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 (1,670 Responses)
  1. Proud Polish-Canadian

    If Russia ever decides to invade Poland trust me. There will be war and I will gladly join to defend my motherland as will others

    March 2, 2014 at 8:18 pm |
    • Mime

      nobody want poland at all sorry

      March 2, 2014 at 8:28 pm |
      • oldesalt

        A totally hateful reply.

        March 2, 2014 at 9:24 pm |
    • Mulehead

      Poland was the only country to ever pay the US back for it's support. We will support you again.

      March 2, 2014 at 8:33 pm |
      • Josh

        That's good to know Mr. President.

        March 2, 2014 at 8:43 pm |
      • Astyanax

        Obama sits back and continues to watch 140,000+ Syrians die. You think Obama will give a dam about Pols? I doubt he could find any of these countries on a map let alone care about what's happening to the people that live there.

        March 2, 2014 at 9:14 pm |
    • Mark

      Poland is part of NATO. Russia isn't touching it.

      March 2, 2014 at 8:35 pm |
      • me me me

        Russia is not afraid of NATO

        March 2, 2014 at 8:56 pm |
      • Josh


        March 2, 2014 at 11:36 pm |
  2. Common Sense

    can any American ignore any more the fact that Putin has Obama's number, and is playing him like a second hand fiddle. if ever an American president was just plain out of his league, all across the board, look no further than 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

    March 2, 2014 at 8:20 pm |
    • BOS

      Oh Stop the Obama bashing, it's getting old. What would you like Obama do deploy assets and troops for Crimea? You and others who continue to speak nonsense are ! diots. There are ways to deal with Putin and this article is a great example, however you can't or not willing to read.

      March 2, 2014 at 8:30 pm |
      • Scarface86

        I agree, but he left himself open to criticism when he says there will be consequences. He just looks weak.

        March 2, 2014 at 8:54 pm |
    • Mulehead

      You stupid git – you couldn't do any better, now go bugger your sister.

      March 2, 2014 at 8:34 pm |
      • BOS

        Coming from a person called mulehead. OK I am taking you serious. What's the matter I touched a nerve?

        March 2, 2014 at 8:40 pm |
      • marin89

        Now, now Mulehead, you know that your mother doesn't like it when you talk dirty on her computer. If you don't behave better you'll never make it into fourth grade this September!

        March 2, 2014 at 9:42 pm |
    • BUD

      What does Obama have to do with it.He is our president not theirs.

      March 2, 2014 at 9:09 pm |
    • candodan

      I have gas....oh's Obama's fault....OMG.

      March 2, 2014 at 9:10 pm |
  3. Ken

    Zakaria you fool. President Viktor Yanukovich, the duly elected leader of the Ukraine, is in Russia and has asked for help. Remember Viktor was elected in elections where thousands of observers from EU countries watched. And they stated that despite a few incidents here and there, the elections were fair. So the elected leader of the country is seeking Russian help. But you and everyone else want to ignore this fact, as the revolutionaries are pro-European. What gives you the right to totally ignore the existing administration that was in office, just because the new one that might form might be more friendly to Europe? You've basically chosen sides in a Civil War, and your choice is based on what benefits the West as opposed to right and wrong. If anything Russia has far more rights to enter the Ukraine and support Viktor, than any other action you can propose by the United States or Europe. Your hypocrisy makes me sick.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:21 pm |
    • Mime


      March 2, 2014 at 8:31 pm |
    • Logan

      You are the fool. Asking for help does not mean a full blown invasion. We will be in constant world war if that is how we solve problems.

      March 2, 2014 at 8:37 pm |
      • Josh

        It means whatever the asked wants it to mean. It seems to be fine when the US or Europe does it. Look at how man nations the US has invaded since 1980 and look how many nations it occupies.

        March 2, 2014 at 8:48 pm |
    • Ukrainian

      Ken, you are the fool. Or worse. Viktor Yanukovich and his party used so called "administrative resource" to win the presidential race. Thousands and thousands of workers in South and East Ukraine were told to vote for him or being fired and loose all the means of supporting their families. None of the EU observers would be able to catch this. They would not imagine, I guess. You need to know the history of wild 90th in Ukraine to be able to get an idea. Do some research on Donetsk mafia. Besides, Yanukovych has lost legitimacy as he and his "family" has robbed the people of Ukraine (the estimates are about $70B), he has ordered SPECIAL FORCES (not police) to fire into protesters, and, finally, has fled Ukraine to Russia abdicating his responsibilities.

      March 2, 2014 at 9:01 pm |
    • Krista

      I may be wrong about this, but isn't it a parliamentary system where the people don't directly vote for their leader? In any case, no leader of a nation has the right to give up the sovereignty of the nation he's supposed to be leading, to another nation.

      March 2, 2014 at 9:23 pm |
  4. audrey papke

    Obama, or any president is irrelevant in this. So why bother asking ? ? ? Russia can exist fine without the US.

