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.

Post by:
Topics: Fareed's Take • Russia • Ukraine

soundoff (1,638 Responses)
  1. mkaipo

    With Turkey's agreement, NATO should close the Bosphoros to all Russian ships.

    March 3, 2014 at 9:16 pm | Reply
  2. jack

    Hey Mitt Romney! The 1980's wants their foreign policy back! Oh, wait...

    March 3, 2014 at 9:16 pm | Reply
  3. nuclear mike

    Simply put...Fareed, you & Obama have nothing of interest to say or do regaridng Putin...

    March 3, 2014 at 9:16 pm | Reply
    • sly

      duh, yeah Gomer, dat's why we're here raeding thes airticle. Da dumma president of da Amrica is dum

      March 3, 2014 at 9:30 pm | Reply
  4. Dan Cahalan

    Fareed Zakaria,
    You were a joke when you wrote that economic sanctions should only be "ones targets specifically at individuals who could be held responsible..." What, if any, significant sanctions would those be? The sanctions should have teeth. Moral countries should stop absolutely ALL economic dealings with Russia unless it stops military intervention.

    March 3, 2014 at 9:22 pm | Reply
  5. Seka

    Force Russia out of the Soccer World Cup coming up in Brazil and secondly convince FIFA to take away the 2018 Soccer World Cup from Russia. These two things will isolate Russia and upset the people in Russia who love soccer.

    March 3, 2014 at 9:28 pm | Reply
  6. amarjeet

    US Congress must resort and remove the budget cuts in defense budget as it has sent wrong signals to emerging powers to attack weaker, revenge and act with impunity. It also effects US interests of balancing countries and governance in international politics to protect people.

    March 3, 2014 at 9:29 pm | Reply
  7. ys

    Gosh, now "Crimea is in the Northern Caucasus".. How low can the ignorance of CNN go.. And these people dare to write about subject they have no idea about..

    March 3, 2014 at 9:36 pm | Reply
  8. Putin

    Just so you ALL know, this is exactly what the US did to Mexico.

    March 3, 2014 at 9:40 pm | Reply
  9. JCAP

    Whatever!? One thing is for sure. If I was a leader today, at this critical juncture in our world, which is about to take its next technological leap, I would be mindful of how historians would record my deeds 100 years from now.

    March 3, 2014 at 9:58 pm | Reply
  10. Cindy

    I believe we need to get in independent observers on the ground and find out what is really happening over there and with who. In the meantime Russia needs to quit blocking off Crimea as"it technically isn't their property" (and by doing so is seen as an act of aggression) and their economy they are blocking by cutting off so much in Crimea. In any disagreement there are always three sides, the two combatants have their sides and then there is that third side which is "what really happened."

    There appears to be at least three sides to this story so everyone needs to step back, take a breather and get to the root of the matter before any drastic actions are taken by anyone globally. Both the Ukraine and Russia needs to find neutral observers they can both agree on and survey the entire situation but until that can be accomplished, Russia needs to step down in their display of military might. Fact is, it is not part of Russia anymore.

    March 3, 2014 at 10:03 pm | Reply
    • Ben

      And while we discuss endlessly, Putin moves his troupes in Crimea and threatens the s...t out of the people who would dare to say what they think!

      Are you blind? Don't you see that Russia gains back little by little their old sphere of influence?

      March 4, 2014 at 12:13 am | Reply
    • great in the past, is not great in the present

      Very good comment! From a sheer speculation standpoint, it certainly does appear that Hitler and Putin must be long lost cousins though. You see Ma'am, in the 1930's a certain thug named Adolf was feeling that Germany was rather emasculated by WWI war reparations and was declining economically. Getting the Nazi war machinery moving again was his brilliant solution to the problem. Let's be strong "men" and get "rich" at the same time. Hence his annexation of the Sudatenland, while the world watched, argued, waited and did nothing!!!!!!!!!! Next step, annex Poland, in 1939, which triggered WWII. Now in 2014, a certain thug named Vladimir is feeling that Russia has been hugely emasculated by the "loss" of the former Soviet Republics and the declining Russian economy since the 1990's. Getting the Russian war machine going again is his brilliant solution........ He would love his Russia to be "strong" again and get rich you see the striking similarity now?????????

