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. Boris

    Very true, except that Crimea is NOT in the Caucasus.

    March 2, 2014 at 8:59 pm | Reply
  2. gstlab3

    I hope its ww3 so we can get to the next baby boom and start a new economic boom with a dollar that is worth something and the worlds population is reduced to less than 500million god fearing souls.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:12 pm | Reply
    • teahaddist

      @gstlab3: wouldn't it be even better if you just did society a favor by dying?

      March 2, 2014 at 9:20 pm | Reply
    • e

      My hope is that you will be the first to go!

      March 2, 2014 at 9:28 pm | Reply
      • OnTheRoad

        Those that want/preach war, never go to the battle field!

        March 2, 2014 at 9:50 pm |
    • Susan

      There are no god fearing souls anymore but religion poisons everything.

      March 2, 2014 at 9:44 pm | Reply
    • Neil

      Incredible insanity!!!! You are actually praying for WW3? You do know that for little land like Crimea countries invade others, what will happen when they feel threatened and have nukes? Even the surviving 500 million will die a daily death. This is what you hope for? Really!?!?!?!?!

      I am god fearing but I do not think you are god fearing yourself for hoping for such a thing.

      March 2, 2014 at 9:45 pm | Reply
    • kwhisperer

      You should be fearing God if you're hoping to see more than 6 billion people die.

      March 2, 2014 at 10:19 pm | Reply
    • Mark

      That's a dumb comment if I ever heard one.

      March 2, 2014 at 10:21 pm | Reply
    • Tim

      There's that word again – God.
      I was thinking of buying some defense stocks but Thanks to that man-made apparition up there nothing going to happen so I'll stick with agriculturals.
      Don't understand why the admin, Fareed, and McCain always get so upset – every time – there's a little skirmish going on.
      Where? Ukraine – most of which is Russian anyway.
      If Russia involves itself with Mexico or Panama I could understand.

      March 2, 2014 at 10:47 pm | Reply
  3. candodan

    We broke treaty after treaty with Native...NATIVE Americans. So we should be upset that they broke a treaty...LOL.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:12 pm | Reply
    • Neil

      Why do people get in to this tu quoque argument everytime, EVERYTIME someone does something wrong. No, I am sorry, it is true that no one is angel but let's live in today. Today what Russia is doing is wrong. You JUST DONT invade another country and get away with it. I mean where does it stop if you allow it once?

      March 2, 2014 at 9:48 pm | Reply
      • Moonshine

        wrong! people should not forget their past, that is how US got away with Kosovo and Irag and others, that is why it is happening today, for you it is so simple just to forget, sorry man, it will not work, one should get punishment sooner or later for wrongdoings, no matter when it was done.

        March 2, 2014 at 10:47 pm |
      • Pachus

        So Irak, Syria, Afganistan, and South America are no more in the american memories? That´s nice. Let´s just not forget that the crimean asked for the help, it wasn´t the russians entering a country just because yes.

        March 3, 2014 at 5:04 am |
    • Erik

      Yeah, because every country in the past has done something wrong it is ok now! That's the ticket.

      March 2, 2014 at 9:51 pm | Reply
  4. gstlab3

    I say bring it on kill the weak and trample the dead.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:13 pm | Reply
    • Dennis

      Why not start with an imbecile like you?

      March 2, 2014 at 9:35 pm | Reply
  5. gstlab3

    The only thing that grows the economy since people do not actually own their property anymore is global war reducing populations here and abroad so that the demand for more and more scarce resources falls making each dollar more valuable and each worker more valuable in turn.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:16 pm | Reply
    • EJP

      With a lower population there would be fewer people who need things-why would wages increase? Maybe a little more mutual support and generosity would help us all.

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

    Here is what USA must do, mind their own business. We are not the world police officer. USA must stay out of other countries business.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:21 pm | Reply
    • Steve

      The same way everyone tried to ignore Hitler in the beginning?

      March 2, 2014 at 9:27 pm | Reply
      • John

        Funny you should mention Hitler. Did you know that the coup in Kiev was staged mainly by the neo-Nazi Svoboda Party and the Right Sector? Now members of those political organizations hold key government positions in Kiev.