    Can and will China exert pressure on Russia? Why would they bother?

    Just a thought: I am sure the KBG has files extensive on every soul on Earth, to the extent J Edgar Hoover's slander files are slight.

    Will Russia "allow" Ukraine, unattached from Crimea, which will always be Russian held, to function as an autonomous state? I can't say one way or the other. I will say this: it is the best Ukraine can hope for.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:23 pm |
  5. serb

    Author said above d follong "Russia could detach parts of neighboring countries with impunity, "
    Hmmmm something like usa did to serbia and formed this quazy place called kosovo
    Funny how we speak with forked tongue
    Usa can do it with impunity but russians can not do it
    D heading at a german mid evel church states d folloing "God please save from plague and croats" just needto modify it by adding USA to it
    Enough said

    March 2, 2014 at 8:25 pm |
  6. audrey papke

    Ukraine has to rely on G-8 threats to get Russia out of Crimea, and possibly the Ukraine? Someone should let Ukraine that is like threatening that if a child misbehaves – he'll have to take a 5-minute time out. Ineffective.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:26 pm |
    • Josh

      In reality, that is all that they can do. They were busy playing the 'let's be friends' game in order to keep surrounding Russia in order to put the squeeze on them, then deal with them, now part of that plan is backfiring. The US is so scared to even get into a localized war with Russia directly that all they can do is talk. I think it's time that the US and Russia tangle. The only fear of this is, if either side loses in a small, localized war, the loser looks very bad and it is assumed that they could not win an all-out war(nuclear). This is PART of the reason that Russia and the US do not want to do battle with each other.

      March 2, 2014 at 8:53 pm |
  7. Evan

    Lets invade Cuba!

    March 2, 2014 at 8:30 pm |
  8. Tom Davis

    The pro-European are wrong. In a democracy you by your time and then vote them out.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:30 pm |
  9. Mime

    Get USA out of G8 for iraq, korea, vietnam, etc etc

    March 2, 2014 at 8:31 pm |
  10. gwtheyrn

    The US should respond by obliterating Russia's navy and laying siege to every single one of their foreign bases. Then you give ol' Vlad 24 hours to remove every single soldier from Ukraine or their lives will be forfeit from a swarm of Predator drones which will harry them all the way back to Siberia. Losing their navy in one fell swoop would have the double effect of creating a crippling loss of willpower while permanently preventing Russia from ever again being able to project force globally as they will not have the financial means to replace so many ships.

    You deal with a bully by punching them in the mouth.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:33 pm |
    • Mike

      It isn't as simple as the video games you play.

      March 2, 2014 at 8:47 pm |
  11. PuzzledInPeoria

    If anybody thinks the U.S. should go to war with Russia over the Ukraine, I suggest they look at Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam,. What was accomplished in any of those? A lot of American deaths and disabilities, and that's about all.

    Already GOP chickenhawks are beating the war drums. Will we ever learn anything? Dial back the testosterone and let them solve their own problems. It's not worth losing American lives over.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:33 pm |
    • ryan

      actually i have no drums beating, Russia is not afghanistan or iraq, russia is a different beast all together.

      March 2, 2014 at 8:35 pm |
    • Mark

      Agreed. I don't like Democrats, but we really need to get our house in order and let countries sort their own problems.

      March 2, 2014 at 8:37 pm |
    • oldesalt

      I am not an advocate of war with Russia but comparing a war with Russia with a war like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan is not the same. In those countries we were trying to help a segment of the population against an oppressive government. As such, we had to be very selective about our attacks and bombings. When you declare war against a country, leveling the entire country is normal warfare, i.e. Dresden, Germany.

      March 2, 2014 at 9:47 pm |
  12. Jetranger

    How Should the US Respond ?? ummm make em' all Sign Up for Obamacare ?????

    March 2, 2014 at 8:33 pm |
  13. ryan

    So we are now listening to news personalities on what should be going on in another part of the world? Im sorry but he doesnt get daily briefings in the white house. Stick to reporting on what happens because you do NOT know why they do what they do.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:34 pm |
  14. Foster's

    I see an alien plot (extraterrestrial) here...Put two friendly Slavic nations at war by installing Nazi sympathetic regime, and make the West throw their support for the Nazis. I think aliens are really bored and trying to be more creative. Lets watch the outcome!

    March 2, 2014 at 8:35 pm |
  15. audrey papke

    The Ukraine government has been established for one week. They haven't a military sufficient to even present more than slight damage to the Russian military. They lack the "repayment-in-kind" mindset of the Chechyans, of whom I do not believe will even help the Ukraine cause, would even want to.

    I'm all for an autonymous Ukraine government, however, do not be naive regarding what they have and what they are up against.

