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. Oraven

    Nothing is right if we do not move with our own troops and face the force the Russians impose on the East as Patton Once said Russian Communism is alive and well Stalin Lives We have just seen the beginning. East Germany Poland and more to come they are playing the exact cards they have played since the Revolution in 1917 KGB lives on the wish to totally dominate the World! The only understand Military Power check mate!

    March 3, 2014 at 11:47 pm | Reply
  2. samy asad

    I wonder why USA did not act in a similar way when the Saudi Arabia troops went into Bahrain to put down a revolution?????

    March 3, 2014 at 11:48 pm | Reply
    • great in the past, is not great in the present

      Are you kidding??? The US has been in bed with the Saudi royal family for over 60 years!!!!!! Thirst for oil speaks louder than morality in this screwed up world of human existence...........

      March 4, 2014 at 2:07 am | Reply
  3. Cory

    Let Putin do this, He needs to see in time what effects of his mistake will really do to his country. Is it for his country or for his ego? Time will truly tell.

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

    Before to jump to any conclusion, it would be nice to know what is really going there. Can you imaging, that not all of Ukrainian people are happy how the president-elected was dismissed(in spite, that most agree he is corrupted)? Do know how many police officers were killed during that "peaceful" revolution? Why the group of the people, who grab the power in Ukraine are legal, but the president is not? Would it be acceptable for USA the same way of the president replacing? Can you imagine it!?
    Crimea is former Russian territory and it has autonomy in Ukraine. 77% population of Crimea are Russian speaking and now have to live in the country where Russian language is prohibited. What do know about it? Soon it will be referendum there about the Crimea status and, I pretty sure, that more than 75% of the people will vote to be independent from Ukraine. But, if it is good for Putin, is it acceptable for Zakaria?

    March 4, 2014 at 12:09 am | Reply
    • Jess

      "Before to jump..."? We're sick and tired of you (Russian) guys posting on these forums!

      March 4, 2014 at 12:29 am | Reply
      • Wander

        You are right – you are sick! Sorry, but we talking about Russia.

        March 4, 2014 at 9:51 pm |
    • great in the past, is not great in the present

      Nice try! Americans are jumping to conclusions that tomorrow your wonderful street thug Vladimir, might decide to send Russian submarines into San Francisco Bay, and storm Russian Hill, In San Francisco, claiming that 75% of the people living on Russian Hill are former Soviet citizens, that speak fluent Russian, and need to be protected from American imperialism......... do you see now why the world might have a problem with that logic???????????

      March 4, 2014 at 2:20 am | Reply
      • Wander

        It is just your fantasy. In the real world USA troops stormed Iraq, Afghanistan and others for very unclear reasons. As I understand, you honestly believe it was legal and the actions made all people there very happy(as CNN never lie). But Russia has no any rights to protect Russian people, just because it's Russia and there is "street thug Vladimir". Very good point!

        March 5, 2014 at 12:05 am |
  5. Kthorne

    This presidency has shown the world just how weak we have become. The U.S. Is the punch line for many jokes. Obama is clueless. He has surrounded himself with idiots. Not what we voted for.

    March 4, 2014 at 12:21 am | Reply
    • BGX

      Kthorne, I'm sorry to say but this is a really stupid argument. This is a complex situation which does not have a simple or quick answer.

      March 4, 2014 at 12:36 am | Reply
    • great in the past, is not great in the present

      And what would "Dubya" do??? Stand on the deck of an aircraft carrier, 5 nautical miles from San Diego, for a photo-op, with a sign saying "mission accomplished" above his empty head??? Dubya showed the entire world what morons we had become. At least Barack has a brain.......

      March 4, 2014 at 2:01 am | Reply
  6. BR

    The US, UK and their little cronies don't have a leg to stand on. They'll keep blowing hot air. Putin will wait. If the US, UK and their cronies start acting too funny Putin's going to turn off the natural gas supply to Europe, That's it, lights out.

    March 4, 2014 at 1:56 am | Reply
  7. Bright

    Let russia clam what belong 2 them...bcos in any suituion u found america in 4 sure they have interest in they resouces...thats america 4 u.

    March 4, 2014 at 2:08 am | Reply
  8. Justice for All

    Although I firmly believe that the Ukrains should determine their own course, Divide the country or not, this entire epasode just begs the question. Why are we so against this violation of international law and yet Isreal violates them daily with total lack of action by anyone? HUMMM is justice really blind or just winking?

