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 (1,644 Responses)
  1. Abul Ahsan

    Hahahaha – naive, arrogant and shallow analysis of the events in Crimea. Crimea is as Russian and Moscow. My wife is from Crimea and I can tell you Zakha that if you land there once you realise how wrong you are as they will bit you up!!
    All the east of Ukraine will follow the same path as Crimea did.

    March 3, 2014 at 6:11 am | Reply
  2. Patriot Warrior

    Obama should keep his mouth shut unless he can back up his threats with action. Here it is day 4 or 5 after he threatened Putin still no action.

    March 3, 2014 at 6:13 am | Reply
    • beth

      if we are to condemn a nation for breaking international laws, Israel would be the gold medalist in the category. Yet the U.S. and most of the western world seem to not see the need to isolate Israel nor send in any troops to protect the Palestinians from Israel's constant expansion and colonization. On the contrary, they side with the law breakers and convince the wold through media fueled propaganda into thinking that the aggressors are the oppressed. My country the U.S. is the first ally of Israel the country with the worst record when it comes to abiding by and respecting international laws. So what is this moral stand and lesson giving all about ?

      March 3, 2014 at 2:29 pm | Reply
  3. realdraken

    Send a ton of Patriot SAM systems and thousands of Javelin anti-tank missiles. Arm every Ukranian with an easy to use fire-and-forget missile that can take out Russian tanks with 1-2 shots and the russian army will have another Grozny on their hands. The could pretend that didn't happen in Chechnya because of no media and low interest from the West there, but committing the same kind of Slaughter in the middle of Europe would make Russia a pariah state for decades.

    March 3, 2014 at 6:16 am | Reply
    • Ed Bodi

      The US and other nations are wagging their fingers at Russia for their actions in Ukraine. Have these nations forgotten what the US has done and continues to do in Pakistan, for example? The US is constantly attacking Pakistan, a sovereign nation, yet no other country seems to have taken any action against the US. Hypocrisy at its boldest!

      March 3, 2014 at 7:48 am | Reply
      • Hung Trinh

        US should get out of Afghanistan. President Bush was right and President Obama is wrong by sent troop to Afghanistan.
        Osama bin Laden was never in Afghanistan.

        March 3, 2014 at 7:56 am |
      • Rajputana

        The United States has every right, EVERY RIGHT, to attack Pakistan, a land full of guttersnipe zealots and terrorist hubs rather than a law abiding "sovereign nation" as you put it............Do you know what sort of atrocities go on in Pakistan against minorities or were you not aware of South Asian affairs for the past two centuries!? Get yourself acquainted with its history prior to posting on here.

        March 3, 2014 at 8:06 am |
      • Sam

        The U.S. isn't "attacking" Pakistan but only they're terrorists who are using Pakistan as a shield.

        March 3, 2014 at 8:15 am |
      • realdraken

        I see you aren't a very logical thinker.

        First of all, two wrongs don't make a right. Your argument is like telling a cop after being stopped for running a red light that he should let you go, because you once saw someone commit the same crime.

        Second, US hasn't invaded Pakistan or tried to annex it as Russia is doing. It's just targeting terrorists who're going back and forth over the border to Afghanistan.

        This is a completely different situation. No threat existed against Russian speaking citizens in Crimea and there are no excuses for what Russia has done. Putin is just upset over losing his puppet in Ukraine. So now, to try to keep influence over Ukraine he invades them.

        March 3, 2014 at 8:20 am |
    • Hung Trinh

      The Afghanistan defeated Russia before. Ukraine can do the same.
      Ukraine should use "guerilla" warfare just like Afghanistan with the help of NATO of course.

      March 3, 2014 at 7:51 am | Reply
  4. Brian Tomlinson

    That s t he kind of uninformed nonsense that fuel's the fire between East and West . Did the US loose 22+ million in any war? No they never had one on their own soil . just made lots of money with wars somewhere else

    March 3, 2014 at 6:26 am | Reply
    • quid est veritas

      yeah, world wars 1 and 2 were all about the US making money.

