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. Hitler then, Putin now

    Who was the last dictator to move his troops into other countries to "protect German speaking peoples?" Hitler.

    This time it's Putin and Russian speaking peoples.

    March 2, 2014 at 5:41 pm | Reply
    • Roy

      When I read the first part of your post, I thought you were gonna say the United States invading Iraq and Afghanistan to protect it's own national interests. My mistake.

      March 2, 2014 at 5:58 pm | Reply
    • Tad

      So true...Russia is never going to be a trustworthy ally of the US.
      Great article.

      March 2, 2014 at 6:05 pm | Reply
    • Willy

      The big difference between Hitler's move into the "Sudetenland" and Putin's occupying the Crimea is that Hitler did it with the approval of the Western powers (remember Chamberlain?) and the approval of the Check prime minister while Putin did it by himself without anybody's approval. Big difference, right? Hitler's aim was to protect the rights of the Sudeten Germans, Putin's claim is to protect the rights of the Russians in Crimea. Same claim, different approaches. You know what happened to Hitler. Let's see what is going to happen to Putin.

      March 2, 2014 at 6:12 pm | Reply
  2. Sarah Palin

    The U.S. doesn't have any real options here.

    Crimea is now owned by Russia again.

    March 2, 2014 at 5:41 pm | Reply
    • Iraj

      You're right. I see that from my balcony, Sarah!

      March 2, 2014 at 6:08 pm | Reply
    • hrpufnstuf

      Sure they do! Obama and Kerry will give them a 1-2 set of ultimatums: Putin HAS to be quaking in his boots worrying about them coming down hard on him, just like he did in Syria over the use of chemical weapons. They might even put him on Double Secret Probation!

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

    Russia is not the USSR. A few years ago the USSR went bankrupt, is no more. As economies go, Russia is a dwarf, GDP EU 16 Trillion, GDP US 16 trillion, Russia GDP 2 trillion. Given current mismanagement by putin, Russia is not that far from another bankruptcy. Given war, US forces are likely to go thru Russia like putin thru a goose, a combined force with the EU is likely to be even quicker. Russia is not Iraq, but it's not the USSR either. Obama is really doing Russia a favor, doing more to save Russia, than putin is doing, putin is just posturing so he can look good naked on a horse, meanwhile Russia goes down in flames, like the USSR did.

    March 2, 2014 at 5:43 pm | Reply
    • german

      correction, GDP EU $12 trillion, not 16, that is America's GDP (Canada included the number would be even larger), Russia is indeed a dwarf, not even $2 trillion, exactly it's $ 1.8 trillion (Netherlands has a larger GDP than russia), most of which is based on russian raw material and energy resource exports to western europe and several asian countries.

      March 2, 2014 at 5:53 pm | Reply
      • fmblog

        I think that you may be thinking of the eurozone GDP, the GDP of the EU is over $16T

        March 2, 2014 at 6:07 pm |
    • E.idem

      You are now been crown the king of comedy ..... Don't you please try to overate your country's military. Do not forget your country is deep into debt of $16 trillion some economist says $70 trillion, you think the US can take another war? Can you go find out how much debt Russia is in, my guess they owe no one , Russia has billions invested in the US.

      March 2, 2014 at 6:02 pm | Reply
  4. Allen Duffis

    Many of you, like Barbara, appear to think that sanctions and trade embargos work for only one side. They do not! You seem to have forgotten that Russia supplies virtually all of the gas and oil that the Ukraine uses. They could cut the supply off in the wink of an eye. In the end, the people of the Ukraine may regard the loss of the small peninsula, Crimea, as a small but affordable price to pay for heat and hot water. Think about it!

    March 2, 2014 at 5:43 pm | Reply
    • crossswitch

      Would you give Alaska up for the comfort of Hot Water and heat? The arrogance of these posts is hilarious as you are all on here speaking for the rights of another Country and talk as if you think GDP matters. THIS IS ABOUT STRATEGIC PLACEMENT IN EUROPE. PERIOD.
      Obama cant give this up but hey what do I know you guys seems to know EVERYTHING about a Country that you all just Wikipedia'd around 20 minutes ago....

      March 2, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  5. David

    We do nothing. He just opened a can of worms that will result in instability for the entire region for the next decade. The money he will now have to spend to stabilize this region will bankrupt the country. Win Win for us.

