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.

For Washington, for Americans, for people around the world, it would be a terrible precedent to allow issues like this to be resolved not through diplomacy, but by force. If Russia could detach parts of neighboring countries with impunity, won’t other great powers like China decide that they too can act in such ways?

So what can be done? Well, for starters President Obama should cancel entirely his attendenace at the G-8 summit to be held in Sochi in June. He should try to persuade the other major powers to follow suit. Russia’s membership in the G-8 should be suspended. Remember,  the G-8 was created to recognize that post-Soviet Russia was behaving like an honorable member of the international community, not a rogue state . If the behavior has changed, Russia’s status should also change.

Militarily there is less that can be done. After all, Russia’s military budget is about 18 times that of Ukraine. But NATO should restart talks on providing assurances to countries like Poland – including perhaps building the missile defense system that was abandoned.

In economic terms, Washington and the EU should consider the only sanctions that would be effective: ones targeted specifically at individuals who could be held responsible for these acts of aggression against Ukraine.

Washington cannot do much to stop Vladimir Putin as he creates facts on the ground in Crimea. But step back and consider what a strategic disaster this is for him. Ukraine has slipped out of his orbit and most of the population there is going to be hostile to Russia for generations. Countries like Poland that had eased up relations with Moscow will now view it with great suspicion. All European countries will put their relations with Russia under review. Even China will surely oppose the brazen violation of national sovereignty, something Beijing is always concerned about. Within Russia people have seen that Putin is terrified of a democracy movement and will brutally oppose it, not really the image he wants to present.

So Putin gets Crimea, which is only 60 percent Russian. Parts of it will be deeply hostile to this Russian takeover – including the population of Crimean Tartars, who are Muslim and getting radicalized. Remember, Crimea is in the Northern Caucasus, the area where Russia has been battling a ferocious Muslim insurgency.

So even as he lines up one more piece – or half piece – on his chessboard, Putin will find that the price he has paid for it will be quite high.

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Topics: Fareed's Take • Russia • Ukraine

soundoff (1,653 Responses)
  1. ayu

    China is watching how the U.S. is doing this time so they can sneak in and take over Taiwan soon. What happens to the free world? Wake up and be strong, Obama, please.

    March 2, 2014 at 10:23 pm | Reply
  2. Mike

    A more important question, why at all America need to be involved in these matters? Why, seriously? What makes Crimea our interest? Is it about restraining Russia again, the McCain dream? But he is an idiot who would put Americans in harms way just to make a point.. And what happens it it is not surrounded, it will take over the world? Seriously? Why EU can't take care of their regional threats, there are plenty of interested parties there. Why all the EU nations enjoy quality life with excellent retirement benefits while American taxpayers carry the burden of their defence ?

    March 2, 2014 at 10:24 pm | Reply
    • Rick

      Because we have a treaty that says we will defend them. Once we start violating out treaties no other country can trust us.

      March 2, 2014 at 11:19 pm | Reply
      • IpseCogita

        Ready the treaty, that is not at all what it says.

        March 2, 2014 at 11:23 pm |
  3. HappyUSSR

    And who said that life in the USSR was not happy? Sure a lot of people were brainwashed into thinking that western way of life is all milk and honey and longed to try it. Now that they have, they know that western control freaks are actually worse than the local ones. They do the same disgusting things driven by the same greed but say sweet righteous lies into your face. Respect the choice of people trying to break free from your sticky fingers and mind your own problems. You just hate everyone in frustration over your own lousy "happy" lives.

    March 2, 2014 at 10:25 pm | Reply
    • charles

      I hope you're joking.

      March 2, 2014 at 10:40 pm | Reply
      • Johnjo

        Sadly he's not...because you see Putin trolls think like he does because they are programmed to think like that & not to think for themselves.

        March 2, 2014 at 11:56 pm |
    • Gabriele

      Created the greatest arscilet, you have.

      July 5, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Reply
    • Jack

      Your thnkiing matches mine – great minds think alike!

      July 21, 2014 at 10:54 am | Reply
  4. brian

    Why do we have to "respond" to every little thing that happens in the world? Say, where are those WMD in Iraq that we "responded" to a few years ago? Over 4,000 American soldiers died for those WMD. Where are they?

    March 2, 2014 at 10:28 pm | Reply
    • Dustin

      except the WMDs weren't there, meanwhile Russia is actively assaulting Ukraine's sovereignty

      March 2, 2014 at 11:15 pm | Reply
  5. Bumsteer

    "If Russia could detach parts of neighboring countries with impunity, won’t other great powers like China decide that they too can act in such ways?"

    If Russia could detach parts of neighboring countries with impunity, won’t other great powers like China decide that they too can act in such ways?

