News / Europe

Putin and Crimea: A New World Order?

Russian President Vladimir Putin signs legislation completing the process of absorbing Crimea into Russia during a Kremlin ceremony in Moscow on March 21, 2014.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signs legislation completing the process of absorbing Crimea into Russia during a Kremlin ceremony in Moscow on March 21, 2014.
Catherine Maddux
With the stroke of his pen, Russian President Vladimir Putin deepened the divide between East and West by signing a document that officially made Ukraine’s Black Sea region of Crimea part of the Russian Federation.

Some Russia experts see that act as a marking of the end of the post-Cold War era in Europe that the world has known since the days of Reagan and Gorbachev. It is no less than a tectonic shift, “one defined by ideological clashes, nationalistic resurgence and territorial occupation," wrote Michael McFaul, former U.S. Ambassador to Russia, in an opinion piece for the New York Times newspaper this week.
 
Speculation over whether or not Putin has nursed a desire to grab Crimea - a region with deep Russian roots – has sparked debate among Kremlin observers.    
Ukraine, Russia, and the EUUkraine, Russia, and the EU
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Ukraine, Russia, and the EU
Ukraine, Russia, and the EU


“This is not something that one could have predicted,” said Russian expert Thomas Graham, Senior Director at Kissinger Associates, Inc. “I think if you look at the record of the past few weeks – a month ago – Putin didn’t believe or know that he going to annex Crimea,” he said. “You know, a lot of this was a response to events that unfolded very rapidly.”

Those included street protests over ousted Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovich’s decision to back away from a deal to form closer ties with the European Union. Putin also saw it as an opportunity to divert attention away from what is becoming a problematic economy in Russia, Graham said.

And when the European Union (EU) and the United States responded to his moves with tough talk and threats of economic sanctions, it drove him to seize territory to use as a bargaining chip with the West.

“But also, as he [Putin] thought about it, he began to see an opportunity that this very vigorous action would play into Russian nationalism, but would also bring him significant domestic political benefits – particularly in the short term,” he said.  

Motives debated

Considered by many as icy cold, Putin has often been described as a highly self-controlled, practical leader who does not rely on charm to get the job done.

"You see someone very intense, very focused, clearly a man with a mission, who believed that his goal was to rebuild Russia and to defend Russia's national interests,” said Graham, who met Putin when Graham worked in various posts as a Russia expert under the Bush administration.

“He was prepared to expend a lot of effort to do that. He was also prepared to suffer a lot of pain in order to achieve that goal," said Graham.  "And I think you see those same characteristics today.” Journalist Adi Ignatius, who spent time with the Russian leader in 2007 for Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, wrote that Putin was prickly and humorless.   

But if Putin is unemotional in the political arena, he is passionate about restoring Russia to what he sees as its rightful place on the global stage.

The annexation of Crimea fits neatly within that worldview, according to Ariel Cohen, Senior Fellow of Russian and Eurasian Studies at the Heritage Foundation. “He views this action in historic context of correcting the wrong of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which he [has] called the greatest geo-political tragedy of the 20th century,” Cohen said.  

And Putin has been open about his concern for the plight of the estimated 25 million ethnic Russian’s who ended up living outside the borders of Russia after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Putin’s past

But to really understand how Putin operates, one must keep in mind his KGB career, Cohen said.

“Mr. Putin is an intelligence officer and his specialty is what is called ‘human intelligence,’ so he had experience recruiting and running agents when he was in Germany and having these agents working for the Soviet intelligence apparatus,” he said.

“As such, I think he considers himself a judge of human character, and he took an assessment of [President Barack] Mr. Obama, [German Chancellor Angela] Mrs. Merkel and others and decided that this is a team he can play against and win,” Cohen said,

And that comes after years of engaging with three American presidents to work on U.S.-Russian relations, including with President Barack Obama on the administration's “reset” policy, said Russian historian Yuri Felshtinsky.

“I think Putin slowly, this took him several years, moved from a period when he was trying to be friendly with the West and be a partner with the West…to a period when he is trying to recreate the empire,” Felshtinksy said.

“Whether this is going to be Soviet empire or mini Soviet empire or Russian empire, it’s difficult to say because probably Putin doesn’t know himself what this empire is going to be,” he said.

Felshtinsky also believes, that Putin has calculated that Western leaders like President Obama and Merkel are politically unable to prevent Russian expansion.  
 
Putin is photographed riding a horse in the mountains of the Siberian Tyva region on August 3, 2009.
Putin is photographed riding a horse in the mountains of the Siberian Tyva region on August 3, 2009.