      March 3, 2014 at 7:39 am | Reply
  5. Brian Tomlinson

    Zakaria, the hippocracy of democracy – The US went into Iraq 'Without any UN mandate! on a tissue of lies and fabrications they fed the public- look at the loss of 'local' lives and the ensuing bloody mess.
    They did the same in Libya – the Un mandate was for a no-fly zone which gave the excuse for US and UK forces to up the ante. Another mess.

    March 3, 2014 at 6:30 am | Reply
    • ahemingwaynerd

      Two wrongs don't make a right, it makes a tragedy to quote a pretty smart guy.

      Our unilateral actions were inappropriate, that doesn't justify Russia (or any other nation) to do the same.

      March 3, 2014 at 7:09 am | Reply
      • Gerry from Bayonne

        I say send in U.N inspectors and the inscrutable Hans Blix. Then give the Russians 12 years to cease and desist. And if they need more time – give it to them.

        March 3, 2014 at 7:35 am |
    • pigkiller

      Hold on there Comrade Tomlinson, the Iraq war that was waged by a coalition of UN countries, but mainly the US and UK was in response to numerous UN resolutions up to and including 1441 which gave our buddy Sadam one last chance to comply. Unfortunately, the UN is composed of a group of third world baboons, running around New York searching out free bananas. Only the US had the stones to finally say enough is enough. It is not as if we invaded Switzerland or Monaco. You may have thought Sadam was a real sweetheart, but the rest of the middle east and most of the world certainly did not.

      March 3, 2014 at 8:01 am | Reply
    • Xreals

      There was no battles happening in Ukraine. There was no grave danger against ethnic Russians. Crimea is 60% Ethnic Russian and part of Ukraine, it is not Russia. If the Mexicans became the majority population in Texas, can Mexico claim Texas?! NO! On top of it, we just didn't decide to invade Iraq or Afghanistan at the moments notice... it took longer, and there were real threats....

      March 3, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Reply
  6. Mamazur

    give weapons to Ukrainian and Georgian!
    they know what to do

    March 3, 2014 at 6:30 am | Reply
    • Mikhail

      Ukrainins and Georgia already have weapons, Russia also has and there hasn't been a shot in Crimea for now. If you want murders – shot yourself.

      March 3, 2014 at 7:24 am | Reply
      • rh

        That's the funny part. How many in Kyiv were killed by snipers in the past few weeks?

        Now how many were even injured at all in Crimea?

        Russia is making up stories that they have to protect their people, and their people are perfectly safe.

        March 3, 2014 at 7:44 am |
  7. Boris Gelfand

    Fareed Zakaria has a lot of problems with geography. His statement "Remember, Crimea is in the Northern Caucasus, the area where Russia has been battling a ferocious Muslim insurgency" is incorrect. Crimea has never been is the Northern Caucasus. Some while ego he stated that Syria is a landlocked country! It is ridiculous!

    March 3, 2014 at 6:34 am | Reply
    • John the Baptist.

      To Boris. You are missing the point. zakaria's lack of proper geography is not important. This is about reigning Putin (the bully) in. The goal is to not set the precedent that Russia can do whatever it wants with respect to its former colonies (supposedly equal rights and power former republics of the USSR). He's done this to Georgia, has put pressures on Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan to evict US bases ASAP and much more. Ukraine is next on the list This rogue behavior finally shows Putin's true colors to the world after the "Glory of Russia" at the wasteful Olympics.

      March 3, 2014 at 7:25 am | Reply
      • Victoria Antonenko

        Exactly! Only US have exclusive prerogative to do what they want and everywhere they want!

        March 3, 2014 at 8:45 am |
      • srdjan

        The US have been doing the same thing for centuries. They opened Pandora's box by attacking Serbia, sovereign state, and took part of it's territory. These are the consequences. Look and enjoy.

        March 3, 2014 at 8:46 am |
    • Amit

      Don't blame him – he is one from the land of Political Ignorance

      March 3, 2014 at 7:47 am | Reply
  8. Jonathan

    Doesn't Russia already own enough land?