    March 2, 2014 at 5:47 pm | Reply
    • Ulan bat


      March 2, 2014 at 6:04 pm | Reply
    • crossswitch

      Really? Bankrupt a country? You sir have no idea about anything when it comes to warfare....
      War is a money MAKER. Please PLEASE all of you just STFU as if you all know how to deal with foreign relations or military strategy,

      March 2, 2014 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  6. G_Edwards

    "How U.S. should respond to Russia?"

    Using the infamous words of the Obama Administration, "At this point, what does it matter?" Pres Putin is going to do whatever he wants.

    He about what Pres Obama said wrt Snowden, Syria, or Sochi. Why should the Ukraine be any different?


    March 2, 2014 at 5:49 pm | Reply
    • G_Edwards

      He DIDN'T CARE about what Pres Obama said wrt Snowden, Syria, or Sochi. Why should the Ukraine be any different?

      March 2, 2014 at 5:50 pm | Reply
    • Henry

      And a Republican President would do what here? Other than removing Russia from the G-8? Nothing my friend. Nothing. Pound your chest as much as you want – and remember the huge waste of money and lives in Iraq for a trumped up reason. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. Maybe our President is actually thinking about the situation and being strategic. Not just making people feel good at an indeterminate price.

      March 2, 2014 at 6:14 pm | Reply
      • crossswitch

        Henry, You are a disaster. Get your head out of BO's butt. Comparing RUSSIA and IRAQ is ridiculous. The cold war is upon us again and there is DISASTER if not dealt with correctly with little or no force, is NOT an option. THOUSANDS of lives were secretly lost during the cold war on both sides.
        War with Russia and/or China is brewing, or haven't you been following. This isnt ONE move its many and you have no knowledge but plenty of arrogance to think you know what the hell's going on, So coward up and get your blanky cause this one will not be over anytime soon. Expect MILITARY MOVEMENT from the USA in 1 week.

        March 2, 2014 at 6:28 pm |
      • G_Edwards

        That's the best you got???? Can't defend our President, so you resort to creating hypotheticals????

        Besides, I doubt a Repub President would have rained on Pres Putin's Sochi parade and try to embarrass him for political points. Doesn't exactly foster a good relation for other issues – as we're witnessing.


        March 2, 2014 at 6:39 pm |
  7. Russ Neville

    This situation is like the Munich crisis of 1938 when Hitler was appeased in Chechoslovakia after the Austrian "putsch"
    before that. Putin is Hitler re-incarnated. And all Russian visas to the US should be immediately suspended to say nothing of those illegal Russian Mafiosos in Brighton Beach NYC.

    March 2, 2014 at 5:52 pm | Reply
  8. Allen Duffis

    The real danger in this situation is not for the people of the Ukraine, but for the people of the U.S.A. We have now had it demonstrated not only to our own people, but to the world as a whole, that our 'red-line drawing' leader has no political Gravitas! In this very dangerous world, we have a leader who no one takes seriously.
    Am I wrong? Think about it. If not, then it’s all downhill from now on until 2016.

    March 2, 2014 at 5:52 pm | Reply
    • crossswitch

      You are correct and dont let any of these cowards tell you otherwise in CNN.

      March 2, 2014 at 6:29 pm | Reply
  9. Gracia Adeclat

    It's really deja vu Russian again the red army showing the world that. Only way he will negotiated is by forces .its a scary situation .do I have to speak Russian. Are we falling apart???

    March 2, 2014 at 5:54 pm | Reply
  10. german

    this is yet another quite intelligent analysis of the situation by Fareed, with even some well formulated suggestions as possible options on how to react and deal with the moscow lunatic.

    March 2, 2014 at 5:57 pm | Reply
  11. Gracia Adeclat

    The people of Ukraine had enough with Russia enough intimidation. Down all dictators by any demoniac forms. Free the people of Ukraine ? To the people of Ukraine democracy is a price stand up firmly against the. Devils of the devils ???

    March 2, 2014 at 5:58 pm | Reply
  12. Allen Duffis

    In a nutshell! Russia has a strong effective leader, President Vladimir Putin. We have Barack Obama.

    Enough said!