A greater Russia

To understand what is driving Putin with regard to Ukraine, just think back to the days when former Russian leader Boris Yeltsin, weakened both physically and politically, plucked Putin out of the KGB to become his successor in 1999.  

“It was very clear that he believed that Russia had gone through a period, -- a decade -- of socio-economic decline, national humiliation in the 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union,” said Graham.

Fast forward to 2014. After spending years successfully engineering a remarkable economic and military comeback, Graham says Putin revealed his intentions only days after Crimea was officially annexed.

His message, according to Graham: Russia’s period of geo-political retreat is now over.  

The Ukraine drama has sparked Cold War jitters – and a revisiting of an era of deep political tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union during the 1950s and ‘60s, when fears of nuclear war were at their highest.

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy meet in Austria in June 1961.Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy meet in Austria in June 1961.
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Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy meet in Austria in June 1961.
Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy meet in Austria in June 1961.
But unlike Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who squared off with former President John F. Kennedy over the Cuban Missile Crisis, Putin is no communist.

“He doesn't believe in state ownership of all the industrial assets,” Cohen said. “But he is a great Russian nationalist. He believes that the Crimea, for example, and possibly other places in the former Soviet Union, like Northern Kazakhstan, possibly Belarus, possibly Ukraine, belong to [a] greater Russia.” he said.

But despite reports of Russian troop buildups on the Ukraine border, Graham predicts that Putin will not grab more territory.

"He gains very little by absorbing Eastern Ukraine, with its large ethnic Russian population,” Graham said. “Because what he needs is all of Ukraine... he's not going seize territory,” he said. “What he wants to be able to do is project confidence, the ability, the capacity to use power and hope that those levers give him increasing influence in the states along Russia's borders."

And if Ukraine moves closer to the West, as its new government wants to, Putin will have lost strategically.

Since 2008, Ukraine has been a candidate to join NATO, said Henrik Larsen, post-doctoral research fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.

“There is still a formal promise on the table they will eventually become members of NATO. So from a Russian perspective what happened in Kyiv was a new ‘orange revolution’ that over time could maybe lead to NATO membership,” said Larsen. “And for the Russian perspective, the prospect of U.S. or NATO troops in Ukraine is unthinkable.”

Correction:
An earlier version of this story had a map that incorrectly labeled several nations as members of the EU. VOA regrets the error. 

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by: rbockman from: Philly
March 31, 2014 1:12 PM
bronco, you are very mixed up, you've been conned by pop culture

by: Mauro Sanchez from: Ecuador
March 31, 2014 12:51 PM
Can the USA show a piece of land big or small annexed by vote or referendun of its people in a sovereignty way as the Crimean people? NO. NEVER. USA must respect the free will of Crimea. That is all.The Crimean people have give to the world a huge lesson of liberty and greatness.
In Response

by: Spark from: Spain
March 31, 2014 5:49 PM
False referendum. May be, by ecuadorian standart of democracy it is a "huge lesson" , but international community condemn the annexation of Crimea Autonomy by russian spesial military troops before referendum. Crimean people become hostage of their hastily knocked "referendum".
In Response

by: at from: USA
March 31, 2014 3:22 PM
The Republic of Texas

by: Konstantin from: Russia
March 31, 2014 8:23 AM
Why nobody wants to recognize that Crimea has always been a Russian territory and to call annexation instead of reunion is not correct.
In Response

by: Spark from: Spain
March 31, 2014 5:54 PM
Because according to the international law annexation is not reunion.

by: Andrija from: Canada
March 31, 2014 6:02 AM
25 Millions of Russians leave outside of RUSSIA. 18 Millions in Ukraine alone. I think they deserve self determination. What would Great Britain do with 18 million of its own people outside of it. They would protect their own people by all means, create another country and name it. For example Canada.
In Response

by: Steve Ignasz from: Canada
March 31, 2014 10:32 AM
There is a reason 25 million Russians live outside of Russia....they don't want to be governed by Putin!

by: harvey from: las vegas,nv.
March 31, 2014 5:45 AM
It all comes back to Nation sovereigrity, whether air, land and sea.

Obviously, neither Nations or the United Nation's are not proactive to address, vote, and pass a global Law which all Nations sign, that over rides. and

Sets the standard globally, for all Nation's sovereigrity perimeters, which is the "core value" of those Nations that exist in this so called, "global community".

When Nation's Core value sovereigrity is invaded by its security perimeter, there will be reaction.

As Newton stated, "For every action, there is an opposite and equal reaction", which is the case here with North and South Korea.