    March 4, 2014 at 3:54 am | Reply
  9. Esperalzi Esperal

    Fareed Zakaria is spreading lies and western anti-Russian propaganda. Zakaria deliberately avoids mentioning US-EU-NATO plans for Ukraine, that is, to incorporate Ukraine into EU and definitely into NATO later on, and to set up US-NATO military bases later on to threaten Russia. Zakaria deliberately avoids mention how the US has spent billions of dollars to promote anti-Russian groups in Ukraine and how the US instigates, incites and promote street violence that toppled the democratically elected government of Viktor Yanukovych. The US is up to its neck meddling in Ukraine at Russia's expense. And now Zakaria is spinning around that Russia is afraid of democratic processes in UIkraine. What is so democratic about a bunch of violent street thugs in Kiev toppling a democratically elected President whose election was verified by the US and EU themselves as clean, fair and transparent??

    March 4, 2014 at 4:10 am | Reply
  10. Gonzomann

    The bear's been always strong
    But, for a little while
    The bear was sick and tired
    And the hunters, as they did before
    Took advantage of the situation
    And they cut a piece of his skin
    Now the bear is strong again
    And he wants his skin back ¡¡¡
    Now the hunters cry foul and make menacing noises
    But the bear is strong again a wants his skin back ¡¡¡
    He doesnt want the skin of the fox, or the eagle's feathers or de lion's tail
    He just wants his skin back ¡¡¡
    And he will get it

    March 4, 2014 at 5:27 am | Reply
  11. JCAP

    These grey days look a little brighter today. In a crisis, days seem to merge. Will we call this a winter of discontent? History, when the ink on the pages it's on, is dry, seems to linger until replaced. The fast pace we live at, seems at times to blur the past, often looked at by some with an emotive lens. Hopefully, it finds a voice, in emotion, perhaps reflective, but knowing the truth of things, is fair minded. I vote for truth not speculation. It seems as the crisis is more relaxed today, and that may be a truth we can grow tomorrow's history on today.

    March 4, 2014 at 8:04 am | Reply
  12. Alexey

    "everyone was part of one big, unhappy Soviet Union."
    OK,and now everyone is really happy,right?Shining happy sheeple

    March 4, 2014 at 8:23 am | Reply
  13. Knotty Boy

    How about doing nothing for a change. How about keeping our mouths shut. How about letting the U.N. make the moves and the announcements; let Great Britain, China, Germany and France take the lead – and we stay in the background. We have nothing to gain out of this. It is not our business. We have enough irons in the fire as it is.

    March 4, 2014 at 8:41 am | Reply
    • derek

      its too late for that, we should have been doing that more 50 years ago now its too late we are always involved because since WWII we have made it our business to be involved (which btw we had this approach with WWII and it didn't really work out so well) and it is now too late to just say handle it yourselves Europe, it would make us look cowardice and our enemies would get bold.

      March 4, 2014 at 9:24 am | Reply
    • quash

      What are you talking about? Europe, China, Great Britain – they can do nothing with that, nor U.S. can. We can bark only in this situation.

      March 4, 2014 at 12:17 pm | Reply
      • Veronica

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

        July 7, 2014 at 8:10 pm |
    • Marcus

      I agree ! The US has enough military obligations on our plate ! The Ukraine is not a NATO member, therefore we have no legal standing to assist. The European Union has been in the process of establising a treaty with Ukraine , but was undermined by Russia ! The EU should deal with this issue and show some backbone for once !

      March 4, 2014 at 4:16 pm | Reply
      • rocco

        Right on!!!!!!! Europeans are the ones who will lose in this, not U.S.A. Ukraine is bankrupt and is seeking IMF support. Democratization isn't going to solve their financial problems. Putin is right..this was an orchestrated coup by the West and Russia doesn't have to negotiate with ILLIGITIMATE GOVERNMENT. Let there be genuine elections for a new government and referendum on joining EU. No protests allowed. Watercannons to be used on unlawful demonstrations and fines for those arrested.

        March 4, 2014 at 7:38 pm |
    • steve

      That isnt how a superpower with any kind of intelligence works. the whole point of a superpower is to stop regional conflicts, stop how it affects regional ecomonies and stop the instability affecting the global economy which affects the US no matter how much you dont want to do anything. If the US does nothing (noone will listen to anyone but the US) the chaos that follows affects your prices in walmart, your jobs, your 401k etc... Thats why the US has been involved since the start of the century its in the US interests to get involved and sort it out. Im amazed people dont know how foreign affairs work in this country. If you sit down and close your eyes it will affect you no matter what, might as well stand up and open your eyes...

      March 5, 2014 at 10:26 am | Reply


    March 4, 2014 at 9:33 am | Reply
    • Robadude32

      AGREED!!!! This is how I feel Obama's policies in Egypt were a total Disaster!!! Many Egyptian citizens repudiated his backwards backing of Morsi and the people and military rebelled and rightly so!!!!! Obama's policies are a bloody mitigated disaster!!! Morsi and his lackey's are the terrorists!!!

      March 4, 2014 at 9:54 am | Reply
    • quash

      I agree, but not Russian citizens. They are Russian, and Russian speakers, who live there because an uneducated guy put Russian territory into Ukraine as an autonomy. Such things like this happened a lot in USSR, for example Abkhazia in Georgia, Nagorniy Kakabakh in Azerbaijan.