    ..........or the U.S.? Ironic that the same reason(s) Putin is using to intervene in Ukraine (protection of it's citizens in the country and it’s national interest) is the "exact same reason" the U.S. used to justify its invasion and overturn of the government in Grenada.

    “Russia retains the right to protect its interests and the Russian-speaking population of those areas.” ..Vladimir Putin

    While the Russian moves are ill-advised and illegal, the U.S. is hypocritical in its outrage and attempts to punish them.

    March 2, 2014 at 10:29 pm | Reply
    • sachin

      it aslways the same we can but you cant! hypocricy. Now putin should declare like the US did in Iraq that we are now the occupying force and crimea as per the majority will is part of Russia!

      March 2, 2014 at 10:46 pm | Reply
  6. Ron

    Unless we intervene (not recommended) the Crimea is gone. It is no longer a part of the Ukraine. What we should do is disregard Russia's U.N. vote and intervene in Syria instead. We relieve a massive humanitarian crisis and Russia loses it's Key Ally in the mid-east. A serious punishment for Russian transgressions.

    March 2, 2014 at 10:32 pm | Reply
  7. Fubarack

    "So Putin gets Crimea, which is only 60 percent Russian"

    Fareed brings the funny again, 60 percent is way better than Obama is polling. If anyone should be involved in Ukraine it is Russia. Our hello kitty war monger Obama needs to back off, this has nothing to do with the rest of the world.

    March 2, 2014 at 10:35 pm | Reply
    • not a foreign policy expert

      C'mon, who says that the 60% of Russians in Crimea all support Putin's actions? The point of noting this figure is to show the divisions in the country. Your analogy to US society is off-base because most Americans allegiance is to being Irish, Italian, Jewish, African-American, Hispanic, whatever as a way to distinguish themselves from the overwhelming and accepted support of America itself. That's simply not true in Crimea and the Ukraine given the USSR's previous actions and now Russia's egg-face attempts to maintain a Black Sea port.

      March 2, 2014 at 11:36 pm | Reply
  8. Tigran Khalatyan

    You miss the main point. It was Americans who violated Status Quo by sponsoring nationalist coup in Kiev that deposed democratically elected government and divided Ukraine. West went ahead with the coup despite the fact that weak and indecisive Yanukovich agreed on the compromise of creating coalition government and new elections.

    It's United States who invades other countries on false pretext, while Russian action comes is direct response to real threat of her national interests.

    March 2, 2014 at 10:35 pm | Reply
    • JMaryland

      At least Nazi Germany waited 2 full years after its Berlin Olympics to seize the Sudetenland from Czechoslovakia. The dictator Putin only waited 5 DAYS after his egofest in Sochi to invade Ukraine and seize the Crimea. Well, he invaded Georgia during the Beijing Olympics so why should we be surprised. Expel this totalitarian neo-Soviet autocracy from the G-8, seize the assets of all invading officials from Western bank accounts, deploy missile defense batteries to Poland and Hungary.

      March 2, 2014 at 11:23 pm | Reply
    • PM

      I know this may come as a shock to those of you who refuse to think for yourselves and just believe everything you are told but the United States does not control every single event that happens in the world.

      March 2, 2014 at 11:55 pm | Reply
  9. Danny

    Hello Mr. Zakaria. As always, great article, as well as your point concerning the global precedent we are setting if Russia is allowed to violate Ukraine territory. However, am I the only person who feels a bit sympathetic to the Russian position - even if I disapprove of actions taken on the ground? If I'm not mistaken, the bulk of Russia's entire Black Sea navy is technically in another country. Yes, that was the result of Soviet satellite states, but it doesn't change the geopolitical facts. Imagine if the US had to essentially "rent" Halifax for its Atlantic navy home base? From Putin's perspective, the Russian Federation can't afford to see its former satellite tilt further to the West and see its own grip on its southern navy threatened. According to Wikipedia (I know, not the most respected go-to source, but please excuse) Sevastopol has been a Russian naval city since 1783. The ties that link Russia and Ukraine together go back centuries. The modern lines on the map are just that - lines - that often don't respect true social, economic and cultural boundaries. So to unilaterally say that Russia is in the wrong is troubling to me, when in fact the lines between the two nations have been blurred for as long as there's been a Ukraine and a Russia. Bottom line, I don't want to see violence and loss of life. I pray for a peaceful resolution to this crisis – and wish Russia's age old search for a warm water port didn't include reliance on its neighbors. I look forward to your continued analysis. Thank you!

    March 2, 2014 at 10:42 pm | Reply
    • victor

      Doesn't look like you are alone, as more and more pictures of Ukrainian revolutionaries covered in swastikas touting "Down with Russia and Jews!!!" showing up in western media.

