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 (1,638 Responses)
  1. seasidaisy

    newsflash, more than half of Ukraine does not want to join the EU. People in Crimea are happy to have Russians there protecting them from the "George Soros sponsered" groups.They asked them for aid. Both sides of the Ukraine government has been horribly corrupt for years. This upheaval is long overdue. Either the EU or Russia needs to put order back in this country of self serving politicians and extremist groups. As for Crimea, there are mostily Russians there and Ukrainians who get along well with Russians. Americans as usual have no clue about what is going on in other countries, they just believe whatever they hear in English in the media, which comes out of the mouth of the "protestors" that the USA supports (a la George Soros) More interfering in other people's problems. I guess when Bush does it it's bad, but when the Godlike Obama interferes it is a "Godsend" How about our own corruption and big problems here? How about our enemies in the Middle east? You know the ones that specifically declare wat on America, kill our soldiers and bomb our cities? Oh yeah, we need a distraction from that because Obama refuses to do anything about those problems. @@ I wonder how our government would react if the same situation were to happen in Canada or Mexico?: Fringe groups take over the streets and occupy government buildings, regular Canadians at risk, asking for America's help. Which Canadians would we side with? the working people or the radicals? Russia seems to be showing a lot of restraint.

    March 3, 2014 at 2:00 am | Reply
    • Rob S

      Russia seems to be showing a lot of stupid, if you ask me. There were ways Putin could have done this thing without alienating most of the planet. I thought he was smarter, oh well.

      March 3, 2014 at 2:14 am | Reply
  2. SPQR

    As if Putin didn't think about all the possible consequences before giving the order.

    March 3, 2014 at 2:09 am | Reply
  3. Reggie

    The cablegate archive reveals that the US State Department has known for years that the Russian takeover of Crimea has been brewing.

    March 3, 2014 at 2:09 am | Reply
    • Rob S

      Well yeah. If you have to lease your main naval base from a foreign country you might have created a problem for yourself, ya think?

      March 3, 2014 at 2:20 am | Reply
      • Omen

        Good points, why is USA always acting the same way ? (Vietnam, Guam, etc. ?)

        March 3, 2014 at 2:58 am |
    • PJ Parker

      "The cablegate archive"

      What is that, how do we know what it says and where is your link to prove it?

      March 3, 2014 at 5:36 am | Reply
  4. Michael Kostukov

    Hey, Zakaria – how about you mention for once the accord that the WEST has broken with Russia this time? The accord of Feb 21 that called for creation of a coalition, majority government in the Ukraine that would represent every part of Ukraine, not just the West? The extremist organizations in the opposition threw it out together with any chance of legitimate transition of power and creation of the proper people representation. The moment it happened – East of Ukraine was instantly alienated and the rest was set in motion. Why hasn't US or any other Western countries applied pressure on the opposition to stick to the accord? Because then Russia and the Russian-speaking Ukrainian East would not have been humiliated enough?

    It is not mentioned anywhere in the West media – but THIS was the trigger for Russia to start acting forcefully.

    March 3, 2014 at 2:19 am | Reply
    • dave

      Absolutely true. The U.S. and EU are stirring up the trouble. Elections were next year. but fascists can't wait.

      March 3, 2014 at 2:41 am | Reply
    • Jake

      How about you get your facts straight;

      "Russia, which joined France, Germany and Poland in mediating the settlement, introduced a further element of uncertainty by declining to sign the accord, which reduces the power of Mr. Yanukovych, an ally of Moscow. This stirred fears that Moscow might now work to undo the deal through economic and other pressures, as it did last year to subvert a proposed trade deal between Ukraine and the European Union. But American officials said Mr. Putin told Mr. Obama in a telephone call on Friday that he would work toward resolving the crisis."

      The West didn't break anything when Russia didn't sign the accord.

      March 3, 2014 at 3:14 am | Reply
      • funny

        no accord, everything is OK, all right. Russian can invade since no accord signed. War is the last solution everyone has.

