Quotes of the day

The Russian troops who are holding Crimea won’t be sent into Ukraine, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says. “We have absolutely no intention of — or interest in — crossing Ukraine’s borders,” Lavrov told a Russian TV station Saturday, according to a translation by .

The comments from Moscow come after a phone call from Russian President Vladimir Putin to President Obama Friday. The two leaders discussed possible diplomatic solutions to the crisis, which has sparked Western sanctions. And they agreed that Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry should meet “to discuss next steps,” as Friday…

On Friday, U.S. officials said that Russia has massed from 35,000 to 40,000 troops near the border with Ukraine, .


One of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest ex-advisers has claimed that the ex-KGB agent ultimately wants to reclaim Finland for Russia.

Andrej Illiaronov, Putin’s economic adviser between 2000 and 2005 and now senior member of the Cato Institute think tank, said that “parts of Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltic States and Finland are states where Putin claims to have ownership.”

“Putin’s view is that he protects what belongs to him and his predecessors,” he said.

When asked if Putin wishes to return to the Russia of the last tsar, Nicholas II, Illiaronov said: “Yes, if it becomes possible.”


Russia’s ambassador to the United States this morning had a sharp retort when asked about President Obama’s comments that Russia is a “regional power acting out of weakness.”

“If you consider Russia ‘a regional power,’” he said, “look at our region — it is from Europe to Asia.” President Vladimir Putin has talked up a Eurasioan Union as his anti-Western alternative to the European Union, and close advisers to Putin believe in a certain Eurasian ideology.

When ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked the ambassador whether Russia would consider pulling back from Crimea as a condition of a diplomatic solution, he wasn’t taken too seriously either: “What kind of from Crimea are you talking about?” Ambassador Kislyak said. “We are talking about territory of Russian Federation [sic].”


Russia threatened several Eastern European and Central Asian states with retaliation if they voted in favor of a United Nations General Assembly resolution this week declaring invalid Crimea’s referendum on seceding from Ukraine, U.N. diplomats said…

According to interviews with U.N. diplomats, most of whom preferred to speak on condition of anonymity for fear of angering Moscow, the targets of Russian threats included Moldova, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as well as a number of African countries.

A spokesman for Russia’s Mission to the U.N. denied that Moscow threatened any country with retaliation if it supported the resolution, saying: “We never threaten anyone. We just explain the situation.”

According to the diplomats, the Russian threats were not specific. But they said it was clear to the recipients of the warnings not to support the resolution that retaliatory measures could include steps such as expelling migrant workers from Russia, halting natural gas supplies or banning certain imports to Russia to cause economic harm.


Rest assured that Putin’s bare-chested romps do not include navel-gazing over what the West’s actions imply about its intent. He fully understood that NATO was unwilling to extend to these former Soviet satellites its security guarantee — viz., that an attack on any NATO country is considered an attack on all NATO countries that must be repelled as such. Coupled with Europe’s willingness — actually, anxiousness — to increase economic intercourse with and energy dependence on Russia even after the Georgian invasion, Putin grasped that he had a green light to indulge his revanchist ambitions…

Russia is on the march because it was treated like a friend while it acted like an enemy. As usual, the bipartisan transnational-progressive clerisy convinced itself that our adversaries, who thrive on instability, have an abiding interest in international stability — that they are best seen as trusted “partners” in the pursuit of American objectives rather than aggressors pursuing their own very different objectives.

As Putin menaces Ukraine, Obama prattles about international law. Even if this president’s sudden interest in faithful adherence to law could be taken seriously, the international arena is not a “community” sharing common legal norms and enforcement mechanisms. Aggressors are not presumed innocent such that we must sit idle until their intent can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. They are presumed hostile until they prove otherwise.


[D]id it really take Russia’s invasion of Crimea for the White House to finally realize that Putin is an authoritarian hegemon who has long been moving away from Europe and building Russia’s domination of its “near abroad?” McFaul tells us that “Mr. Putin’s own thinking has changed over time,” and that, with Crimea, “Mr. Putin has made a strategic pivot.” But the Russian president has not veered from the course he set out on as far back as 1999, when as prime minister he made the decision to unleash a crippling war on the republic of Chechnya…

[B]y failing to recognize Moscow’s larger regional aims, the West may be underestimating the Kremlin’s readiness to take advantage of a situation that has offered new opportunities to exert its influence, and that has played well at home. In recent weeks, Putin’s inner circle of siloviki from his hometown of St. Petersburg, several of whom have been targeted by the new US sanctions imposed this month, have closed ranks around their leader. And polls show that, among the Russian population at large, Putin’s popularity is at a new high. (Russians typically rally around their leader when their military forces are deployed, as they did in the past during the conflicts with Chechnya and Georgia.)…

During a news conference early this week in Brussels, Obama responded to those who claim he has been naïve about Putin by dismissing Russia as a “regional power” that poses no risk to the security of the United States. But this assessment seems more like a justification for allowing the Kremlin to call the shots than a true statement of reality. A Russian demarche into eastern Ukraine, and possibly Moldova, would threaten the security of all the newly independent states of Europe and, by implication, that of the US as well.


During his Brussels speech this week, Obama also declared that Russia leads “no bloc of nations, no global ideology.” This is true, up to a point: Russia’s “ideology” isn’t well-defined or clear. But the U.S. president was wrong to imply that the Russian president’s rhetoric, and his annexation of Crimea, has no wider echo. Of course there were the predictable supporters of Russia in the United Nations: Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, North Korea. More interesting are his new European friends. Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) — an anti-European and anti-immigrant party that is gaining momentum in Britain — declared last week that the European Union has “blood on its hands” for negotiating a free-trade agreement in Ukraine. Marine Le Pen, leader of the French far-right National Front, has also said she prefers France to “lean toward Russia” rather than “submit to the United States.” Jobbik, Hungary’s far-right party, sent a representative to the Crimean referendum and declared it “exemplary.” These are all minority parties, but they are all poised to make gains in European elections this spring.