      March 2, 2014 at 10:57 pm | Reply
  10. sachin

    Fareed zak you should just shup the F*** up. Did you live in soviet Russia or anywhere in the soviet union. One unhappy soviet union. I am shocked that an aluminus of Cathedral and john connon school should be so brainwashed by americans or is it in ur CNN contract that if you don't badmouth you wont be paid? Good journalism is just reporting let the people decide and make up their minds you don't make it up for them. I know that you love America but jesus Christ this is ridiculous

    March 2, 2014 at 10:44 pm | Reply
    • not a foreign policy expert

      Heh there Sachin. It's an opinion piece, not a reporting piece. He's offering his opinion. Get with it. If an adjective like
      "unhappy" in describing the former USSR bothers you this much, then you've got a lot to address.

      March 2, 2014 at 11:08 pm | Reply
    • Dustin

      did you ever live in the U.S.S.R?

      March 2, 2014 at 11:18 pm | Reply
  11. DJ788

    " For Washington, for Americans, for people around the world, it would be a terrible precedent to allow issues like this to be resolved not through diplomacy, but by force. If Russia could detach parts of neighboring countries with impunity, won’t other great powers like China decide that they too can act in such ways? "

    Did not NATO and USA detach KOSOVO from a sovreign nation without UN approval by force, and then Recognized unilateral independece? Oh that is right I forgot.. only USA has God given right to decide which people have right to independence and which do not.

    March 2, 2014 at 10:47 pm | Reply
  12. John Wayne

    Time for the United States to just stay home.
    There is nothing the U.S. is going to do that will hurt Russia. Tie up their finances? Take away their allowance?
    Come on. The U.S. should have said nothing. The U.S. needs to know when to keep it's mouth shut. They did themselves more harm than good. Every time someone in the administration opens their mouth and no action comes from it is where the U.S.'s position on leadership diminishes.
    This now gives China the opportunity to invade Taiwan. The world senses weakness in this administration. China is salivating over Taiwan and with their assertiveness they just might do it during this administrations term.

    Good night sleep tight.

    March 2, 2014 at 10:48 pm | Reply
    • Ilija

      Thank you very much for pointing this out, Kosovo was part of Serbia for centuries, but as you said NATO thinks they can do anything they want....

      March 2, 2014 at 11:13 pm | Reply
  13. aaron

    This has to be exactly what the US was expecting and planning for all along. We instill at the price of $5 billion US dollars our pro western Ukraine and watch Russia lose its cool in front of the entire world... sure they take a very small piece at the bottom in Crimea but seriously hurt their political standing and image in the process. This is a win/win for the USA so anyone who thinks Putin got the upper hand here has to look a little deeper... US/EU gets their western democracy and Russia gets the table scraps... we were three moves ahead of Russia on this one. The Obama administration likes to play in the shadows it seems.

    March 2, 2014 at 10:51 pm | Reply
  14. heyheyheyy

    wasnt the ex president democratically elected??? if so,he remains the president till his term ends. and those who deposed him are considered criminals.

    March 2, 2014 at 10:52 pm | Reply
  15. Ramesh

    What the west (US&EU)did covertly by removing an elected president, the Russians are replying overtly.

    March 2, 2014 at 10:54 pm | Reply
  16. bill

    Fareed Zakaria you are joke 🙂

    March 2, 2014 at 10:55 pm | Reply
  17. huskersrock1

    "Russia’s membership in the G-8 should be suspended."

    Then Russia turns off natural gas supplies to Europe. Check and mate.

    March 2, 2014 at 11:00 pm | Reply
  18. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Russia has nothing to offer any country and Putin is a damn fool. He'll be looking for amnesty along with his new buddy that ran for cover.

    March 2, 2014 at 11:00 pm | Reply
  19. Warrenroosevelt

    "detach" ?? Nice choice of words. Russia has invaded a sovereign nation. Just 2 days ago you thought Russia wouldn't invade Crimea. China and Iran are watching our actions here.

    My memory is a little fuzzy, but didn't President Obama bash Romney during the debates on Russia? Romney viewed Russia as a threat, the President had a more "warm and fuzzy" approach. Doesn't look like "warm and fuzzy" worked with a crazed dictator. Romney 1; President Obama 0

    March 2, 2014 at 11:02 pm | Reply
    • Salehe

      I'm imsersped you should think of something like that

      July 7, 2014 at 2:27 am | Reply
    • Turra

      Well done artilce that. I'll make sure to use it wisely.

      July 21, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Reply
  20. Tim Pegg

    Fareed, have you been asleep?.......... Canada has set the good example you set out as your idea........ DUH.......... back to school boy.....