        March 3, 2014 at 3:24 am |
    • Kenneth

      You know what is so sad about the situation? The hypocracy of our democracy. These new guys in Ukraine are "Interim". Yet there is nothing interim about their actions. Not a single Western country, including the USA, is asking these interim leaders "when will elections be held"? This is the usual question raised by the US whenever a new unelected government is formed. Yet, this time, they are all flocking to these mob, extending a long arm of friendship, with no care in the world that they are an interim government. Whether they have elections or not is not even a subject for anyone. How disappointing.. how disappointing of the West. Is this what democracy is about?

      March 3, 2014 at 3:31 am | Reply
      • Lerry

        Um, elections in Ukraine have been scheduled, for May 25. Get your facts straight.

        March 3, 2014 at 4:17 am |
    • Alaska

      When America invades Iraq is America's fault! When America wants to invade Syria, is America's fault. When. Putan-a invades Ukraine, is again America's fault. Go and get a life u russian losers. Alaska was russian once. Have Putan-a invade Alaska of course if he has a pair of balls. Common, stop picking on. Ukraine. Pick on United States of America. Pick one your own size. Your glorius army wont even get 40 miles close to the shore. If one can make it, it will be in a stomach of an orca

      March 3, 2014 at 5:14 am | Reply
    • Toni Law

      Michael, You are very right. Please understand the press and reporters like Mr. Zakkaria are in no way independent. The information given to the public is extremely distorted, but many people know this. Yes, where was the big outcry when the opposition ignored the peace agreement the very next day and the President had to flee as his convoy was shot at by fascist Swoboda thugs, who work together with Klitscko. Remember their slogans are the same as those of the fascist movement in Ukraine. They are just another Taliban being created by the West, which they will not be able to handle later. They will never learn, as greed is the name of the game.

      March 3, 2014 at 5:32 am | Reply
  5. James Wingard

    This is how WWII started Hitler annexes Austria March 12, 1938 on March 13 the Anschluss was proclaimed.

    WWIII Putin annexes the Ukraine Crimea. The Anschluss???

    Megalomaniacs both, those who like to kill or like to order it done for gratification.

    March 3, 2014 at 2:22 am | Reply
    • dave

      Russia is democratic. But the have a Russian viewpoint, something American used to have.
      Putin goes to his legislative body who happens to agree with him unlike the U.S.. They are unified
      and will not be pushed around by the PU which is destroying the countries that are part of it.
      The countries who get in the EU can't control their own laws. They must obey what the EU says.
      So the U.S. and EU is trying to control the world economically, hence socially. Takeover of the world?
      Don't we call those people crazy. Would the U.S. send troops to Mexico if millions of Americans were
      in jeopardy?
      What was Granada? About 600 Americans.

      March 3, 2014 at 2:47 am | Reply
      • shawn l

        You are both ignorant and naive if you think russia is a democracy.

        March 3, 2014 at 3:36 am |
      • David Polewka

        In order to have peace, you have to allow
        people the freedom to speak & trade & travel,
        you have to allow free elections, and you must
        have separation of powers, to keep government in check.

        March 3, 2014 at 4:42 am |
      • Dmitry

        So for all talk about Russia being peaceful and democratic, WHY IS RUSSIAN ARMY ON THE GROUND IN MY COUNTRY?

        March 3, 2014 at 5:29 am |
    • Jabberwock

      Speaking of Hitler, here are some of the Social-National Party of Ukraine now called Svoboda and a big part of the Ukrainian opposition now in control of the ministry of defense.

      Hmmmmmm reminds me of something .....

      And by the way, like the Nazis they also hate Jews.

      March 3, 2014 at 3:33 am | Reply
    • Lee

      This way you can say that WWII started when Hitler's bakers decided to cook the bread.
      WWII did not start with Anschluss.
      And Anschluss itself was suppport by the vast majority of Austrian population.
      WWII has started because of a totally different reason: when Hitler attacked Poland.

      March 3, 2014 at 4:15 am | Reply
      • Lee

        "supported", not "support" of course.

        March 3, 2014 at 4:16 am |
  6. dave

    Did Fareed miss the deal the opposition had with Yanukovich, before he was violently overthrown by fascists left over from WW II, which is who the people who took over the Ukrainian government by force are.