Russia’s ideology may be mishmash: the old Soviet critique of hypocritical “bourgeois democracy,” plus some anti-Europeanism, some anti-globalism and a homophobic twist for contemporary appeal. But let’s not assume that competition between ideas is absurd and old-fashioned. And let’s not pretend that ideologies don’t matter, because even if we’d prefer otherwise, they do.


McFaul, an NBC News analyst who served as Obama’s ambassador to Moscow until last month, said the Russians are now in effect saying, “OK, Crimea’s done. We’ve taken that. Now let’s start negotiating about the Ukrainian constitution. Let’s start negotiating about the autonomy of places like Donetsk (in eastern Ukraine).’ As President Kennedy said very famously during the Berlin crisis, he was not going to negotiate about the freedom of Berlin under the guise of ‘what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is negotiable.’ This feels a little but like that: they (the Russians) are changing the subject to talk about what they want, not what we want to talk about.”

Another question is the future of the separatist Transdniestria region of Moldova, populated largely by Russian speakers. Putin is going to make Moldova “an issue that we’re going to have to now negotiate. And we’re going to negotiate in, I think, a weak position given where he is right now.”

McFaul added “there’s no doubt in my mind that if Russia goes into eastern Ukraine some Ukrainians will fight in a guerrilla struggle.”


How can the U.S. add muscle in the present Ukraine crisis?

The boldest and riskiest course would be to dispatch 50 or 60 of the incredibly potent F-22s to Poland plus Patriot batteries and appropriate ground support and protection. Russian generals and even Putin surely know that the F-22s could smash the far inferior Russian air force and then punish Russian armies invading eastern Ukraine or elsewhere in the region.

There’s no sense at all in making this move unless Obama unambiguously resolves to use the F-22s. The worst thing to do is bluff. Nor would the dangers end there even if Obama were not bluffing; Putin might think he was bluffing anyway and start a war. With all these complications and risks, the Obama team still should give this option a serious look—and let Russia and our NATO partners know this tough course is under serious consideration. Obama has sent a few F-15’s and F-16’s to Eastern Europe, some military aid to Ukraine and other states. But everyone knows this is tokenism.

Another plausible and perhaps less risky measure: help prepare Ukrainians for guerrilla war against an invading Russian force. Pound for pound in conventional war, the Ukrainian forces are no match whatsoever for the Russians. But irregular Ukrainian troops armed with first-class rifles, mortars, and explosive devices would do Russian troops great damage. Russians know this. They have surely not forgotten the horrors fighting guerrillas in Afghanistan.


According to Western officers and several private specialists, the forces gathered in Russia’s Western Military District are capable of invading Ukraine’s easternmost cities, like Donetsk and Dnipropetrovsk. They would probably start off by sending in special forces to recruit local allies, then mount a wave of cyber-attacks to degrade or spoof the Ukraine military’s warning and communication networks, followed by a blitzkrieg attack by tanks, paratroopers, and so forth.

But occupying those towns for any length of time is another matter. Logistics—refurbishing troops with a line of supplies—were always the Russian army’s weak point, even in the Cold War heyday; that’s still the case. Then there’s the army itself. The special forces and paratroopers are professional, but the rest of the army consists of draftees, serving one-year terms that many of them spend drunk and disorderly. If they face any resistance, whether from the Ukrainian army (a ragtag force itself) or “irregulars” (homegrown insurgents) or outside agents (a squad or two of Delta Force troops), the Russian soldiers could find themselves seriously bogged down.

Politically, Putin would find himself on very shaky ground. Already, he mustered only 10 other countries—the likes of Belarus, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Sudan, and Syria—to oppose a U.N. resolution condemning the annexation of Crimea. If he invades Ukraine, a sovereign nation with a United Nations seat, his isolation will widen and deepen politically, diplomatically, and economically.

If he crosses that line, he will also do more than anyone ever has to rouse the European nations out of their post-Cold War stupor.


Putin’s seizure of Crimea may have provided him with the opportunity to beat his chest before adoring Russian crowds, but it will eventually undermine Russian security.

Ukraine is and will remain too weak to be a threat. And on its own, no country in Russia’s “near abroad” can pose a threat. Even taken together, the non-Russians will be weaker than Russia. But Putin’s land grab will make all of them inclined to regard Russia as a potentially land-grabbing foe and to promote their own security independently of Russia and outside of any Russian-led blocs or unions. Expect the Central Asians and Azerbaijanis to turn increasingly to China and Turkey, and the Georgians, Moldovans, Ukrainians, and even the Belarusians to head for the West. Also expect the Russian Federation’s non-Russian autonomous republics and regions to press for greater autonomy from Moscow…

Seen in this light, annexing Crimea has to be one of Putin’s worst strategic blunders. Had the province become “independent,” there would still have been a theoretical possibility of finding some accommodation with Kiev. After annexation, any dialogue with the Ukrainian government — and, thus, any resolution of the Russo-Ukrainian conflict — becomes significantly more difficult. It’s perfectly possible that Putin wants the conflict to remain unresolved, on the assumption that it will undermine Ukraine. The problem is that an unresolved conflict will also undermine Russia.

As Ukraine and Russia’s other non-Russian neighbors are compelled by Moscow’s aggression to enhance their security, Russia may soon face a nightmare of its own creation — non-Russian encirclement.