      March 4, 2014 at 1:51 am | Reply
    • Willam

      I wish Russia would back down, but it won't. Putin was the head of the KGB and plays hardball with balls made of steel. Sadly, as much as I like him, Obama plays with basket balls. If he just once, stood up to Putin, Putin, the bully, would back down. Why? Because this is all about money and greed. Putin is a Greedy dictator and does not want to risk losing a dime of his many trillions. He loves wallowing in luxury. He won't risk it. So Obama and the West have much more power than they realize. The entire fall of communism was engineered because the Russians had amassed fortunes and wanted to spend the money on MBs, Rolls, Chalets in Switzerland, fashons, yachts, etc.. A war with the West will deprive them of all this Bling. Stand up in the face of the creeps and they'll back down. I've lived in U.S.A. and Europe and Eastern Europe for many years and the last 13 years in Europe. I've dealt with Russians and know first hand how clever they are. Sadly, Kerry is a silly freshman compared to his Russian counterpart.

      March 4, 2014 at 10:55 am | Reply
  11. BGF

    The world needs to wake up.Russia is pure and simple a corrupt dictatorship. Putin is living in the past,all he cares about is restoring Stallins Russia.He tells a lie to invade Crimea,next he will tell a lie to invade all of Ukraine, then who's next! The free world's problem is big business in the US and Europe control the governments and they don't want business to suffer.They could care less about everyday people in any country.The only way to stop a lunatic like Putin is to strangle Russia economically. The problem is the US and Europe don't have the gut's to do what's right.

    March 3, 2014 at 10:22 pm | Reply
    • BGF2

      Putin is by far more dangerous than any of the former soviet presidents; this guy is a shrewd and scheming former NKVD agent.

      March 4, 2014 at 12:16 am | Reply
      • Alex

        Just a historical fact? NKVD was disbanded in 1946.

        March 5, 2014 at 3:36 pm |
    • monkeybrain1618

      Can only say well play Putin.

      There is no way Russia will ever give up Crimea. Giving up is like allowing Russia to setup missile base in Cuba.
      Crimea is too close to Moscow. If i am Putin there is no way i am giving up Crimia.

      The only way is to make Crimea another independent state which is then a puppet of moscow. That Might work.without a war.

      March 4, 2014 at 4:10 am | Reply
  12. Rajesh Patel

    I think we leave Russia alone....I don't remember Russia causing problems for us during Iraq invasion based on lies?

    March 3, 2014 at 10:23 pm | Reply
    • Clarence Alexander

      We did not invade Iraq to take over and keep their land. The reasons can be debated; but we never, ever intended to annex Iraq!

      March 3, 2014 at 10:43 pm | Reply
      • Bonger

        No their land....just their

        March 3, 2014 at 10:57 pm |
      • BR

        Oh I see! Invading and destroying someone's land, leaving the people's lives completely messed up, grabbing their natural resources is all just fine, but annexing someone's land and letting it thrive is not ok. I get it now.

        March 4, 2014 at 1:50 am |
      • Pradeep

        Yes, never ever intended to invade Iraq, just went there to squeeze every bit of oil and came dumbo...wakeup

        March 4, 2014 at 2:49 am |
    • WAB


      March 3, 2014 at 11:05 pm | Reply
    • JerryM

      Although I didn't agree with the Iraq invasion, there are some pretty important differences.

      1) The US was not trying to conquer Iraq and make it a part of the US. It was always understood that the Iraqi people would decide how to govern Iraq. Some people might disagree and say we were trying to control Iraq through a puppet, but Putin is not even really trying to hide the fact that he simply wants to take the Crimea and make it a part of Russia.

      2) Saddam Hussein was an evil dictator and the US actually did at least some good in getting rid of him. While it is arguable that the death and destruction caused by the war and continued instability has been even worse than having Saddam Hussein, at least it provided SOME justification. There is no such menace in Ukraine. The only evil dictator in this conflict is Putin himself.

      3) Largely because of the first two reasons, the US actually had the approval and support of many other countries. By contrast, no country I know of approves of what Putin is doing, not even the Russian people.

