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March 07, 2014

Russian Invasion of Crimea Likely to Affect US Foreign Policy

by Meredith Buel

Russia’s invasion of the Crimean Peninsula could have a major impact on U.S. foreign policy regarding such issues as Iran’s nuclear program, Syria’s civil war and Afghanistan. Analysts say NATO also must consider changes to counter Russian troop movements in Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin is flexing Russia’s military might.

President Putin has captured Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula -- though Moscow says these are local self-defense forces -- causing world tensions to skyrocket.

Secretary of State John Kerry said, “There's no place in the community of nations for the kind of aggression and steps that we have seen taken in Crimea, in Ukraine in these last days."

And now analysts say the Crimean crisis is likely to affect other conflicts such as the Syrian civil war.

The U.S. and Russia have cooperated on removal of Syrian chemical weapons, but support opposite sides in the fighting.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, James Jeffrey at The Washington Institute said Ukraine’s fallout will be felt. “We need to be much more active much more quickly or we are going to be faced with not just Russia incorporating Crimea, but Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Assad running over the vast bulk of the population and creating a victory right in the middle of a region that is full of our allies. That is troubling,” he said.

Other analysts say Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should be concerned as Russia focuses on problems closer to home.

Middle East expert and former U.S. Ambassador to Bahrain Adam Ereli said, “So if I were Assad, I would be worried that my number one, or number two after Iran, patron is distracted and discredited."

Russia has cooperated with the U.S. and other world powers negotiating with Iran on that nation’s controversial nuclear program. Moscow’s support in the U.N. Security Council is critical for securing economic sanctions analysts say are forcing Tehran to the bargaining table.

Washington relies on Russia to provide transportation routes supplying U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

This is immediately important given plans to withdraw troops and equipment this year.

“If we were to push Russia, I think they would be suddenly very uncooperative. That would mean that it would be more difficult and more expensive, but there are other routes out of there through Central Asia, through the Caucasus, and obviously through Pakistan and over the air,” said Jeffrey.

Military experts say NATO also will need to react to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

London-based security analyst Jonathan Eyal said, “It will be an inescapable conclusion now, after what has happened in Ukraine, that NATO will have to move troops to the borders with Poland and with Romania, the two biggest countries that have a border with Ukraine."

Washington is calling for all Russian forces to return to their bases, for direct talks between Kyiv and Moscow, and for international monitors to ensure the safety of all Ukrainians.