    March 2, 2014 at 5:59 pm | Reply
    • fmblog

      Al Capone was a "strong, effective leader"...

      March 2, 2014 at 6:10 pm | Reply
      • Steve

        And he was from Chicago too. What a coincidence.

        March 2, 2014 at 6:16 pm |
  13. Minneapolis Reader

    Nothing in the Crimea is worth the blood of one American soldier. Our obligations stop at the boarders of our NATO allies. We need to make that statement clearly and strongly.

    Putin's actions are deploreable but would America act differently if similar events unfolded in Havana or Mexico City? I think not.

    March 2, 2014 at 6:01 pm | Reply
  14. Gracia Adeclat

    There is a Russian warship right next door to Miami. Why these two fronts intimidation. Are we chicken out ???

    March 2, 2014 at 6:04 pm | Reply
  15. Jonathan Carp

    If Crimea is in the "Northern Caucasus," is the Black Sea the "Southern Caucasus?" How do you have a TV show?

    March 2, 2014 at 6:05 pm | Reply
  16. Phillip

    Solution: Make the Crimea a independent state. Let the citizens make their own country. Why fight or die if they speak mostly Russian as their native tongue. The Ukraine needs to focus on it's own people. The US has nothing to do with this. It is an internal issue. People want to be happy and live in harmony and peace. What are borders? Did the early native Americans worry about so called property lines. Stop letting the propaganda push us into a confrontation, who wants to have war.

    March 2, 2014 at 6:07 pm | Reply
    • Henry

      Thank you. Good comment. These Republicans sometimes seem hell bent on conflict without a shred of strategic thinking.

      March 2, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  17. Gabriel Caram

    Hipocritical americans. Din´t you detach California from Mexico? What's the difference. Are your barbaric acts less barbaric than Russia's. Both the same.

    March 2, 2014 at 6:08 pm | Reply
  18. Gracia Adeclat

    American said diplomacy it's sound good but. Putin aggressively crossed and violated he international law I guess he does not care. Putin like to how his muscles. .this is the red army tactic forces ,forces first then ,maybe we will talk.

    March 2, 2014 at 6:09 pm | Reply
  19. Gracia Adeclat

    Nobody like war but every country must respect a mandate treaty

    March 2, 2014 at 6:11 pm | Reply
  20. ray

    As always, your analysis is very insightful. Thank you very much Fareed. I hope the White House has an open channel to speak with you and get your opinions.

    March 2, 2014 at 6:13 pm | Reply
  21. BDD

    Just when our government decided to reduce military spending , we have this crisis. What a co-incidence !!
    This looks like a classic plot by arms industry to force high levels of military spending for many decades..
    Why should we in U.S care so much about Ukraine when our own economy is in bad shape and our country is in so much debt ? If there is a war, or any miscalculation, U.S can also suffer massive economic meltdown. The European Union is also not doing well economically except for Germany. Why should E.U. increase its problems by taking in a near bankrupt state like Ukraine ? Ukraine's has been on the verge of bankruptcy for several years and Russians have been keeping it afloat.
    Putin must be laughing today. He got part of Ukraine that he wanted without firing a single shot. The E.U. got economically backward and grossly mismanaged Ukraine with all its problems. Russia can get lot more price for the Gas and Oil it sells to Ukraine when Ukraine joins E.U. People in U.S will have to spend more now on defense because this is being portrayed in media as start of another cold war with Russia. So no matter what our media is telling us, the U.S is getting a bad deal in this and it has no need to get involved in this mess. Let Germans and British pay the bill for accepting a bankrupt country like Ukraine in E.U.

    March 2, 2014 at 6:14 pm | Reply
    • Henry

      Poor logic my friend. We had real international security crisis when we had the largest "defense" budget in our history. This is not a hinge crisis – sorry to say. The Ukraine is not high on our self interest scale. Fomerly Russian and the Crimea a major naval base for Russia and formerly a Russian land "given" to Ukraine by Krushchev. Come on. Put this in perspective before you start the political stuff. This is a non-issue at this point. This is NOT a parallel to any historical point regarding the Germans either. I feel for the Ukrainians but if the Crimea goes to Russia which once had it, so what? Forget the domino theory as well.