      4) There is every reason to believe that if Putin is allowed to simply take the Crimea, or possibly even all of Ukraine without even an objection he will not stop there. Whereas the US is trying to get OUT of Iraq and Afghanistan, Putin seems to want to create a new Russian Empire by conquering ever more territory and expanding the country's borders.

      March 3, 2014 at 11:07 pm | Reply
      • Mopery

        1. The Iraq war made hundreds of billions(if not trillions) of dollars for Haliburton(and by proxy, Dick Cheney).
        2. The Iraq war and its aftermath killed over 1 million Iraqis, even in his wettest dream Saddam Hussein could never have killed that many of his own people.
        3. The "coalition of the willing", as it was called, was little more than 3rd world puppet states and a couple(not all) of our NATO allies. The UN was against it, the majority of the world was against it.
        4. Crimea is arguably THE most important Russian military asset, as without it they have no warm-water naval bases. They have plenty of reasons to protect their interests especially so close to their own country.

        March 3, 2014 at 11:21 pm |
      • Bily

        If Putin is allowed to take the Crimea, he will not stop there!!

        March 4, 2014 at 12:19 am |
    • maverick

      Totally agree with you, Rajesh! I mean just transpose the situation to say, an English-speaking American population in Mexico who are threatened by a sudden ousting of the elected government. What would the US have done? Even without even half such provocations, the US has acted unilaterally to protect its interests. Remember Grenada? Remember Panama? Fareed, in his desire to appear patriotic, has gone too far. Most of Ukraine would be anti-Russian or anti-Putin? Says who and based on what stats? The last I checked Ukraine was pretty evenly divided between Anti-Russian and Pro-Russian. The Russian people overwhelmingly support Putin's stance. Need to look at a situation from all perspectives, instead of always thinking that our interests represent the world's interests too. No, it doesn't. Not in all cases anyway.

      March 3, 2014 at 11:35 pm | Reply
      • Bob

        The U.S., as it is today, would not invade Mexico to take over Cancun. This is pretty much what Russia is doing. And it's wrong.

        March 4, 2014 at 12:59 am |
    • CrimeA

      This is one of the biggest emergencies of the 21st century! Putin kept flexing his muscles and making fun of us.

      If he can take military action against another country and we look at it as an impotent teddy bear, we send the wrong message – that he can take what he wants (from other countries) while the western democratic world have endless debates and hand-tied arguments.

      March 3, 2014 at 11:52 pm | Reply
      • helenofpeel

        Well, let's gain a little perspective here:
        – Eisenhower did nothing when the Soviet Union marched into Hungary in 1956
        – Johnson did nothing when the Soviet Union marched into Czechoslavoka in 1968
        – Bush did nothing when Russia marching into Georgia in 2008
        – Obama will do nothing with Russia marching into Ukraine now

        At least militarily we will do nothing.
        But financially, we should strangle their economy.
        If Russia has no money, Russia cannot make war.

        March 4, 2014 at 12:45 am |
      • great in the past, is not great in the present

        good comment helenofpeel.
        And you are forgetting that Jimmy Carter did nothing when Russia marched into Afghanistan in 1978!
        Boy these Russians sure have a bad history of expansionism!!!!!!!!!!!!

        March 4, 2014 at 1:37 am |
  13. WR Pickard

    The US should do nothing militarily – we don't have the troops or the will to fight the Russians, and we'd lose anyway. Putin is not Sadam.

    What we should do is form the strongest possible alliance and cut the Russians out of anything possible to show them that they are still a 3rd world country economically. Out of the G8, no trade deals and no trade, no courtesies accorded to all real nations. it they cut off Ukraine's energy, the US and the EU supply it, and the US and the EU supply loans or credits or whatever is required to keep them afloat – while also ensuring that the crazies don't take over. Turn Russia into the Pariah that it is – cut it out of anything and everything possible and do it at the soonest possible moment.

    March 3, 2014 at 10:26 pm | Reply
    • Mopery

      Lack of troops or a will to fight is not the reason we're not going to go to war with Russia. I'll give you a tiny little hint at why we don't want war with Russia, it makes an unbelievably loud bang and leaves a mushroom cloud in its wake...

      March 3, 2014 at 11:14 pm | Reply
    • Ron

      Ukraine is not a Middle Eastern country who begs us for help when they need it, and then turn around and when it's convenient they turn around and hate us.

