Zakaria: Ukraine crisis very, very significant
April 8th, 2014
04:19 PM ET

Zakaria: Ukraine crisis very, very significant

CNN speaks with Fareed Zakaria about the latest developments in Ukraine, talk of a civil war, and whether Russia is likely to invade eastern Ukraine. This is an edited version of the transcript.

Russia's foreign ministry is now using words like civil war when talking about the possible outcome in eastern Ukraine. So what's going on right now? Are the Russians looking for an excuse to move in?

It certainly looks like they're looking for an excuse to further destabilize Ukraine so that they can reassert their domination of their relationship with Ukraine.

Remember, Crimea was never the prize. Ukraine was the prize. They took Crimea because they realized the situation was spiraling out of control. You remember what was happening in the Maidan – suddenly they found Ukraine moving very rapidly toward the West.

And Putin decided [on that] really as a last-minute maneuver, I believe, because he had been stymied during the Olympics – the minute the Olympics got done, he initiated that KGB-style operation to take Crimea. But the prize, the thing he has always cared about, was Ukraine and dominating Ukraine, influencing it. So now we move to phase two of the operation and that is, how does Russia assert some kind of control over Ukraine?

And what they're doing now is through local supporters, local sympathizers, probably a lot of money and perhaps some special ops, they are trying to destabilize the east so that they can perhaps have a pretext to move in, but certainly have a pretext to have a very tough negotiation with the Ukrainian government.

Because the pro-Russian demonstrators, and there are plenty of them in Ukraine right now, they're asking the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, to send in "peacekeeping troops" into eastern Ukraine. So is that something you think Putin might be ready to exploit?

I wonder myself. I think that the reality is that, while in Crimea there was an overwhelming degree of support locally for annexation by Russia for becoming part of Russia. In eastern Ukraine, my understanding, talking to people on the ground, talking about some local politicians, is that it's more mixed. Even the Russian-speaking people in Ukraine have mixed feelings about whether they want to actually become part of Russia, whether they want to stay independent.

So Putin is probably trying to calculate whether those Russian troops would be received, would be given a hero's welcome. If they were, I think he'd certainty consider it. But it’s as likely what he's going to try to do is to go to the Ukrainians and say, you see, you have demands from your countrymen. They want us to get involved. At the very least, you have to give them substantial autonomy and you have to give us, the Russians, a special role in Ukraine.

That's what he wants; he wants a special role in Ukraine. Whether that means formal annexation or not, I think probably he's trying to figure out himself opportunistically what the best path is.

In the past 24 hours, the U.S., NATO, members of the European Union, they've all warned Russia not to move into Ukraine, no matter what. Sanctions are in place. There could be more sanctions. Bottom line, how tense is this current crisis right now?

This is a very, very significant crisis. This is essentially the most significant geopolitical crisis since the end of the Cold War, because what you have here is one of the great powers in the world – this is not a civil war in Syria which, tragic though it is, doesn't it have quite the same ripple effects.

Here, you have a great global power, Russia, that has decided it is going to flaunt one of the great global rules, which is sanctity of borders and the idea that you don’t annex parts of neighboring countries when you want to.

And so the Europeans and the United States – the West, in a sense – has to figure out how they try to maintain that international norm, that rule, that post-Cold War order that has been put in place and that has very rarely been violated in the last 50 years by a great power.

You know, if you're talking about an African country here or there, for example, that's very different. You have had substantial adherence to this idea. And Russia is breaking ranks. So it's a big deal.

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Topics: Russia • Ukraine

soundoff (192 Responses)
  1. kommy

    Russia subsides Ukraine for over 20 years, and was even agree to continue doing so.

    Germans estimate the total amount of subsidies are around 200 bln. Last 4 years 34 bln. Naturally, Russia wants to continue gas transit to Europe, and Ukraine to pay it's bills.

    Ukraine refuse to pay the bills, which in fact the current Minister of Energy engineered himself years ago.

    Russia says it will flip the switch, and concerned that Ukraine will take gas anyway.

    April 11, 2014 at 8:05 am |
  2. MyTake

    Let's hope this crisis quiets down. If ultra-nationalists win the upcoming elections in Ukraine, then Ukranian Russians are going to go for secession. And it is not the end of the world. If they want to live in separate enclaves, so be it.This is not worth sending our kids to die for.

