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By Fareed Zakaria
The actions of the pro-Russian forces, who it appears shot down a civilian airliner, might seem at first glance to be crude and unsophisticated. But in one sense they're on the cutting edge. They represent something we see all around us these days – the democratization of violence.
Let me explain.
For most of history, the side with the bigger army usually won a conflict. But over the past few decades a different pattern has been emerging – the power of asymmetrical warfare. Look at the pro-Russian separatists, or Hamas or Hezbollah or the insurgents in Afghanistan or Iraq, and you will see attacks that are cheap compared with the massive response then launched by traditional armies. FULL POST
CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the alleged shooting down of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 in eastern Ukraine on Thursday. This is an edited version of the transcript.
The conflict in Ukraine had generally slipped out of the headlines in the United States, but Thursday’s incident was a very shocking reminder that if anything it as intense as ever.
I think it's also a reminder of something else – that the government of Ukraine doesn’t actually control all of the territory of Ukraine – this happened in a part of Ukraine that the government of Ukraine doesn’t control. It’s largely controlled by these pro-Russian rebel forces. Some are Ukrainians, but there was a lot of reporting as you know that says there were a lot of Russians and Russian special ops people who've been in there.
Actually, Ukraine’s government accuses the separatists and Russia of being linked in that way.
Precisely. And a lot of the equipment that those separatists have got they almost certainly got from Russia. This should be an opportunity for the entire world for the West, for the United States, to say, let's end this farce once and for all. The government of Ukraine has to have control over its own territory. The Ukrainian army should go in there, clean this out, and the Russian government at this point I think is on the back foot and won’t be able to try mounting any spirited defense.
But you've got to allow the government in Kiev to actually control the country…
Since a new president was elected in Kiev we’ve seen advances by Ukrainian forces against separatists. Early on, when Ukraine's military was trying to move into some of these regions in eastern Ukraine, they basically got turned around by mobs of people. But there have been some advances by the Ukrainian military there in the last several weeks.
Exactly, and part of that is they're getting their act together. Part of it, remember, is the Ukrainian military and intelligence services are riddled with Russian spies, so that has made it very difficult. But this is all an opportunity to clean that up, to allow the government of Ukraine to have control over its territory, to sweep out some of those Russian forces. This would be an opportunity, particularly if the Europeans really lay it on the line, because Putin is going to feel on the defensive here. This wouldn’t be a time to mount a Russian counter offense.
A U.S. official told CNN that the Obama administration doesn’t think the government of Ukraine has air defenses in the region where Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot and crashed. The official also told CNN that we'll see the Obama administration attempting to internationalize this, and there will be pressure to allow others from outside to see this site. What do you make of that?
I think it's actually very important because we forget that in Russia that what people are hearing is a completely different narrative. You heard Putin basically saying “Look, if the Ukrainian military wasn't trying to take control of their own country, none of this would happen because this area wouldn't be a war zone.” And there are reports in Russia that say that this was the Ukrainian military that shot down the plane because it was trying to shoot down Vladimir Putin's plane and that they missed and that these two planes just happened to be in the sky at the same time.
The Russians have had this extraordinary propaganda offensive throughout this Ukrainian crisis – there have been some bald faced lies, they’ve made stuff up and just put it out there.
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.
In the thick fog of war hanging over eastern Ukraine it is only possible at this point to establish the perimeter of the known and then to evaluate the potential culpability on a more-likely to less-likely scale.
We know that Russia and its proxies have tried to establish a de-facto no-fly zone over the rebel-controlled territory in east-south Ukraine. And while initially only low-flying helicopters and planes reachable by shoulder-fired missiles were downed, the targetable range seems to have increased to an altitude that can only be reached by sophisticated surface-to-air missiles, as evidenced by the Ukrainian military AN-26 cargo aircraft that was brought down on Monday.
The self-proclaimed military commander of the pro-Russian separatists Col. Igor Strelkov allegedly alluded to the no-fly zone when, following the crash of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, he appears to have written on the Russian equivalent of Facebook, Vkontakte, that “we have just shot down an AN-26 airplane…Haven’t we warned them – don't fly in our sky.”
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The image in the video shows the world famous Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. A statue of Apollo, the Greek god of music, riding his chariot has sat atop the Bolshoi's portico for more than 150 years. In the 1990s, the statue joined the ranks of princes and emperors when it was added to the nation's currency. It now decorates the front of the 100 Ruble note.
This month, Russian lawmaker Roman Khudyakov requested that the Central Bank remove this iconic image. It seems he is offended by the Greek god's clothing – or lack thereof. You see, following a recent theater restoration, a more modest version of the Bolshoi statue was unveiled with a strategically placed fig leaf. Khudyakov noted that the bills don’t match the restored statue and finds them unsuitable for children.