    March 3, 2014 at 2:39 am | Reply
  7. EL

    Unhappy USSR? Are you on crack -cocaine? I grew up there and it was a wonderful country to live in. (I live now in USA, less wonderful country to live in...)

    March 3, 2014 at 2:43 am | Reply
    • Sam

      Then go back.

      March 3, 2014 at 2:52 am | Reply
      • Russian in Canada

        You know, I would happily go back. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as time travel... If the country I was born in still existed, I would have never left it in the first place. Oh, BTW, my granddad was Ukranian. I still have relatives there. No matter what anyone says, Russians and Ukrainians are essentially the same nation.

        And, of all countries, the US should just STFU on the matter. Kerry and Co. are making their country an international laughingstock with such hypocrisy (even though it's no laughing matter).

        March 3, 2014 at 3:48 am |
      • Alaska

        To the russian in Canada.if Russians and Ukrainians are essentially the same nations, can explain to moe: why putan a is invading Ukraine?

        March 3, 2014 at 5:24 am |
    • shawn l

      Nobody held a gun to your head and forced you to move here.. unless someone in the wonderful USSR held a gun to your head and told you to move, and that is a possibility.

      March 3, 2014 at 3:37 am | Reply
    • Hezzie

      Than go back

      March 3, 2014 at 4:31 am | Reply
    • Pistolpete

      Go back then!

      March 3, 2014 at 4:33 am | Reply
    • Rick

      It's funny then how many Russians and Ukranians (especially the women) come in droves over the "less wonderful" USA for citizenship and not the other way around.

      March 3, 2014 at 4:34 am | Reply
    • Alaska hard is it? Get the f out of here. Go back to happy Russia. I dont get it. Unhappy in. United States and still here? What kind of f moron would do that?

      March 3, 2014 at 5:20 am | Reply
      • Alaska

        Make that up there a ThEn

        March 3, 2014 at 5:22 am |
  8. AHF

    There is not much US can do here..... Putin with Snowden in Russia knows too much about US ..... which US would not like to be made public..... Ukraine is just a pawn in the game between US + West against Russia.

    March 3, 2014 at 2:57 am | Reply
    • funny

      Sorry about Ukraine, you played not well between East and West.

      March 3, 2014 at 3:25 am | Reply
  9. sahipak

    US created anarchy in world affairs by occupying and killing hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi people, now talking about international norms, diplomacy, treaties is bit rich.

    March 3, 2014 at 3:03 am | Reply
  10. Gh.Rabbani.Azadmanish

    So the military presence of USA is necessary in the region , for example, As the Russian military actions in the region, military Presence of USA and coalition forces in Afghanistan are necessary after the 2014. USA military forces must remain in Afghanistan and must make military base in Afghanistan to balance the power in region to prevent future violence of Russian and strengthening democracy in the region.

    March 3, 2014 at 3:10 am | Reply
    • funny

      Not legal if the leader of Afghanistan does not sign the treaty.

      March 3, 2014 at 3:27 am | Reply
  11. citizen of world

    Eu and Us can do what ever they want and lacture other country .When US invade Iraq and Afginasthan did they not break any international law then because they have a excuse like safety of american people and west now russia is doing the same they are acting for the safety of their hundred of thousand russian native speaking people .U western media dont only speak for the west and lacture other and brain wash please see your self in merror first before lacturing other .U guys are smart may be but dont think everybody else stupid.

    March 3, 2014 at 3:17 am | Reply
    • Alaska

      Well Sherlock before vomiting shiznit on US wasnt Afghanistan invaded from Russia before US? So shut the f up? Or it was uS fault then too?

      March 3, 2014 at 5:17 am | Reply
  12. Jabberwock

    The US has invaded and bombed numerous sovereign countries over the last 50 years. What about Iraq? What about Panama? What about Vietnam or Grenada? It's a little late to develop a conscience don't you think? I won't even get into all the money the US has poured into this coup or how the Ukrainian opposition broke their deal the day after signing it.