      March 4, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Reply
    • D. Elsass

      Mr. Srinivasaraghavan:

      There are only a large number of Russians in the Crimea because as with all "conquered territories," Dictator Joseph Stalin "repopulated" native speakers to maintain control over areas such as Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Kazakstan, etc. He wanted loyal colonies in order to have the same excuse now provided to Vladmir Putin to expand his power and the Russian dynasty. This is one of the oldest tricks used by Hitler and the Fascists pre-World War II. Identify minorities of German speakers in the Sudentenland of the Czech Republic, parts of Austria, and France and then ruthlessly invade to "protect their interests." Putin has already used this ruse in South Osetia to intimidate and punish the Republic of Georgia. Unless the world community says "Nyet" loud and clear to this tin-horn dictator, the next decade will see a return to the "Evil Empire" of Stalin and Kruschev.

      March 4, 2014 at 12:42 pm | Reply
      • quash

        I agree partially. 1. They are not only large number, but the majority of the population of Crimea.
        2. Putin did not use any ruse in South Ossetia, but West tried to do. Putin helped South Ossetian's people to survive, and reacted very fast, such as in this situation with Ukraine. Thanks Mr.Putin for that.
        3. It was not evil empire. A lot of people liked to live in USSR.

        March 4, 2014 at 1:09 pm |
  15. J Ward

    Why is a united Ukraine a requirement? Who cares if Crimea and Eastern Ukraine which are predominantly Russian split off? It seems to me very hypocritical for the US to suggest Russia comply with International law when the US Administrations regularly violate international law, invaded Panama, Granada, Iraq and a list of other countries, spy on Americans and even bring down a foreign presidents jet because they felt Eric Snowden may have been on board.

    March 4, 2014 at 12:15 pm | Reply
    • quash

      Here works the rule – "The Strongest is Always Right!"

      March 4, 2014 at 12:24 pm | Reply
  16. quash

    США грозит экономической блокадой России!!! Как жить без кока-кола, чипсов, чикенматнагетсов, виски??? Не представляю... Опять придётся жрать картошку, свинину, красную икру и пить водку...

    March 4, 2014 at 12:38 pm | Reply
    • quash

      U.S. is threatening Russia by economic sanctions!!! How to live without Coke, chips, chicken nuggets, and whiskey? I cannot imagine… It would again make us eating potatoes, pork, caviar, and drink vodka.

      March 4, 2014 at 12:56 pm | Reply
  17. tygr

    "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."
    DIPLOMACY? Please, Fareed, if you want to speak of diplomacy then be unbiased. The question that is begging to be answered is, did the US play any role in the coup in Ukraine to overthrow democratically elected leaders? If you have just one ounce of unbiased journalistic spirit left in you then raise it! I dare you!

    March 4, 2014 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  18. LiveFree

    "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?"

    In case you have not noticed, Zakaria, the precedent already started with China aggression against her southern neighbors. In fact, it seems Russia has a better case to reclaim Crimea than China's claims on the entire the south China sea and neighbors' island groups. Yet, there was no reaction from US other than action-less empty condemnations.

    You know, Russia Putin just has to try his luck.

    March 4, 2014 at 2:34 pm | Reply
  19. jigdood

    Zakaria you are politically retarded, and It is one of the miracles of multiculturalism how a moron like you gets a job in CNN

    March 4, 2014 at 4:12 pm | Reply
    • jatt_khalsa_fauj

      he is very very multicultured... he is the son of an arab rap3 hound and a tranny dancing boy/woman from karachi.

      March 4, 2014 at 7:16 pm | Reply
      • jigdood

        :))) lol.

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

    When considering countries that have history dating back hundreds of years, or in China's case, thousands, I often consider that WWII is in their recent history. China? Think of Nanking and the WWII word attached to it. Do they forgive easily? Or do they wait patiently, because waiting this long is patience compared to their existence. In other the hour approaching a time for honoring those they lost? Do they even know this, as it was filtered down through the generations since WWII?

    March 4, 2014 at 4:53 pm | Reply
  21. humanright

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

    Mr.Fareed Zakaria should learn the geography before writing. Crimea is very far from Northern Caucasus. It is like saying the New York is in Michigan.

    Also, I would suggest Mr. Zakaria learn more about the history. Crimean Tartars lived in Crimea before Russians. Ukraine inherited the Crimean occupation from Russia in 1954, and therefore equally responsible for "the population of Crimean Tartars, who are Muslim and getting radicalized.".

    March 4, 2014 at 5:52 pm | Reply
  22. jatt_khalsa_fauj


    March 4, 2014 at 7:11 pm | Reply
  23. jatt_khalsa_fauj

    zakaria... son of an arab rap3 hound and a tranny from karachi...

    March 4, 2014 at 7:13 pm | Reply
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