    April 11, 2014 at 10:03 pm |
  3. To jdb 223

    TO jdb223 4.13.14, 8-54 am

    The worst case scenario is unfolding:
    Several other smaller towns in Eastern Ukraine revolted against the Nationalist Government in Kiev. Kiev has started military operation to suppress revolt in Eastern Ukraine. Russia stated that if Kiev escalates hostilities there will be no participation of Russia in further negotiations with Ukraine. The situation is grave: civil war in Ukraine is one step aheard. If it starts, do not panic, Russian military will be there to restore civil order and, hopefully, there will be agreement with NATO for NATO troops helping to defend civil order so that Russia is not alone to clean up the mess precipitated by Western deals in Ukraine.

    Regarding your previous notion of Ukranian hunger in 30's (my initial reply was posted earlier), one additional thing:

    If you think that hunger in Ukraine being a motivation to side with German Nazis was an explanation for Ukrainiane nationalist joining forces with Hitler in WW2, do you think that this hunger is a good justification as to why Ukranian nationalists killed thousands of jews, poles and russian civillians?

    The nationalism does not know the borders, it is most extreme in Ukraine now, but also is taking place in other parts of Europe and the World at large. The Russian Federation recently passed anti-nationalism laws. The west needs to sober up and pass appropriate legislations as well before this plague outgrows.

    April 13, 2014 at 9:13 am |
  4. gunter

    Obama is the master of insomnia. All the coming lectures about the complexities of foreign policy from him and Kerry are sure to terrify Putin into a nervous wreck. Someone keeps parroting about the other side's counter-solution. Look, Obama has a responsibility (as stated in his oath of office taken twice) not to weaken his professed country's (USA?) national security with weakness and indecisiveness. He could reverse himself on that missile defense shield but of course perfect beings don't commit errors, now do they?

    April 14, 2014 at 4:35 pm |
    • Rob S

      Obama is not the issue – its Europe's supply of energy in the form of natural gas from Russia that's the issue. Obama pressed for sanctions – on the other hand, Bush did absolutely nothing when Russia violently invaded Georgia and broke away two provinces, which Russia still occupies today. Obama's actions will come in steps, and I don't think the missile defense shield is off the table at this point.

      April 14, 2014 at 7:34 pm |
    • glennrobert

      I think I understand what you are saying. You really, really don't like Obama do you? Nothing else you said made sense!

      April 16, 2014 at 3:05 am |
    • Johnny R.

      Well, Obama isn't the worst president in history for nothing! Oh, wait a minute, yes he is!

      May 5, 2014 at 2:04 pm |
  5. Briston

    There're no extreme nationalism in Ukraine, in fact. Their labeling is mostly coming from Russia. Defense of Ukrainian sovereignty is an act of patriotism. It is DEFENSIVE in its character, while across the border – in Russia – there's a real Nazi-like nationalism that REFUSES anyone's of the former Soviet republic's sovereignty but no one wants to see it. Putin is sustaining it by all state means, like radio, tv, and it took form of Gebbels-like propaganda. Ask any Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Pole, Finn or Czech – and you will receive the same answer. Let alone a Chechen whose people lost a half of its population during the Russian aggression. So, why do you speak about the Ukrainian nationalists, if you don't know a thing about but reverberate what Putin's propaganda is spreading around the world? Of course, from the point of view of an oppressor, everyone who stands for his country is a "fascist" or "Nazi"... In the spirit of Churchil's saying who warned the world. He said, speaking about Gebbels, that in future all democrats and patriots will be called fascist or Nazi. He was right!

    April 14, 2014 at 5:45 pm |
    • Yalta girl

      "There is no extreme nationalist in Ukraine in fact", ok, just google Right Sector...
      Why western media don't show all pictures about people who did come to power now? Amazing !!!!!

      April 16, 2014 at 1:06 pm |
      • Pole

        poor Yalta girl: Right Sector has less than 1% in election polls – you have more nazi movements in Moscow. Your president Putin uses fasist methods in real live and you are good about it. Minorities are repressed in Russia, not Ukraine (and not since yesterday). Hatres foods radio, television, newspaper and publications. We all hear it here in Europe, so stop lying.

        May 5, 2014 at 5:04 pm |
  6. gunter

    It's funny how Obama's "leadership" is never the issue. Well, it IS the issue. He drew a red line in Syria and then when Putin gave him an out he took it. Obama is demonstrating that he can be played by two-bit despots like Putin and they can get away with it with nothing more to fear from Obama but a stern self-serving lecture. Blessed are the peacemakers. Sure....but even peacemakers have to have some clue as to what they are doing and Obama obviously does not beyond giving a speech. Talk is cheap which makes Obama quite a bargain.