    March 3, 2014 at 3:22 am | Reply
    • shawn l

      Vietnam wasn't a sovreign country, it was a civil war and we were invited by South vietnam government to help.

      March 3, 2014 at 3:38 am | Reply
      • Jabberwock

        Ok so this is also a civil war and Russia was invited by the head of Crimea with the support of the elected president of Ukraine. Point? Also north Vietnam and South Vietnam were sovereign countries but the only reason the country was split in the first place is because of the French with US support. So you are right it was essentially a civil war.

        March 3, 2014 at 3:54 am |
  13. Jim Rome

    Team America World Police is going to sit this one out.

    March 3, 2014 at 3:23 am | Reply
    • funny

      I hope you are right. Let Ukraine play with Russian, we are watching only.

      March 3, 2014 at 3:30 am | Reply
  14. polite people

    Sensation! Call the National Geographic! "Crimea is in the Northern Caucasus" – the best geographical discovery since 1492!!! {sarcasm}

    March 3, 2014 at 3:56 am | Reply

      "You know what the Ukraine is? It's a sitting duck. A road apple, Newman. The Ukraine is weak. It's feeble. I think it's time to put the hurt on the Ukraine."
      – Kramer

      March 3, 2014 at 5:21 am | Reply
  15. Strike

    What utter Exceptionalist drivel, Zakaria! The U.S.has always used nothing but force to defend its own narrow mercantilist interests, and now "the pot is calling the kettle black" on the rare occasion that the latter does the same?!?

    March 3, 2014 at 4:18 am | Reply
  16. Terrible_Ted

    Bomb these red bast**ds back to the stone age.

    March 3, 2014 at 4:40 am | Reply
  17. Гость

    Разве подписавшийся договор с Россией большие страны не знали что "договор с Россией стоит столько сколька его бумага -У. Черчил."

    March 3, 2014 at 5:01 am | Reply
  18. Prostatinov Pavel

    >>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.
    Why exactly Tatars will be hostile? They're second biggest ethnic group in Russia, after Russians. Five million Tatars live in Russia according to 2010 census.

    They also have their own republic Tatarstan where are more Tatars than Russians, and they don't seem to be unhappy...

    March 3, 2014 at 5:03 am | Reply
    • Educate the world

      He can't even spell them correctly. TaRtars, Jesus! In their blatant ignorance, they can't stop teaching the world.

      March 3, 2014 at 5:44 am | Reply
  19. audrey papke

    So someone thinks Russia is going to leave Ukraine entirely free? To Russia: that would be seen as a means for another country to set up shop, build their own naval base. They worry, via their trip close to Cuba via boat – that another country will set up nukes.

    March 3, 2014 at 5:16 am | Reply
  20. Gustov

    Get this straight Its President Putin, you can even get that right how can you get anything else right?

    March 3, 2014 at 5:20 am | Reply

    "You know what the Ukraine is? It's a sitting duck. A road apple, Newman. The Ukraine is weak. It's feeble. I think it's time to put the hurt on the Ukraine."
    – Kramer

    March 3, 2014 at 5:21 am | Reply
  22. Stannet

    Leave China alone, don't even think a bit China would support West in any way in this matter.

    March 3, 2014 at 5:31 am | Reply
  23. griffbos

    one it is nice to see Russians on here with American names....second one easy result should be the Ukraine after all is settled down and NATO forces there that NATO is allowed to build a missle defense right there on the border with Russia ..................

    March 3, 2014 at 5:39 am | Reply
  24. Pte Canadian Military

    To that person who is Russian and doesn't like Canada, take a hike and leave. Oh and take the rest of the blasted immigrants with you. I am tired of them taking all the civilian jobs here.
    Russia attacking the Ukraine, US, Syria, Turkey & Iran on brink of war.
    WWII did not happen because Hitler attacked Poland. WWII happened because a Princess in Europe was assassinated. Then Hitler a little while later decided to attack Poland/Austria because he was banned from the country for trying to take it over and start a war against the west.. Ge the facts straight people.
    I think Canada and the US should go and back up Ukraine. I'll be glad to go represent my country just like I did in Afghanistan.