    March 2, 2014 at 11:03 pm | Reply
  21. Oscar Forell

    May I?
    – About Putin (not Russians) x Ukraine
    If China wants the "cat continues hunting rats forever" sometime should help the cat, showing to the rat, who's boss.
      So... Is not enough learn English to sell in the West, sometime must help him. Because otherwise will have to learn Russian ...
    If russia threaten some buyers of Chinese products, China should help your customers. Not only wait that only the UN or USA alone, do the worst side.
    China be great, supports the UN about Ukraine, or say Putin: He must to respect ALL your customers, not just the biggest.
    Best Regards. Oscar

    March 2, 2014 at 11:04 pm | Reply
  22. Charles van Heck

    Obama won't do anything significant. He is a coward. The only hope is to impeach Obama and Biden and establish a free government in the US that will stand up to Russia economically and militarily. Zakaria is a toady of his muslim masters.

    March 2, 2014 at 11:06 pm | Reply
  23. kerber

    Hey Fareed youre beginning to sound like FOX anchors, McCain and all the other war mongers (most of whom who never served in the military and wear those stupid yellow ribbons/US flag on their lapels. Gotta keep that military industrial complex fed, Hype any conflict and use buzzwords like US interests, terrorism or US credibility. We are Rome as Rome is falling.

    March 2, 2014 at 11:10 pm | Reply
  24. Andrey

    Goverment of RF took 2 million hostages, this is what happened. I lived in Simferopol 28 years. This is very quiet area, it has problems, but they never escalated to this degree. Situation is complicated by large number of former Navy oficers, from Sevastopol, who are citizens of RF. It is true, that many people in Crimea would like to join Russia, mainly due to economic reasons, but nobody wants to spill blood. Lets name it, this is Nazi style provocation, this is exactly the same thing, that Hitler did in Austrian Anschluss and Sudetten crisis in 1938, 1 year later WW2 started. Russian propaganda machine brainwashes its citizens in the same way Goebbels did in Nazi reich. It is very sad, but this is how things are.

    March 2, 2014 at 11:10 pm | Reply
  25. Thom

    A lot of Ukrainian people will die because of this.....they will not stand for this intervention from the USSR. over 70% of the country is now Pro West and were enjoying the life and changes of being independent.....but Putin wants those gas lines to the Black Sea and the Seaports of Sevastopol and the big airport on Crimea at he had he pawn President in there.......and the people threw his asssss out......

    March 2, 2014 at 11:14 pm | Reply
  26. Thom

    What a waste that would be.....good people and the most beautiful women on the earth !

    March 2, 2014 at 11:16 pm | Reply
  27. av

    Why we have to be involved everywhere? Russia, Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Iran, Iraq, China, North Korea we can always help resentments in these country to start a revolution and consider that democratic but if these countries do anything is undemocratic.
    Look at any Democracy in the world 51% are one who elect government and 49% against. Should we consider that a revolution?
    Same in US, 45% were against Democrats, all the nagging and criticizing Reps do, should we consider that a revolution and allow others to help them to remove government? This is purely internal matter and we would not like others to intervene. Same is true for others.
    Let there be peace and diplomatic resolutions and no force. Whatever form of government democratic or non-democratic everyone will not be happy.

    March 2, 2014 at 11:24 pm | Reply
    • IpseCogita

      Goes back to this dude names Monroe.

      March 2, 2014 at 11:26 pm | Reply
  28. IpseCogita

    We should publicly protest this, tell Russia that we think they should leave Ukraine alone, and that is where it should end.

    March 2, 2014 at 11:25 pm | Reply
    • Elijah

      Woah nelly, how about them apsepl!

      July 7, 2014 at 3:13 am | Reply
    • Gonza

      You have shed a ray of suinnshe into the forum. Thanks!

      July 21, 2014 at 2:39 pm | Reply
    • Zozo

      Full of salient points. Don't stop bevileing or writing!

      July 25, 2014 at 9:34 pm | Reply
  29. Pat

    For those who like to comment without knowing history, read the Budapest Memorandum and see why the USA & Great Brittan may and I say may because it is not a treaty but a memorandum, be obligated to stand up for Ukraine. If the USA backs out of its promises and agreements there will be no respect in future confrontations and our position in the world will drop another notch.

    March 2, 2014 at 11:34 pm | Reply
  30. Art

    "Remember, Crimea is in the Northern Caucasus, the area where Russia has been battling a ferocious Muslim insurgency". Technically Crimea is not in the Northern Caucasus (please consult with the map). However the Crimean Tartars built constructive relations with ethnic Ukrainians over the last decades. At the same time relations of Crimean Tartars and Russians are hostile. Tartars now are entirely on Ukrainian side.
    Also Fareed does not mention that US signed a Budapest treaty with Ukraine in 1994. In this treaty Ukraine gave up of its massive nukes stockpile inherited from the USSR. In return US and UK obliged to protect its borders. Now, can somebody explain me, how we can negotiate non-proliferation of nukes if we cannot fulfill our signed obligations regarding protecting countries that agreed to surrender their WMD.

    March 2, 2014 at 11:38 pm | Reply
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