    April 15, 2014 at 12:18 am |
  7. gunter

    Pardon me but the missile defense shield is most definitely on no one's table. To reverse his decision to cancel it Obama would have to admit he was wrong to cancel it....and that is something he will never do. He's too self-serving an egocentrist.

    April 15, 2014 at 12:26 am |
    • Alex K

      Missile system will not really help.. It will only get worse if NATO decide to install missile there..
      One thing for sure that Russians are very good when it comes to missiles.. Their technology maybe lacking when it comes to NAVY and aircrafts... but missiles, submarines and tanks are very good.

      April 15, 2014 at 11:06 am |
    • Johnny R.

      Their tanks are mediocre at best and their subs suck. Ukraine has the same training, they just need heavier weapons that Obama convinced them to give up in 2005...

      May 5, 2014 at 2:05 pm |
  8. Alex K

    This is Russian backyard... Is it not?

    April 15, 2014 at 11:03 am |
  9. gunter

    Yes it is their backyard...but can that be an excuse for Putin to do whatever he wants? I take the long view that aggression that goes unanswered invites more of the same later on. In the future is Obama merely going to give more speeches and draw more red lines? Who will take him seriously?

    April 15, 2014 at 11:31 am |
    • Yalta girl

      do u have any ideas how much money Russia spend and gave to Ukraine over 20 years?

      April 16, 2014 at 12:56 pm |
      • Pole

        like CCCP used to say they supported all occupied countries. So stop this support. We DO NOT WANT YOU! Stay at home.

        May 5, 2014 at 5:07 pm |
  10. Unga Ramires

    As much as I may dislike Russia, For many personal reasons. Russia has the right to "envade", "annex" or what ever they may want to call it. Russia has "cleansed" several counties. Why not add another. If the good folks of the Ukrain Protest,,,,Then REVOLT.... Many cultures have done just that. (some have failed) ,,,, War keeps Population control in check.

    April 15, 2014 at 7:29 pm |
  11. Md

    And Putin decided [on that] really as a last-minute maneuver, I believe, because he had been stymied during the Olympics – the minute the Olympics got done, he initiated that KGB-style operation to take Crimea. But the prize, the thing he has always cared about, was Ukraine and dominating Ukraine, influencing it. So now we move to phase two of the operation and that is, how does Russia assert some kind of control over Ukraine?"

    Where is your evidence for this?


    April 15, 2014 at 9:28 pm |
  12. Ted Ward

    This is no last minute deal for Putin. Ukraine has been a long term project of top priority to him for years. All this has been set up long ago. Putin was destabilizing Ukraine for years in order that the government would look so bad and so corrupt that people there would just as soon be governed from Moscow as Kiev. Plus a weak, penniless, corrupt, demoralized, confused and poorly managed Ukraine just makes Putin's goal of domination and eventual absorption of Ukraine that much easier. Ukrainians knew this and that's why they booted out Putin's protege.

    April 16, 2014 at 12:45 pm |
  13. Nameless

    "You know, if you're talking about an African country here or there, for example, that's very different. You have had substantial adherence to this idea. And Russia is breaking ranks. So it's a big deal."

    Really, Mr. Zakaria? You are basically saying that it is okay and no big a deal if a power invades, annexes or breaks up an African country before after all Africa and her people are the pushovers for the rest of the world and the integrity and sovereignty of their borders and territories are as worthy as your toilet paper? Is this the reason behind your statement?

    You have always appeared to me as someone who is always desperate to be accepted into the Western intellectual elite club (mostly for show and material reasons as most members of the club do), but I thought you were a little better than pushing this kind of "intellectual" gymnastics. How pathetic.

    April 16, 2014 at 3:09 pm |
  14. Unga Ramires

    May it be a big deal,,,, They do have the right. For they are a national power. All the lil people can do is accept, revolt or run!!!!! This the nature of growth..... At least it is a Annex and not a cleansing!

    April 16, 2014 at 4:25 pm |
  15. Name*JP

    Hey Nameless,

    Zakaria's comments are spot on. Nobody would give a rats a$$ if a similar situation played out in Africa, nor would it have even remotely significant affect on the global balance. I think it's pretty clear Zakaria would not condone this to happen in Africa, he's just stating the way it is. Cool it!

    April 19, 2014 at 10:04 pm |
  16. Johnny R.

    Obama will not help Ukraine in their fight against the Russians, because Obama convinced the Ukraine to DISARM in 2005! Google it! Our leader is a complete moron!

    May 5, 2014 at 2:02 pm |
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