This request, unusual as it may be, echoes a growing conservatism in the Russian government. The parliament unanimously passed anti-gay legislation last year banning "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations" to youth. Who knows what the law means? But what we do know is that the fine for a person breaking it is steep – up to 100,000 rubles. That's about $3000 dollars.
President Putin has strongly supported this anti-gay legislation. Something tells us, however, that Mr. Putin won’t be as offended by the lack of clothes. Remember the famous image of the bare-chested macho man of the Urals?
Watch"Fareed Zakaria GPS," Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with former Swedish Prime Minster Carl Bildt, now the country’s foreign minister, about the recent tensions between Europe and Russia over Ukraine.
You gave a very tough speech at the Atlantic Council in which you said that Russia's annexation of Crimea has only one parallel in modern history, in the last 30, 40 years, and that was Iraq – Saddam Hussein's annexation of Kuwait. That was, of course, met with a massive international coalition that repulsed that intervention. What is one to conclude from the fact that there’s no such forceful counter-measure in this case?
Well, I mean in the case of Saddam Hussein in Kuwait, of course, there was a resolution by the U.N. Security Council. Now, Russia is a member of the Security Council, so that's never going to happen. I mean they're going to block everything that is related to this.
But I think it’s important that we are extremely firm on how grave the violation of international law is that Russia has undertaken in the case of Crimea, and that we make very clear to Russia that the invasion, the occupation and the annexation of Crimea will have consequences. We will never accept it. And it will be a burden on our bilateral relationship for as long as it lasts.
We’re not going to undo the occupation immediately, but we must be very clear that it isn’t acceptable – it wasn’t acceptable in the Kuwait case, it's not acceptable in the Crimea case. It is not acceptable in any future other cases, either.
Fareed speaks with former Swedish Prime Minster Carl Bildt, now the country’s foreign minister, about the recent tensions between Europe and Russia over Ukraine. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.
You don’t buy the argument, I notice from your speech, that the Europeans in some way are responsible – or NATO is responsible – because over the last 20 years the European Union and NATO have expanded to Russia's borders. This is, of course the Russian claim, made by Putin in various speeches.
I don't buy anything of that. I mean the reality of it is that Ukraine, for all of its problems – and they are fairly massive – has been throughout its period of independence, has been a democratic country. And it has itself expressed the wish to have free trade and closer cooperation with the rest of the European countries, notably in the European Union. And we have answered that particular call. It would have been very difficult to refuse the Ukrainians. We have, perhaps, done less than they wanted – they want a much clearer European perspective from us.
They have free trade with Russia. We have no objections to that. And we’re now giving them free trade with the European Union. So we have answered the wishes of the Ukrainian people and the Moldovans and the Georgians and others. And that’s the thing you do in order to try to help a democracy that is trying to build a better future. FULL POST
By Tomas Valasek and Damon Wilson, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Tomáš Valášek is the permanent representative of Slovakia to NATO. Damon Wilson is executive vice president at the Atlantic Council and former NATO official. The views expressed are their own.
In the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s aggression in Europe’s east, NATO has reaffirmed the alliance’s commitment to defend “every inch” of its members’ territory. Right now, it must also make clear that it will respond to any Russian measures to undermine stability in Europe as a whole, especially the security of countries waiting to get into NATO. The cost of not doing so is to invite more Russian aggression.
While NATO membership for Ukraine is not on the table in Brussels or Kiev, Ukraine’s sovereignty may be impacted by what the alliance decides about what to offer Montenegro and Georgia, the two most prepared candidates for membership. NATO foreign ministers have started talks in Brussels on Wednesday that will pave the way for a decision on enlargement at NATO’s September summit in Wales. Unfortunately, some key NATO members are not yet convinced about the benefits of enlargement.
That decision will be based mostly on whether candidates are prepared to meet the responsibilities of membership. But allies also need to consider whether accession of additional countries contributes to NATO’s security. Enlargement is not a favor to aspiring members. Any next round must strengthen the security of the Alliance and the stability of Europe.
By Mark N. Katz, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mark N. Katz is a professor of government and politics at George Mason University and the author of the recent book Leaving Without Losing: The War on Terror After Iraq and Afghanistan. The views expressed are his own.
It’s still not certain how the ongoing crisis in Ukraine is going to be resolved, but there already appears to be one clear winner: China. That, anyway, is the view of several Russian observers I met with last week when I was in Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s response to European talk of reducing natural gas imports from Russia no doubt prompted Putin’s recent trip to Beijing and the signing of a mega-deal under which China has agreed to buy a massive $400 billion of Russian gas over a thirty year period.
But while Putin may believe that Chinese support will help him frustrate what he sees as Western efforts to prevent Russia’s re-emergence as a great power, the view among observers I spoke with wasn’t quite so rosy.