        March 2, 2014 at 10:03 pm |
      • Robert Darthmortis

        Yup. Nothing bad ever happened by ignoring a tyrant in Europe who invades its neighbors with impunity.

        March 2, 2014 at 10:09 pm |
    • Buzzy123

      Time and time again when this "strategy" is propoed the democracies have to fight sooner or later because the dictators get drunk with success. Pick the time and place that we are strongest, and have at it. If we can't save Eastern Ukraine, invite a fairly radicalized and traumatized Western /Ukraine in NATO, arm them to the teeth and Russia will find that they are less secure ultimately than if they had not been such pigs at the trough.

      March 2, 2014 at 10:14 pm | Reply
    • Pachus

      Thank God not every American thinks they are. Wish there were more razonable people like you out there.

      March 3, 2014 at 5:06 am | Reply
  7. Miki

    I think its enough American democracy to the world ,enough wars and terror that's the American democracy to rule the world like Hitler ..

    March 2, 2014 at 9:22 pm | Reply
    • Dennis

      It is better we witness American democracy rather than Russian brutality.

      March 2, 2014 at 9:36 pm | Reply
      • Pachus

        Brutality? Guess Irak was a picnic.

        March 3, 2014 at 5:09 am |
  8. nik green

    Mr. Zakaria: Are you completely naive? Obama should not "cut off communications" with Russia by not attending the G8 summit – it is lack of communication which is the big cause, and promoter, of war. By distancing US diplomatic involvement, this will only lead to further misunderstandings between the two powers and a likely deterioration of the relationship between the US and Russia. The war industry must be rubbing its hands together at the prospect of conflict in the region and thus increased sales and profits from arms deals.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:24 pm | Reply
    • Judah

      Interesting to sale weapons, but who will enjoy the benefits after the war? remember Einstein, the ww4 will be with stones !! because this very ww3 (I wish for) will cleans the mess. But I'm sure I'll survive

      March 2, 2014 at 9:31 pm | Reply
    • Buzzy123

      Nik-I'd say Putin understands Pres Obama very well, he must be rolling in laughter as the Pres writes another squiggly "red line", this time in bright shiny lipstick...

      March 2, 2014 at 10:16 pm | Reply
  9. Steve

    There's a link on this same page that says " Zakaria: Russia unlikely to invade Crimea region "

    Hitler pulled this same stunt at the beginning of WWII. Hosted Olympics, burned down the the Reichstag to create a crises, invaded Poland and Austria as an excuse to bring in more German speakers.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:26 pm | Reply
    • Buzzy123

      Fareed should admit that he blew hi first call, when it really mattered. Interesting that a lot of conservative web sites called it correctly, even the timing, right after the end of the Olympics. One has to wonder if the rest of their predictions will hold true-that Putin fully intends to take not only the Crimea ut also the entire South and Eastern half of the Ukraine and even try to destabilize Kiev enough to have someone "invite" Russian troops in to restore "law and order".

      Don't worry though-/Obama will hold a press conference on this and say stentorially, "There WILL be consequences"?

      The only people in government who may have an ounce of guts are Bill Hague the Foreign Minister of Britain and John Krry, who are actually going to Kiev. If they stay there, they basically could become important symbols for the West. If they are personally captured, even Obama would have to go to war...

      March 2, 2014 at 10:22 pm | Reply
  10. Judah

    This guy is a joke !! lol ...building a defense missile system.... for his review it is since 1980 that the US has started this project... over-hyped idea, which always give them the feeling of supremacy, god-complex, now face the truth, I wish for the ww3, I get nothing to loose, but surely you politics have a lot to loose.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:28 pm | Reply
    • Dennis

      Is that lose or loose,you loser?

      March 2, 2014 at 9:39 pm | Reply
      • Bob - just Bob

        Judah, the loser, plays fast and loose with the language. Only three minutes later, Judah declares with unfounded confidence, "because this very ww3 (I wish for) will cleans the mess". I'd feel a little better if we could cleanse ourselves of Judah.