    March 3, 2014 at 6:36 am | Reply
  9. communistVsMuslimsNotBad

    ".... a treaty that it signed with Ukraine guaranteeing that country’s borders, in return for which Ukraine gave up its nuclear weapons..."

    – the russia is violating the treaty, the only way to stop this is to rearm Ukraine again with Nuclear Weapons!

    March 3, 2014 at 6:42 am | Reply
    • botvins

      The Budapest memorandum was never ratified. In USA it wasn't even submitted for the vote. Zakaria's ignorance is really pitiful. And Crimea is more russian than Hawaii is american by a long shot.

      March 3, 2014 at 8:08 am | Reply
  10. aurelius

    Much more should be expected from the Germans. It is the double pipeline from Russia to the West that goes through the Ukraine. It's up to the European to take the lead and take the flak, with the support of the US. Germany, in particular, has spent practically no money on its military and never joins any intervention in a meaningful way overseas, just like the Swiss. They are too busy enriching themselves, sometimes, at the expense of others. Now is the time for Merkel to show her true strength.

    March 3, 2014 at 6:50 am | Reply
  11. JJ

    When nations turned a blind eye to Hitler look what happened. This is only the beginning.

    March 3, 2014 at 6:51 am | Reply
    • Mountainair

      You are correct. But sadly liberals have no idea how to stop the aggression. I laugh when I see things like pull our diplomats or not participate in the G8. Heck Putin would love this as it gives him unabridged access to other world leaders to put forth his agenda without US there and this would be worse than bad.

      The formula to stopping Putin is simple and easy. Russia is dependent on energy exports to keep their economy running. They are also dependent on U.S. and EU companies to help them develop new oil and natural gas reserves which they are doing very aggressively. They are doing this while here in the U.S. we are doing just the opposite. We have the ability to stop our companies from helping Russia develop their new reserves and we also have the ability to increase production here. The combination of these two things will bring the price of energy to lower than what Putin needs to sustain his economy. If we don't stop him now and we continue to look at cutting our military then his powers will grow to the point that we will not be able to stop him. He clearly sees our current administration as weak and this must be reversed.

      If the price of a barrel of oil gets down to $80 a barrel the Russian economy crumbles while the U.S. economy takes off. Energy prices control our economy's and there shouldn't be any doubt about this. Of course if Putin sees this as happening he will either come back in peace and learn to play with the rest of the world or be ousted by his own people.

      Pulling diplomats and not attending a summit is laughable. People that think this is going to have any impact have no business being in a position of power.

      March 3, 2014 at 8:45 am | Reply
  12. jkflipflop

    We should do nothing. It's none of our business. We aren't the Earth's police force.

    March 3, 2014 at 6:52 am | Reply
    • rh

      There are many Ukrainians who live in the US and Ukrainian-Americans as well. I've seen zilch about what they think.

      If we do nothing, what is stopping Russia from doing this to every country that has Russian citizens in it, in the name of their safety?

      Has Russia sent troops to Syria to protect Russian citizens there? How about to Greece and Cyprus to protect Russian citizens there?

      March 3, 2014 at 7:47 am | Reply
      • jkflipflop

        So what? If Russia comes to attack the USA, we'll destroy them utterly. If they directly attack one of our trusted allies, we'll back them up to the hilt. If Russia attacks some backwater chunk of the planet that has a long standing history of discord and also harbors a populace that hates the USA, then I don't really care.

        If it bothers you that much, donate to some charity like the Red Cross or buy a ticket over there to help whomever it is you feel is being slighted or oppressed or whatever. This is not the job of the USA.

        March 3, 2014 at 8:01 am |
  13. Erik Granados

    Giving up their nukes and getting reassurances of no intervention from a big country with a history of illegal interventions in the name of protecting its interests. Crazy! I am talking of both The U.S. And Russia. I am sure the Iranians and North Koreans are taking notes.

    March 3, 2014 at 6:57 am | Reply
  14. dogant

    "In any event, Washington’s response should be clear and forceful....."

    .....why must it be Washington who responds ? Why not the global coalition ?

    The days of U.S. credit card imperialism and global cop are over–if the issues are so great, the united forces of the world should obligate their collective credit card.