      Helping Ukraine is also good for us on several counts: we help the Ukrainian people stand up to a communist bully (Russia); we fight the spread of neo-communism (by Russia and the their sympathizers), and cut Putin's power.

      March 4, 2014 at 12:04 am | Reply
  14. BigBotz

    Once again we think we need to be the worlds police. What happens if China likes what it sees and backs Russia up, what if this sparks a war we don't want to start or worse? Let someone else step in like the UK, why does it need to be us? I know this is a bad situation but we can only make it worse, nothing we do could help the situation.

    March 3, 2014 at 10:29 pm | Reply
    • BETTY


      March 3, 2014 at 10:35 pm | Reply
      • IGG

        Oh Betty, please go back to your fried chicken! Not everything that happens on the world's chess game can be reduced to the simple abc.

        March 4, 2014 at 12:08 am |
    • Clarence Alexander

      I don't advocate military intervention, but I do think what you said is exactly what folks were saying in 1939.

      March 3, 2014 at 10:45 pm | Reply
      • Jaeger

        You're the only other person I've seen make the Sudetenland comparison.

        March 4, 2014 at 12:00 am |
    • maverick

      I think its wishful thinking to presume China would not back the Russia on this. They recently signed a strategic alliance. And since when would China not want to see the West discomfited? Come on guys, get real!

      March 3, 2014 at 11:50 pm | Reply
    • John Riley Goldsmith

      Wait till the Russians in the ski masks start their ethnic cleansing of the Crimea like they did under Stalin. It will make what the Serbs did to the former Yugoslavia pale by comparison.

      March 4, 2014 at 12:27 am | Reply
      • Buddy

        I think the danger of extreme nazi type stuff happening comes from the people who now control Ukraine, not the Russians. I think people are quick to believe what they are hearing from CNN, but it's heavily slanted, and we are all being played by the media coverage. Have a look at or other sources, and then make your decision. Nobody wants ethnic hatred, but I think there are some neo-nazi type guys who pulled off this coup d'etat. I think Russia has stated that they want to let Ukraine have a referendum – that's about it. I'll keep watching, but wow, what I see from CNN and CBC is mostly propaganda. Watch out for what you are wishing for. Yes, Ukrainian people want to get rid of their corrupt Yankovich or whatever (lol), but the problem here is that they are replacing it with equally corrupt or twisted leaders. See how this plays out. Forget about Russia moving in some troops – they are only in the East of Ukraine, and they are basically welcome there at the moment. Russia won't be fighting anyone I don't think, Putin is misunderstood. Putin should make some TV speech and then CNN might be forced to air it. For now it's the dirty EU and US money that is putting on the show for us, trying to put your head into a "cold war" mode. Seriously – spend a half an hour watching RT.

        March 4, 2014 at 3:02 am |
  15. WR Pickard

    Before Khrushchev 'gave the Crimea back' to the Ukraine, Joe Stalin first had to take it. That area was historically an ally or vassal or satellite of Imperial Russia, but Stalin took it over and purged a few million Ukrainian people in the process. Then he relocated a lot of Russians into it to solidify its support for Soviet domination and replace the farmers and workers he murdered. Without those people, the Ukrainians would have been restive and caused him trouble.

    Russia has no legitimate claim to any part of Ukraine for any reason.

    March 3, 2014 at 10:32 pm | Reply
  16. MPA

    Yawn. Where's your article about how Bush handled Russia's invasion of Georgia? Oh that's right, IT DOESN'T exist.


    March 3, 2014 at 10:32 pm | Reply
  17. BETTY


    March 3, 2014 at 10:33 pm | Reply
    • For Betty

      Your shouting, inconsiderate posting shows YOUR IGNORANCE. Ukraine is a civilized country; by helping them we help us.

      March 4, 2014 at 12:24 am | Reply
  18. All American

    U.S. needs to stay out of everybodys business , giving other countries billions of dollars according to Kerry to help them out. wake up and look around your own country sir, it has gone to s- . the U.S needs to take care of its own first, I don't remember the day that GOD himself came down and said the U.S. is responsible for the rest of the world. Keep messing in other countries and the day WILL come when they will put their foot down and then up where the sun don't shine with the folks we have in Washington. then let the finger pointing begin , like always.

