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. MPA

    Hey Zak. How that US to Russia response work out back in 2008?

    March 6, 2014 at 7:29 pm | Reply
  2. How

    Why is every problem in the world going on- about the US? Do we really have the money to get in the middle of this? Has Russia attacked anyone or anything yet? Obama is posturing because, when this thing resolves itself, and it will in due time- that bum in the white house and the other leftist want to claim victory- and the bum is willing to pay 1 billion of our tax dollars in bribes to the Ukraines to do it. By the way who are these Ukranian protestors anyway, why are they so great all i saw them do is light fires and cause chaos- what exactly is they're gripe? Didn't they have legitimate elections?
    It's a gimick to get money from the US

    March 6, 2014 at 8:48 pm | Reply
  3. Ted award

    It's just the old die hard Soviets that want to be part of Russia in Crimea. The young generation wants nothing to do with Russian despotism and cleptocracy. Putin just wants to put Crimea in his pocket and build a gigantic villa for himself and his very lithe and flexible dancer consort.

    March 6, 2014 at 9:49 pm | Reply
    • Alex279


      March 6, 2014 at 10:27 pm | Reply
    • Tomcat

      Agree or not, Russia has some legitimate concerns.

      A) the area has been historically theirs
      B) they had an agreement in place, which expired in 2017 but has been extended until 2042 to have the naval base and keep military there
      C) the port is the headquarters of their Black Sea fleet
      D) the current upheaval and change in government could jeopardize the agreement extension

      If it were you... What would you do, I suspect protect your interests as best you could and likely without causing any more confrontation than necessary. I suspect Russia is simply doing that. We may or may not agree, but look at it from their standpoint for two minutes... Step back and think about it. Now you still may not agree, but likely at least can understand a little of what they are thinking.

      March 11, 2014 at 9:15 pm | Reply
  4. elnino

    ok who is this zaculias what king of expertise,backgruound ineuropean history especially Russian,that make him an expert I can say wathever I want will that make me an expert, I don't think so. Ok he may want so much but lets face it this is Russia wheter you like or not looks at the videos how people are grettings the Russian there without a shot plus look at diferent news sources specially Russian and you will see how wide is the discontent with coup in kiev and a lot of people they want to be with Russia and you know why because they know they going to prosper there regardless of therir belives and their families will prosper the huge natural resources of Russia and the intellect of their people will be the difference so stops pretending to be an expert of Russia, Ukraine of the former cccp.

    March 7, 2014 at 12:19 am | Reply
  5. Bradmeister007

    Let's stop the bellyaching, Fareed. Of all the problems facing the world today, Russia's move to reabsorb the Republic of Crimea ranks very, very low indeed. Let's not forget that the majority of Crimea's population is made up of ethnic Russians who would prefer to be part of Russia and that the Crimean peninsula itself was an integral part of Russia for a great deal longer than the six decades that it has been an autonomous region within Ukraine. Furthermore, we cannot overlook Russia's legitimate military interests in protecting its strategic Black Sea naval base located on the Crimean coast. Would the possible annexation of Crimea represent a dangerous precedent for further Russian territorial expansion, as Fareed suggests? Very doubtful. There is really no good reason that Crimea should ever have been "gifted" to Ukraine in the first place; the fact that it may soon revert to being part of Russia (where it most logically belongs) should hardly be grounds for shunning Russia or cutting it loose from the G8.

    March 7, 2014 at 1:09 am | Reply
    • Alina Irma

      Why should the world respect the 1991 & 1994 treaty. By all means, ( whether you like it or not ) Ukraine's borders were clearly identified.So, where is the respect ? Why do we have the UN ? Crimea's main language ? I'm laughing !!!
      Did you ever visit Miami ? Did you ever visit Chinatown ? Glendale,Ca ? Should we return Alaska to the nostalgic soviet Russians ? I would have every country's fleet with the Ukie flag at Crimea. Anchored there for a very long time, just like a good chess game.

      March 7, 2014 at 5:07 pm | Reply
  6. Morris

    Cut all diplomatic ties with Russia. Don't give visas to Russians, and advice Americans against visiting their country.

    Ban Russian hockey players from NHL. Ask IIHF to expel Russia. If they don't, then all major hockey powers can quit IIHF and form a new world's federation. In the old federation, Russia will be left with no credible opponent.

    March 7, 2014 at 8:05 pm | Reply
    • tanushka

      cut all diplomatic ties with the US because the US causes fear in people, causes lies, destruction and war. live in your disney land. your country is a laughing joke around the world you red neck hill billy

      March 8, 2014 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  7. Alexander

    Russia will do what in its best interest just like USA or any other country. Obama will act again like a poppet to get political popularity,
    Our President is just cool – no gays displays of affections -None. Ukraine asked for help – got it. Russia DOES

    March 7, 2014 at 8:57 pm | Reply
  8. James Marshall Hendrix

    Since the troops that have invaded Crimea aren't Russian Troops, then N.A.T.O. should surprise attack and make them leave. I think President Putin wants to go to war with the U.S.A. N.A.T.O. needs to step it up and the European Union needs to get their own Natural Gas from their own countries, someone needs to teach them how to do it. The only way Putin will back off, someone has to make a threatening move, and let him know that they are serious about the aggressive move they just made. I don't think Russia can beat the European Union and the U.S.A. at the same time.

    March 9, 2014 at 7:34 am | Reply
    • Michael

      Russian Troops did not invade Crimea. Russia and Ukraine have a treaty signed in 1997 which allows Russian Troops in Crimea region up to 25000.

