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.
By Daniel Calingaert, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Daniel Calingaert is executive vice president of Freedom House. The views expressed are his own.
Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decree honoring more than 300 journalists for their “objective coverage” of events in Crimea recognizes the contributions of these foot-soldiers in his propaganda war. Many Americans belittle Russia’s propaganda but miss the bigger picture – Putin and other modern dictators have created an elaborate playbook to probe their opponents’ weak points with a variety of offensive tactics that throw the democratic defense off-guard. Modern dictators use their playbook masterfully, while the world’s democracies hesitate, repeatedly stumble, and let the dictators make their way bit by bit down the field.
Respect for political and civil rights has declined globally for eight consecutive years, due in large part to the growing sophistication of modern authoritarian rulers and their initiatives to tighten control on power amid rising public demands for political change. They write the narrative of what is going on in their country, delete the evidence that contradicts their stories, and close the space online and on the streets for citizens to have their say.
Putin is drawing on the modern dictator’s playbook to solidify support at home and neutralize criticism abroad of his aggression against Ukraine. He uses his dominance of Russian media to propagate his grossly distorted portrait of fascists trying to take over Ukraine and oppressing ethnic Russians (while in fact, two-thirds of ethnic Russians in Ukraine don’t feel threatened or pressured, according to a recent poll). Western journalists repeat his talking points on the Kremlin-backed RT television network in glossy formats, on-air debates, and on-the-scene reports in eastern Ukraine.
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.
Fareed speaks with former U.S. National Security Advisor Tom Donilon about the ongoing crisis in Ukraine.Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
Do you believe that Vladimir Putin really could actually, in some way, invade Eastern Ukraine at some point?
Well, the situation in Eastern Ukraine right now is quite volatile, and it's difficult to predict – even from Putin's perspective – as to where this is going to go.
What I do think is happening is this: I think that the Russian government, led by Putin, is engaged in a destabilization effort, currently, in Ukraine. I think that the Russian view here is that a destabilized Ukraine is superior to a stable, successful Ukraine that's oriented to the West. And I think you'll see them continue to use the leverage that they have to try to destabilize the situation.
And I think the job of the United States and the West is support, politically and economically, the Ukrainian government, to have the elections take place in May and to move forward and to build a successful Ukraine. A difficult task given the fact that I think that Putin and his team and the Russians are engaged in an express effort to destabilize, through a variety of covert operations
Anything about this surprise you? You spent a lot of time with President Putin, to then hear him say, you know, bald-faced, there were no Russian troops involved, I don't know who these guys with black masks are?
I think it is unusual for a leader of a country to engage in bald-faced lying. I think it's an unusual thing to do, frankly. And it really does obviously hurt his credibility. And I think that's one of the reasons that you've had some of the surprising tough reactions you've had from Europe, for example.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.