    Unless we resist this type of involvement, we will never be able to pare the bloat of the perpetual Pentagon okey dokes and whiz bangs–greater than all major nations combined.

    March 3, 2014 at 7:11 am | Reply
  15. Arthur

    Small nuclear weapons dropped strategically should do the trick.

    March 3, 2014 at 7:22 am | Reply
  16. Reddog9500

    Putin: "I take Super Bowl ring and not give back. Ha. Now I take Crimea and never give back. Double ha. People cry like little baby, but do nothing to stop."

    March 3, 2014 at 7:24 am | Reply
  17. Gerry from Bayonne

    Where's Hans Blix when we need him?

    March 3, 2014 at 7:27 am | Reply
  18. James

    People thought the price we paid for Alaska was too much at the time? What are they know? Fools.

    Crimea to Ukraine is like California to the US. Its the good part.

    March 3, 2014 at 7:35 am | Reply
    • rh

      Biased, aren't we?

      Crimea should be independent.

      March 3, 2014 at 7:43 am | Reply
  19. DC Observer

    Recall the US Ambassador to Russia and pull all diplomats out of Russia until this issue is resolved.
    Expel ALL Russian diplomats from the US until this issue is
    Do not honor any Russian VISA's until this issue is resolved
    Call for a vote to suspend Russia from the G8, Cancel the Sochi G8 meeting and move the meeting to Switzerland for what will be a G7 meeting. Immediately start preparation meetings for the G7
    Freeze all Russian banking activity in the US until this is resolved
    hasten the Ukraine's entry to NATO - once in NATO, dispatch NATO troops to Kiev to protect the capital and all military and air bases until this is resolved
    Restart the missile defense system in Europe

    This is all better than talk – this is action – and should get Russia's attention

    March 3, 2014 at 7:37 am | Reply
  20. Mikhail

    No one wants war in Crimea. East Ukraine+Crimea has always been kind to Russia, the same is Russia toward this Ukraine. Stop this threating, no war, peace everywhere, relax and come to Crimea soon – life is good and safe there even now.

    March 3, 2014 at 7:39 am | Reply
  21. rh

    The question is "How should the United Nations respond?".

    We should not be leading such an effort.

    March 3, 2014 at 7:42 am | Reply
  22. mario

    last minute news:your predictions on China were wrong. it's on Russia side

    March 3, 2014 at 7:44 am | Reply
  23. mario

    last minute news: your predictions on China were wrong, it's on Russia side

    March 3, 2014 at 7:45 am | Reply
  24. md

    "Remember, Crimea is in the Northern Caucasus, the area where Russia has been battling a ferocious Muslim insurgency."

    For the record: CRIMEA IS NOT IN THE NORTHERN CAUCASUS. Any map can tell you that. What Zakaria writes is about as absurd as it would be to say that the San Francisco Bay is in the Sierra Nevada.

    March 3, 2014 at 7:46 am | Reply
  25. send in the clowns

    you decided that you never needed really good negotiators, ever, apparently. or you could send in the clowns. there aught to be clowns.

    March 3, 2014 at 7:53 am | Reply
  26. Victoria Antonenko

    Have you seen the map of Europe, mr.Zakaria? Do you believe that 10% of Crimean Tatars (who have nothing to do with Chechnia and never had) will decide who will get Crimea? What did Russia do when US invaded Irak who doesn't have 60% of proamerican population? Even if it is wrong but let Putin do what ukrainian government can't provide.

    March 3, 2014 at 7:57 am | Reply
  27. Alexey

    Why are so many Americans so woefully stupid? Crimea is NOT in Northern Caucasus – look at the map, understudy.

    March 3, 2014 at 7:57 am | Reply
  28. Roy

    "What the US should do?" Bring Kerry back to the White House mind its own business and fix some of our problems here at home.

    March 3, 2014 at 7:58 am | Reply
  29. lol

    Looks like Obama's Pakistani buddy who used to smoke crack and hold hand with him is back to advise him.........Petty!!!

    March 3, 2014 at 7:58 am | Reply
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