        March 2, 2014 at 10:20 pm |
  11. a7m

    "Remember, Crimea is in the Northern Caucasus." It is not.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:30 pm | Reply
    • Buzzy123

      YeahI wondered about that too. It is fairly close, though Fareed should not have made such a rookie mistake

      March 2, 2014 at 10:23 pm | Reply
  12. RCLafnjack

    Obama forcefull???? LOL....

    March 2, 2014 at 9:33 pm | Reply
    • Dennis

      Being forceful will allow this to spiral out of control,like your delusional thoughts.

      March 2, 2014 at 9:40 pm | Reply
    • cat5fred

      I don't think Osama Bin Laden is LOL'ing like you.
      Give the president the respect he has earned.


      March 2, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Reply
  13. marg

    Russia is “going to be inviting major difficulties for the long term,” said Kerry. “The people of Ukraine will not sit still for this. They know how to fight.”

    Still, it was clear that few in the West were prepared to respond immediately to Putin with military force.
    (From the Washington Post)
    Of course we won't respond. We only instigate wars and then watch the slaughter.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:35 pm | Reply
  14. RockoBofo

    Unfortunately, the precedent was set in Egypt, where the U.S. supported the coup leaders in oystering the elected president, and now this is part of modern phenomena, the U.S. 'recognizing' non-elected leadership, and they are emboldened to overthrow the power in non-legal maneuvers.

    I'd like the U.S. to return to pre-2011 logic, where the U.S. would advocate for transfer of power through elections.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Reply
  15. Don Zue

    Obama You cannot not let this man go unpunished....!
    1... Cancel all Visa to USA from Russia
    2....Cancel Sochi Summit
    3....Kick Russia out of the G8 summit.
    4....Build the Poland Anti-missile defense system.
    5....Get other countries to join you but do not wait for them.
    6....Freeze all their accounts.


    March 2, 2014 at 9:45 pm | Reply
    • Roma


      March 2, 2014 at 10:00 pm | Reply
  16. Susan

    Sounds like a good plan... Go for it Obama.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:46 pm | Reply
  17. webyo

    Why all of the talk of "not attending" the G-8? Change locations and tell Russia they are not invited. Don't let the party poopers define the party.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:49 pm | Reply
  18. Susan

    Too bad the U.S. doesn't know how to overlap science developments. Now that the shuttles are all 'dead' do we have any other way of servicing the ISS? What will happen there?

    March 2, 2014 at 9:50 pm | Reply
  19. Ahmad


    You have no clue what are you talking. Why western power attacked sovereign nation like Libya? Did you forget this?
    Also, IMF and bankers are controlling Ukraine now..they want to make sure they can slave Ukrain for generation to come by offering debts. They did the same thing in Egypt.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:50 pm | Reply
  20. Ahmad

    Russia should go ahead and occupy Ukraine and hand over the power to its legitimate President not to bankers and thugs.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:52 pm | Reply
  21. Chris

    Don't blame me, I voted for Romney (which doesn’t make me a racist BTW)! When are Obama, Hillary, and Uncle Joe going to apologize to Romney for ridiculing him when he said Russia was the #1 geopolitical foe? Seems like Romney was spot on.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:55 pm | Reply
  22. markna

    First step should be is to stop that billion dollar helicopter order that the Pentagon order for the Afghanistan Military and never spend tax dollars in Russia again. This contact should have gone to a American company like Sikorsky Aircraft not Russia anyway.

    March 2, 2014 at 9:57 pm | Reply
    • Roma

      Why? Why such a hate for everything Russian? If your media lies to you about Russia, how is it any of our Russian citizens fault. Ha-ha-ha-ha. Russophobes are pathetic. Don't be afraid. Russia loves, I mean laughs at the people who hate us. Ha-ha-ha-ha.

      March 2, 2014 at 10:08 pm | Reply
      • Buzzy123

        I don't think many people hate Russians at if you asked them about your beloved leader =, Vlad the Impaler, I don't think many outside Mother Russia have respect for a former KGB agent who has backed Assad when he gasses innocent women and children.

        A little loathing for a strutting personally corrupt dictator who sics Cossacks on some fairly inane women in Sochi is not someone anyone is going to respect as a leader, or a man.