    March 3, 2014 at 5:42 am | Reply
    • polite people

      Oh sure! You've represented your country SO WELL in Afghan. Afghans so love you now. Well done buddy! Did you hide all the bodies?

      March 3, 2014 at 6:21 am | Reply
  25. BuddyinPa

    We need to take Pukin Putn out with a Drone. He now is the Bin Laden of the WORLD !

    March 3, 2014 at 5:45 am | Reply
  26. GrinOlsson

    I totally disagree with your analysis on the Russian Federation. The facts are that the Communist Soviet Union engaged in forced mass population transfers of millions of Russians into non-Russian territory, as well as other mass population transfers, extermination of various peoples, and literally gave a Russian province, the Crimea to another sub-division of the Soviet Union knowing that it was inhabited by Russians. This is what the Russian Federation inherited. Of course the Russian compatriots are a major factor to assure their safety, just as if this would have been done to Americans forced to live in Mexico. And, on top of it all, the Russian Federation Black Sea Fleet and base are stationed there – a province that should be Russian anyhow.

    As for what America should do? First of all American can do nothing, either directly or with the G-8 because it too has financial problems, a never-ending problem with the Middle East and terrorism, with a grown Chinese threat in the Pacific whose alliance with the Muslims put warships simultaneously on both American coasts. This is Russia's problem and unfortunately for the Ukraine, it may very well have to give up its Eastern provinces filled with Russian compatriots and the Crimea just to continue to exist as a nation. And, sir these are the facts of reality.

    March 3, 2014 at 5:48 am | Reply
    • Abul Ahsan

      I agree with you. Except one addition that Russian and Ukrainians lived together for centures and will do in harmony for any forseeable future. I think only western Ukraine (Lviv) should be a separate country and these farmers can happily join EU (would be fun to see how EU manages these farmers with their own economic problem).

      March 3, 2014 at 6:19 am | Reply
  27. RCK

    OK, so Putin got China to back him diplomatically (the hypocrites).

    No one believes Obama is willing to throw a punch, and he is probably worried about escalating things if he did.

    What would happen if Ukraine's interim government asked the U.S. to bomb a dozen or so key bridges in Ukrainian territory (but near the border with Russia) in order to help Ukraine protect it's sovereignty. Then we send either a B2 or cruise missiles or both to blow the bridges up right in the shadow of Russia's borders. That would have to scare Putin and other dictators or one party governments to get them to reevaluate how they perceive Obama. Yet technically Putin could not claim we attacked Russia so he has no excuse to escalate things and it would make an invasion much harder and might highlight how he is being the aggressor.

    I am sure that within the next year or two he would find a way to retaliate, but he would have to be carefully about attacking us too directly. Just as he is counting on us to be carefully now.

    Either that or several Russian supply ships get sunk on their way to Syria?

    Or am I just the kind of crazy person who would get us into World War III.

    March 3, 2014 at 5:50 am | Reply
    • Patriot Warrior

      You live in a fantasy world. First we wouldn't do that for several reasons. One Europe get 40% of its natural gas from Russia and second who is going to ferry astronauts to the international space station. I'm sure there is more reasons. You have to sit back and look at the whole picture.

      March 3, 2014 at 6:18 am | Reply
  28. Dave

    Since when USA started supporting ill legitimate government . Is this in our bill of right? Why are you not supporting ill legitimate government in Egypt?

    March 3, 2014 at 5:52 am | Reply
  29. Zeke

    Remember that in 1938, Hitler claimed that German decent citizens in Czechoslovakia Sudetenland were being mistreated. Sound familiar? Putin claims the same in the Crimea as an excuse to invade. The world never leans any lessons from history. A year after the Munich agreement, Europe and then the world was at war. If Obama does not use strong economic sanctions against the Russian aggression, what is gong to happen when Russia wants more former Soviet members back in the fold?

    March 3, 2014 at 5:53 am | Reply
  30. Chet

    Obama will sit in the corner and suck his thumb – nothing done, what can he do he has lost all credibility!

    March 3, 2014 at 6:07 am | Reply
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