    Russia is not in this to lose.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:37 pm |
  16. Gary

    Zakaria thinks that Iran is not dangerous and that Obama is right for reaching out to the terrorist government in Iran that hangs its innocent citizens.He also sympathizes with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt judging by the things he says.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:38 pm |
  17. audrey papke

    We should have intervened when Germany took Poland, however, that is comparing apples to oranges in this case.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:38 pm |
    • Lisa

      Uh.... I think the west DID respond when Germany invaded Poland - it was called World War 2

      March 2, 2014 at 8:45 pm |
      • Josh

        Nope, the world let Hitler take Poland. Why? The guilt they felt about still having their colonies! The US did not enter the war until Pearl Harbor.

        March 2, 2014 at 8:57 pm |
  18. Lisa

    Zakaria's advice to Obama: same play book as Syria -

    1. Waive white flag of surrender.
    2. Shake fist in anger.
    3. Assure public no viable means of resistance.
    4. Declare victory and redistribute wealth (what little remains) to political cronies.
    5. Return to huddle and prepare to run same play next go 'round.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:41 pm |
    • Chuk

      Not true, but what's your idea, put boots on the ground? One thing is true – war-mongers are usually those with the weakest back-bone when it comes to the real thing. They won't be the ones paying the price.

      March 2, 2014 at 8:58 pm |
    • Paulie

      Thats whats going to happen anyway.

      March 2, 2014 at 9:15 pm |
  19. Vahlter

    Fareed seems stumped by this one and he has an incredible mind! This appears to be a no win situation. We can't ignore Russia's behavior nor can NATO allow the invasion of any European country. If we continue to threaten Putin with severe penalties, he has absolutely no incentive to retreat. So what's left? The potential consequences are unmanageable! It is clear that we are dealing with a madman, one who also has an incredible mind. This is the greatest threat to peace that the world ever faced

    March 2, 2014 at 8:44 pm |
  20. Nasim

    Ukraine is strategically important to Russia, it needs Ukraine for waterways and gaslines to export to Eurozone. If Putin stops gas exports to Europe it will hurt thier economy not USA. This eruption will cause more havoc for eurozone then US, therefore they should take the lead on this and we should play the support role. Let them stick thier neck out for once. Our economy is finally picking up why ruin it.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:44 pm |
  21. europe

    europe invented's all they know...let them fight it out dopey

    March 2, 2014 at 8:47 pm |
  22. deran

    US spend 66 billion dollars on so called defence more than entire world together plus,why?They also invaded and destroyed more countries than anybody else.Now they want to lecture somebody else,give me a brake!

    March 2, 2014 at 8:50 pm |
  23. marg

    It's just the hypocrisy of all the Western governments, where they have instigated revolutions all over the globe now, including the current crisis in Ukraine. A freely elected president was overthrown and we rejoiced because our western leading replacement took charge. Now the Ukrainians will demand military backing, seeing as they followed our instigation. And then we will watch them get slaughtered just like Syria. And the rhetoric will continue, "hey, that's not nice." Quit encouraging people to revolt and these things will cease. Stop invading other countries, or didn't a quarter million dead Iraqi's pay enough of a price for our invasion of their nation.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:52 pm |
  24. deran

    Above should read 600 billion dollars not 66.That is official line in which most people do not believe.Being 16 trillion dollars in debt how long this empire will last?

    March 2, 2014 at 8:52 pm |
  25. WML

    Fareed, remember that Washington Post op ed that you wrote last week? Comparing a strong leader (Eisenhower) with Obama? That's not going to get much traction once the rest of the world becomes more openly hostile to what they see as a weak and indecisive United States. You've also written that despite the fact that Zarif and Rouhani are signaling to the foreign press that the depiction of the interim agreement between Iran and the West is inaccurately depicted by the Western press, they are really moderates who be able to deliver the holy grail to the West – a radical reconfiguration of Iran's nuclear enrichment and development program. You imply that these two men can make the case to the clerical caste and the rest of the Iranian people that this is in their best interest. Good luck with that. I know that you are of the belief that fairies can fly and the the best intentions, as implied by actors on the world stage, will come to past. That would be great if that happens. As events are unfolding, however, your predictions of sanity have proven sadly wrong.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:53 pm |
  26. deran

    This in Ukraine was instigated by US and it's allies no doubt.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:55 pm |
    • Casey Davis

      Yes and Putin is really our secretary of state. Its just one big conspiracy

      March 2, 2014 at 9:01 pm |
  27. mariosphere

    World, can I get off at the next stop? This is getting too crazy.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:55 pm |
  28. Casey Davis

    Russia is simply Russia. Putin is simply Putin. What else should we expect? Character???

    March 2, 2014 at 8:56 pm |
  29. Gregory Richards

    So what I want to know is if Fareed Zakaria writes his own commentary? If so, I've concluded you to be the most intelligent news man of all times. ~Cheers!

    March 2, 2014 at 8:57 pm |
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