        March 2, 2014 at 10:30 pm |
  23. velstar

    Mr Zakaria: Ukraine has slipped out of his orbit and most of the population there is going to be hostile to Russia for generations
    That is not quite correct. At least 50% if not more of the population of South and Eastern Ukraine do not support and reject the ultra-nationalist revolt on the wave of which the current government has been brought to power. The majority of Eastern and South Ukraine population are Russian speakers and don't want to be violently cut of their language,
    culture and traditions.
    As to Russian invasion I agree that is against international law, but I am sure that can be considered as military parade to show the other side what they have in place and based on that start negotiations with Ukraine and European mediators about the status and future of Russian speaking regions of Ukraine.

    March 2, 2014 at 10:03 pm | Reply
    • Buzzy123

      Ethnic Russians are only 17% of the total population of the Ukraine, some like Taters make speak Russian but they definitely aren't Russian

      March 2, 2014 at 10:31 pm | Reply
      • velstar

        First – 17% is not "only"... Can you imagine we start cut the rights and cultural traditions of 17% of our population, the minorities?
        Secondly you are right ethnic Russians make 17% of total population of Ukraine, but that is"total" and in some regions (Western ones) there are 5% or less of them and many other regions (Eastern ones) have 50% or more of them
        so that even more important that current government respect their language, culture and traditions.

        March 2, 2014 at 10:50 pm |
  24. berno

    Who is this Zakaria and why should I Ilisten to him?

    March 2, 2014 at 10:07 pm | Reply
    • Bob - just Bob

      When people like you boast of your ignorance, I have to wonder how insufferably you'd be bloviating if you actually knew something.

      March 2, 2014 at 10:44 pm | Reply
  25. Fred

    "Respond"??? Are you kidding?? How about not spending the $5B WE SPENT to overthrow the democratically
    elected government of Ukraine... That would be a great start.. Then as Obama is resigning he could thank
    Putin for cleaning up yet another foreign policy mess Obama created.

    March 2, 2014 at 10:07 pm | Reply
  26. Zoe Barnes

    Where is Jack Bauer when we need him??

    March 2, 2014 at 10:08 pm | Reply
  27. Roy meddock

    Where were you Mr. Zakaria when Reagan invaded Grenada, or Bush invade Iraq, or when Kerry and McCain were killing Vietnamese and today they talk about right and wrong. Nixon/Kissinger sent the 7th fleet to support the genocide in Bangladesh. Or Nixon's invasion f Cambodia......Name any country in the history of the world that has violated more nations sovereignty than the USA.
    Where was Mr. Zakaria when the US official Secy Nuland said "F * European Union". While the Us was making strong efforts to foment dissent and disorder in Ukraine. Where was Mr. Zakaria when the CIA threw out a democratically elected government in Iran to place the Shah in power.
    Situational ethics will not help. If there were Americans in Cuba who were being threatened or even treated like second class citizens, the US would invade in a second. What do you think Israeli's would do if they felt that there people were being threatened.
    What if there was an election in Ukraine and the Russian regions decided to secede?

    March 2, 2014 at 10:13 pm | Reply
  28. Pravin

    As I suggested to the President, strike Russia in its soft underbelly w/o firing a single shot or wasting money on aircraft battle group movements OR worse still, loads of hot air. Create an alternative to EU/Ukraine energy dependence on Russia by building a pipeline from Azerbaijan on the Caspian Sea through Bulgaria to Greece. Lots of American Cos would finance and build and Azerbaijan would gladly cooperate.

    March 2, 2014 at 10:15 pm | Reply
  29. Vladillytch

    All the baggers and ODS (Obama derangement syndrom) crowd callong for "decisive action...." Which means whqt exactly? Do they seriously think it is a good idea to go to war with Russia over a little scrap of the former USSR? Obama is doing what he should at this point......and this rewlly is an EU matter, far more than a US one. Amazing that so many peole think the entire world does eveything it does with some sort of connection to the those demonstrators throwing out the pro-putin dictator was because of the US, and putins response is because of the US.....

    March 2, 2014 at 10:16 pm | Reply
  30. Frank Underwood

    So when the US attacks and bombs countries its ok but when Russia does it its bad? What a double standard. Russia should tell the US to focus on Afghanistan...

    March 2, 2014 at 10:18 pm | Reply
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