    March 3, 2014 at 10:35 pm | Reply
    • M007

      "All American" you are Russian.

      March 4, 2014 at 12:26 am | Reply
  19. Who is this guy?

    Why does he think he knows better than everyone else about everything else?

    March 3, 2014 at 10:46 pm | Reply
    • Mopery

      Maybe he's trying out for a spot on FauxNews...

      March 3, 2014 at 11:11 pm | Reply
  20. Roman

    Good advice Zakaria. How about some in depth analysis hour by hour of the events of February 19th – February 22nd? I hate to mention it to you but this is an extremely poor article – yes you went on Google and found out about Tatars – I give you credit for that. Yes – you have your own opinion of where US should go. Yes – you are talking about a hot topic now. But since you run a mature foreign policy program on TV, don't you want to give your viewers a "full picture"? Explain the events that led to this? And I am not here to advocate for one side or another but just out of journalistic courtesy to uneducated viewers? If you can do that, you can call yourself a journalist, otherwise you might as well work a state-ran television network in a third world country. No need to go back to 16th century but just an analysis of facts of 4 days in Ukraine.

    March 3, 2014 at 10:55 pm | Reply
  21. JCAP

    Ethnic Pride=Securing Naval Base Personal Pride=Stepping off into further territory. Mother Russia should consider the tough love a mother gives to a child, by letting the Ukraine suffer the growing pains of autonomy, which by way of that kind of love would help it mature. That would be favorable to history, and also to Russia.

    March 3, 2014 at 10:56 pm | Reply
  22. All American

    Whoever is going to Russia to talk with Putin, Obama went and he did not want to hear anything he had to say, just another vacation. Best watch your manners when around Mr. Putin because he is a man that will not back down . Let him do what he thinks is best on his side of the world its none of the U.S. business. When China starts backing them we gonna be in some serious trouble if they both take a more disliking towards us. Stay out of it and take care of your own country, you know the one in this country that voted you in and ask themselves each night... what the hell did I do ?

    March 3, 2014 at 10:59 pm | Reply
    • Milesxx

      China will never back Russia. They will always be in the middle of us and Russia. They want to see us fight with Russia more than anyone else.

      March 4, 2014 at 12:40 am | Reply
  23. BGF

    No doubt the US has made more than it's share of blunders.We had no business in Vietnam proping up a corrupt government,we had no business invading Iraq on Bushes lies.However believe it or not there is evil in this world Where would we be if we had stayed out of Hitler's business. We have wasted valuable resources and countless good men for no good reason. But there are times when war's must be fought to protect our country and our friends.I truly believe a war with Iran is going to happen and better before they get the bomb than after.Russia on the other hand a war is unwinnable by either side but agression must be faced.Russia is full of peaceful,intelligent people.Hopefully they will have the will to get rid of this nut running there country.

    March 3, 2014 at 11:09 pm | Reply
  24. Sam I Am

    Hey, Dude! Stop trying to make the news and just report the news. We don't care what you think!

    March 3, 2014 at 11:11 pm | Reply
  25. john

    The us weakness under lefty loon obummer has allowed this to happen.. It has created a power vacuum Russia or China would be happy to fill...thanks democrat voters.

    March 3, 2014 at 11:12 pm | Reply
    • Mopery

      Right, so a vote for Republicans is a vote for Thermonuclear War?

      March 3, 2014 at 11:27 pm | Reply
  26. WAB


    March 3, 2014 at 11:14 pm | Reply
  27. DG

    Why are we so interested in intervening with this matter? Imagine if we had an issue with....say Canada... and Russia comes to us with a forceful response...?!... How would we feel...Quit policing the world America and focus on domestic issues..!

    March 3, 2014 at 11:17 pm | Reply
  28. Mopery

    Want to know Putin's playbook? It's called "The Bush Doctrine in Action".

    March 3, 2014 at 11:25 pm | Reply
  29. Snowman

    I haven't seen anything about this, but are we still taking part in the Sochi Paralympics, which opens Friday?

    March 3, 2014 at 11:26 pm | Reply
    • Mopery

      My money is on John McCain in the 1000m hyperbole...

      March 3, 2014 at 11:28 pm | Reply
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