      March 2, 2014 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  22. Gracia Adeclat

    What kind of game is that Is it chicken roulette or the. aggression Russian roulette. .??? The world must not b intimidated by evils dictators. Yes it's our concerned. Whether we are Americans or not. We can not let. Dictators ruled the world .free the. People of Ukraine. .its been a long time ?? Too long. Enough is enough. 2014. Free the people of Cuba.

    March 2, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Reply
    • S-CAR-GO...

      Did someone say "Chicken Roulette...? I made a crock pot full of that last night. Mmmmh-mmmhhhh Good....!!!

      Did Ukraine win a Gold Medal in Sochi? That may be the real motive here.

      March 2, 2014 at 6:40 pm | Reply
  23. waynemolina

    How should the US respond? Let them hash it out, it's not our problem. We have issues that AMERICAN CITIZENS are facing that are more important than what's going on in the Ukraine.

    March 2, 2014 at 6:19 pm | Reply
  24. Gracia Adeclat

    So is just a matter of business self interests. Get rich ,get fat like a greedy rat. But the people don't matter ???

    March 2, 2014 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  25. Frank

    Fareed Zakaria needs a dose of reality. He is often idealistic and remote. His recommendations are just as good as mine.

    Suggesting a boycott of G8 would not persuade Putin to give up Crimea. The Russians want their glory days back and by invading Ukraine they are providing proof of the same old thinking., they need to be respected and feared as a military might. Putin has spent billions on Russian military in the last decade- They want to be respected and not humiliated year after year since 1992. In the absence of a military response there is not much US or NATO can do, just sit, watch, and curse.

    March 2, 2014 at 6:21 pm | Reply
  26. Miki

    "Militarily, there is not much the U.S. can do"? Ridiculous. Sail the 6th fleet through the Straits into the Black Sea and watch Russia back down. It's all about its Black Sea Fleet, and if it is threatened, the Russians will run back to their holes quickly.

    March 2, 2014 at 6:23 pm | Reply
    • Aaron

      the russians view the ukraine as a vital aspect of their future, and are willing to go to war over her, is america? threatening force would result in the same thing as in syria. big words with no popular support.

      March 2, 2014 at 6:26 pm | Reply
  27. Gracia Adeclat

    Remember we are. ,superlative. The. Father of democracy yes it's our concerned when the people tired of oppression government. That's why we left England and we form a great nation. .the United States of America. .so we have to show our concerned ?.

    March 2, 2014 at 6:24 pm | Reply
  28. Aaron

    are we forgetting that the revolution removed a democratically elected president? the east and south of ukraine feel quite disenfranchised when their president was removed and the opposition took over. all of their economic, social, and political interests were violently thrown out of power. is that democracy? violently remove those you disagree with? how would the texas respond in a president rick perry was removed by mass protestors taking control of the white house and forcing him to flee for his life and then installing the most liberal president ever? my guess is that they too would seek to leave the united states, just like crimea. i am not saying that russia's invasion was justified, far from it. however, to pretend that inside russia and eastern ukraine the people view putins actions as a violation of democracy is simply largely wrong. they view the riots that removed the democratically elected president as an illegal coup.

    also, america has relatively little at stake here. we dont trade with russia, all we are risking is public image. with the huge flow of cheap russian natural gas to europe, they have alot more at stake. my guess is that the result will be little different to georgia in 08. weak response with temporary effects.

    March 2, 2014 at 6:24 pm | Reply
  29. mmgg

    The west overthrew a democratic government in a bloody way at a time when Moscow was focusing on Olympics. Now, Putin shows his support by action to Crimean local government which, based on local people's voice, does not recognize the new Ukraine government as a legal one. Note that Russia troops did not encounter any resistance from Crimea. This is a clear contrast with America's dealings with Iraq and Afghan where local people fought American troops to keep their independence. Even the U.S. ally, Karzai, does not want American troops to "protect" Afghan anymore. So, who is the bad guy here?

    March 2, 2014 at 6:25 pm | Reply
  30. JAL

    The best way to resolve this is for Putin's strategy to stop making sense. This can be done by bullish actions with regard to the global economy. We want everyone to think they are missing out by engaging in war operations, and they will miss out too. Putin is betting on the Bears.

    March 2, 2014 at 6:26 pm | Reply
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