in return for cold Russian cash.

That's what it had looked like until just a few days ago. But now, on the central issue of Ukraine, Russia does not look so triumphant.

Ukraine's President Yanukovych, who is now its former president, overplayed his hand. Putin assumed that force would solve the problem and disperse the protests. Western observers were despairing and assigning blame for all that had happened from Washington to the European Union.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine
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