For a start, they interpreted the declaration that what China pays for Russian gas is a “trade secret” as a bad sign for Moscow, suggesting that Putin might have been so desperate for a deal that Beijing was able to get him to accept an extremely low price.
By Kim Davis, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Kim Davis is co-founder and managing director of Charlesbank Capital Partners, a private equity firm. He is also chairman of the Baltic American Freedom Foundation and a member of the board of Freedom House. The views expressed are his own.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's annexation of Crimea, destabilization of Ukraine and protestations ("threats") about his need to defend Russian speaking populations throughout Eastern Europe have elicited many reactions and analyses.
The most troubling of these reactions have been from observers who believe that NATO's enlargement in the 1990's was wrongheaded and an immediate cause of Putin's belligerent actions. But not only is that suggestion flawed – it also signals a profound misunderstanding of what took place over the past few months. Indeed, any policy based on that kind of thinking will heighten the danger to Russia's non-NATO neighbors and may also increase Putin's adventurism in new NATO countries, especially the Baltics.
Many foreign policy observers favor a tacit, or even explicit, undertaking by the United States and Europe that the West will no longer support further eastward expansion of NATO and the EU as long as Russia agrees to renounce its territorial ambitions. Such a bargain, Finlandization writ large, would be a terrible mistake.
By Lauren Dickey, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Lauren Dickey is a research associate with the Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed are her own.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s trip to China last week was the capstone on weeks of strategic agreements for Beijing. The successes of Putin’s meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Shanghai – most notably a $400 billion gas deal to transport 38 billion cubic meters of gas yearly into China beginning in 2018 – were preceded by equally significant meetings between the Chinese leadership and their counterparts from Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan. But while these bilateral meetings point to Beijing’s commitment to the development of the Silk Road economic belt, they also speak to something even more important – China’s interest in bolstering regional security.
In the lead up to the Shanghai Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) the first central Asian leader to signal the strategic depth of central Asia’s ties with China was Turkmenistan’s president, Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov. A week before Berdymukhamedov’s mid-May visit to China, China opened a new $600 million processing plant at Bagtyarlyk gas field, the location of a major China-bound pipeline. Turkmenistan’s gas exports to China have increased in recent years, with officials aiming to reach 40 billion cubic meters by 2016 thanks to China’s financial backing of Bagtyarlyk. Upon arriving in China, Berdymukhamedov signed a gamut of deals with Beijing, formalizing Turkmenistan’s ascension as the last central Asian nation to sign onto a “strategic partnership” with Beijing. The two countries agreed to strengthen cooperation in areas ranging from natural gas extraction to cross-border infrastructure development and cultural exchanges.
By Tanya Lokshina, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Tanya Lokshina is the Russia program director at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
As the crisis in Ukraine escalated this spring, the Kremlin’s vicious crackdown on civil society also escalated. Space for independent civic activity in Russia is shrinking dramatically, but international policymakers and the media have been understandably too distracted to do much about it.
Since early spring, it seems as though every week brings a new pernicious law or legislative proposal.
The authorities have blocked or essentially took editorial control over a number of independent news portals and are pushing new laws to stifle freedom of expression. Just a week ago, President Vladimir Putin signed a law requiring Russian bloggers with significant followings to register with the authorities and comply with the same regulations as media outlets without the same protections and privileges. The same law requires blogging services and social networks to store user activity for six months.
Another legislative proposal reportedly prompted by independent media coverage of the crisis in Ukraine would introduce administrative and criminal offenses for editors who publish “false anti-Russian” information or offer media support to “anti-Russian extremist and separatist forces.” Another new draft law introduces a ban on publishing negative information about the Russian government and military.
Fareed speaks with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger about what might be behind Russia’s recent policy toward Ukraine. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Kissinger: One has to ask oneself this question: He spent $60 billion on the Olympics. They had opening and closing ceremonies, trying to show Russia as a normal progressive state. So it isn't possible that he, three days later, would voluntarily start an assault on Ukraine. There is no doubt that…
So to explain. You're saying you don't think this was a plan. You think he reacted to events that he saw as spiraling out of his control?
Kissinger: Yes. I think at all times he wanted Ukraine in a subordinate position. And at all times, every senior Russian that I've ever met, including dissidents like Solzhenitsyn and Brodsky, looked at Ukraine as part of the Russian heritage.
But I don't think he had planned to bring it to a head now. I think he had planned a more gradual situation, and this is sort of a response to what he conceived to be an emergency situation. Of course, to explain why he did it doesn't mean one approves of annexing part of another country or crossing of borders. But I think we ought to settle the Ukraine issue first, and then have a discussion about relations with Russia.