      March 10, 2014 at 5:25 pm | Reply
  9. Fernando


    Your comments are based in a assumption that everybody is republican as now has it´s heads stucked in the sand or in a whole.
    You numbers and statistics are absolutely pathetic !!
    I´ll tell you what... why dont you writte about a referendum being made in the ALL territory of Ucraine... ??? Why dont you ???
    Who said the MAJORITY of Ukranians support the take over of the power by this revolutionary group (not a popular revolution), since the president deposed was DEMOCRATICALLY elected !!!
    The group in POWER NOW, DOES NOT REPRESENT THE MAJORITY OF THE PEOPLE... 70% of Ukranian speak Russians... Over 60% is russian blood descendant !!!
    What do you say about that sir ???

    March 9, 2014 at 10:33 am | Reply
  10. The Loyal Maoist

    We Chinese are ready to defend the interests of our people who farming settlers (most illegal immigrants) in the Eastern region of Siberia. The part of Siberia where our Chinese compatriots have been keeping themselves busy in exploiting the fertile land are several times larger than the entire area of Unkrein. Pretty soon, we will follow the example of our big brother Putin to move our people's armies into Siberia to defend our people, i.e. to save them from oppression and slavery in the hands of Western barbarian. .

    March 9, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Reply
  11. The Loyal Maoist

    We Chinese are ready to defend the interests of our people who farming settlers (most illegal immigrants) in the Eastern region of Siberia. The part of Siberia where our Chinese compatriots have been keeping themselves busy in exploiting the fertile land are several times larger than the entire area of Ukraine. Pretty soon, we will follow the example of our big brother Putin to move our people's armies into Siberia to defend our people, i.e. to save them from oppression and slavery in the hands of Western barbarian. .

    March 9, 2014 at 4:40 pm | Reply
  12. learnwp4glaf

    No one seems to be discussing, at least publicly, the most obvious solution/response to the crisis in Ukraine, and I really wonder why this is so:

    1) Given that

    a) the most important strategic feature of Ukraine to the Russians is Crimea, and within Crimea, Sevastopol.

    b) Sevastopol is strategically important to the Russians because it provides the Russian Navy with its only warm-water port on the Black Sea, with Russia's only access to the Mediterranean Sea through the Bosporus and the Straits of the Dardanelles.

    c) The status of Ukraine, Crimea, and Sevastopol are protected by numerous international treaties to which the Russians and the US are party.

    d) The Bosporus/Dardanelles lie within the territorial waters of Turkey, a member of NATO. They are about 20 miles wide and easily closed by NATO and/or Turkey.

    e) The status of the Bosporus/Dardanelles as an open access waterway between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea is also protected by international treaties to which Russia and the US are party.

    2) Therefore, why don’t we (the US, NATO, Turkey) close the Bosporus and the Straits of Dardanelles to all Russian naval and commercial vessels, until the Russians respect their international treaty obligations in Ukraine? In other words, the Western Allies have the power, fairly easily, to prevent the Russians from actually benefitting from their actions in Ukraine. This seems a much better response than, for example, sanctions, in which the target (Russian exports, banking, travel) is much less directly tied to the cause. The Russians took over Crimea in order to protect their access to the Mediterranean. Ok, so the West's response is to deny the Russians access to the Mediterranean. And this can be accomplished without firing a shot, although obviously it threatens a military confrontation. But it does speak directly to the point. So why aren't we talking about it?

    March 9, 2014 at 5:49 pm | Reply
    • ksoldier

      That was nicely said. What is UN actually doing about this crisis??, just seems no country wants to abide by international laws and treaties anymore which is so pathetic.

      March 10, 2014 at 6:14 pm | Reply
  13. John Savard

    The first U.S. response is to ensure that Russia doesn't create any new facts on the ground. In the Ukraine, in Georgia, in the Baltics. There need to be troops lined up there just as they were during the Cold War on the border between East and West Germany. Follow that with comprehensive sanctions against Russia – similar to those against Cuba or North Korea. Once they're behind a wall of steel, allow the Baltic nations to expel their ethnic Russian populations, given how they've been used as pretexts in Georgia and the Ukraine. That will show Russia its actions have consequences.

    March 9, 2014 at 11:30 pm | Reply
  14. Paul

    So I take it that Mr Zakaria approves of the far right self proclaimed government and their snipers,

    March 10, 2014 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  15. sava

    how cann us americans be so stupid... this is my only question ?

    March 11, 2014 at 8:04 am | Reply
  16. Max

    – pls: Tatars. It's nice spelling the nation name correctly if writing a serious article.

    "Remember, Crimea is in the Northern Caucasus"
    – OMG! Have you ever looked to the map?? Crimea is not in the Caucasus at all.

    March 11, 2014 at 7:52 pm | Reply
  17. thaobuithao

    I support US santions against Russia.

    March 12, 2014 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  18. ghb

    send in b 52 and get it over with ,get all the countries that are so concerned about this matter to get together and do the right thing for the people of that area .if you don t stop him now it will only get worst ,some other country later ..

    March 16, 2014 at 2:32 pm | Reply
  19. Name*et

    It is unfair article, I can't believe this. The readers diserve much better and balance info. It is sad to read this on one of the biggest media of the world(CNN) guys rimember about ethics . The author haven't mention how the west was very active supporting the protesters whom were vaiolent and the ousted yanacovich was democratically elected, how can you creat your own history while the real one out there? The west creat this conflict . The victim will be Ukrainians and Russians. The west sanction will make the situation worest. I am sure people in Eastern Ukraine will never accept the self installed Keiv gov. The west killing dimocracy in ukrain. It is the right time for the west to rethink how to aproch Russia( russia is not one of meadeleasten country) befor a lots if disaster happen.

    March 23, 2014 at 6:53 am | Reply
  20. Djames

    It's good to get a fresh way of lonokig at it.

    July 6, 2014 at 3:04 am | Reply
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