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.

It was Sergei Lavrov, foreign minister of Russia, who told John Kerry that Russia respects the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Is Russia just saying one thing? It’s a big if, but what would be in it for Russia to invade? And what are the options for responses from the U.S.?

Well, first, I very much doubt they will invade because...

You doubt it?

Yes, because what the strategy and the path is more likely to be if they were to do anything is to have, as you said, control of the Crimea in a way that the Ukrainian government forces cannot take it back. Then they would secede.  Remember, Crimea has historically been part of Russia. It was only given to Ukraine in 1954. This was part of an attempt to show during the days of the Soviet Union that we're all pals. We trust you. Ukraine is so much a part of the Soviet Union that we, the Russians, will give you a crucial part of it.

It allowed Russia to locate its Black Sea Fleet in the area, which is why this is so geostrategically important. So, Crimea secedes or aligns itself with Russia. The Ukrainian government can't do much about it. No Russian troops have crossed into Crimea. That's the more likely scenario.

You talk about geostrategy. Let’s talk about the gas lines, specifically from Russia through Ukraine into the West. And we talk about politics, geopolitics, but also economics. How might that be at play in this whole sort of proxy tug-of-war between the West and Russia?

There are two ways. As you say, Ukraine is crisscrossed by Russian gas pipelines. That's one of the key ways that Russia delivers gas both in Europe and actually south as well. They will make sure, if there is any kind of deal here, there is no interruption of Russian gas supply.

The other piece of it is Russia delivers gas to Ukraine at massively subsidized prices. The areas to look at are probably not the old-fashioned Russian invasion. What Russia will try to do is create facts on the ground in Crimea, probably have the Crimeans ask for some kind of autonomy or even secession.

And the second part is the Russians will say to the Ukrainians, fine, you want to be independent, you don't want to have any association with us, we subsidize your national gas to the tune of $3 billion to $5 billion a year. That subsidy ends today.

If they were to do that, the Ukrainian economy could collapse. It's already near collapse. That's why if you look at the administration in Washington, they are playing a careful game. You need to deter Russia. You can't have Russian troops enter. You want to make sure Russia doesn't try to reconquer Ukraine in some way, even though Russia lives right next door. They provide Ukraine with a lot of cash, with a lot of subsidies, and there are a lot of Russian-speaking people in Ukraine. So, they are going to have to be involved.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine

soundoff (58 Responses)
  1. Supernaut

    Someone mentioned "As much as I have respect for Mr. Zakaria.." He made an important prediciton, unfortunately for him it's been falsified by the facts. The question is: of the predicitons Mr. Zakaria has made over time what percentage has he gotten correct? I'd be curious to find out. That is how you earn respect, by showing that you know what you are talking about.

    March 11, 2014 at 7:12 pm |
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