Just like the other Nation of Ukraine, with it's port of Crimea being violated by its' state "core value perimeters" by the Russians, whether physical or invasion of air, land, or sea by military actions of practice or whatever means, the state-Nation should have legal priority, to balance, not compromise with those who chose to attempt to bully their way.

Just because of some advanced greater power, such as Nukes, or Nuke building capability, should not make their egos bigger then NATO, or other International Laws, which they sign, this is a legal, and enforceable contract, as our Global Community evolves.

There is no stopping globalization, it started from the Vikings, and continues even at this writing, whether we like it or not, if we can't run with the big dogs, then stay on our porch, and lick our pride.

No matter what our individual mindset is, just as we know longer live in the "Stone Age", we are not pagans, and we should follow the same guidelines of internal Constitutions to measure, and protect.

To secure our Nation, and our laws, not to build fences, but to tear down walls, in this developing Global Community.

Not wait until after the fact of massive slaughter like in Syria by Assad, or even the violation of Saddam in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or any Nation State, which we all know has cost our Nation State a lot of lives, and monies with none diplomatic actions to date.

by: John from: California
March 30, 2014 11:06 PM
Any troop "movements" have been approved by the International Community. It's just that our MEDIA is lying to the public. Why? Because the billionaire miscreants who control our politicians who don't read their bills want to bully Russia---I hope NOT to the point of a war, because that would be incredibly stupid to shove around a nuclear-capable country! The desperation of our government to threaten another country is palpable and frightening! The US initiated & funded the COUP, as proven by the infamous US Victoria Nuland audio tape discussing who they would put in office after the coup.

Regarding Crimea, Putin did NOT "grab" it anymore than the UK grabbed the Falkland Islands or the US grabbed Kosovo from Serbia. Putin responded to a cry for help. The people of Crimea voted in full view of 136 international observers. 1.2 million people voted, including Tartars, and 97% voted happily to be adopted back into Russia's wings, once again.

This article leaves a lot to be desired. There is propaganda and incendiary accusations that are false being made. It is a disservice to all Americans and an insult to our intelligence. The authentic media can be found other places, such as RT.com, Lew Rockwell, Infowars, and Michael Savage radio show has the right "take" on Ukraine, imho.

by: Davis K. Thanjan from: New York
March 30, 2014 8:28 PM
Putin or Russia have not changed their foreign policy of annexation of areas populated by Russians. The Russian occupation of (1) Etorofu, Kunashil, Shikotan and Hobomal group of islands, also known as Kurile Islands at the end of the World War II; (2) Kareila or Karelia of Finland at the end of Second World War; (3) Abkhasia and South Ossetia of Georgia in 2008; (4) Transinistria of Moldova; and (5) annexation of Crimea of Ukraine are all attempts by Russia to grab land belonging to other
countries as part of its expansionist policy. But this Russian policy is giving notice to other nations who were part of the Soviet Union. The boldness of Putin is unmatched by the rhetoric of President Obama. President Obama is not competent to take up the challenges of Putin. The weakness of the Obama foreign policy was evident in Egypt and Syria which added fuel to the fire of Putin's ambition of expansionism, coupled with the fragmented EU incapable of doing anything effective and quickly to confront Russia. EU is so depended on Russia for energy, there is nobody to raise a hand against Russia. The Cold War was a detente', but the present Russian moves are unilateral annexations.. Putin and Russia will continue further annexations as long as there is a weak President like Obama in the US.
In Response

by: Roman from: Belarus
March 31, 2014 4:37 AM
What a lie!!! Do you know history? Kurile Islands was first of all inhabited not japanese and not russian. Japan occcupied a lot of parts of Asia. And how can you talk about annexation. Transinistria is not under russian control. There live 60% of ukrainian and russian, and only 30% of moldovian. In 90th there was conflict between moldovian nationalist and russian-ukrainean majority, because moldovian nationalist opressed russian and ukrainian.
If we look at near past, we will see that US has supported albanian in Kosovo, which was serbian territory for centuries, and they started to be majority since 1930th. Transinistria is unrecognized republic. Abkkhasian and ossetian are not georgian.
They was autonomous republics. In 90th georgian tried to achieve full control under this territories with help of weapon. And in 2008 tried to do that again. Now they are not unrecognized republics too. They are not part of Russia. Do you know how US got Texas and Newmexico as it part? May be you should read history before writing here??
In Response

by: meanbill from: USA
March 30, 2014 10:33 PM
Truthfully? ... The only thing wrong with your analogy concerning Crimea, is the Crimean's themselves voted to join the Russian Federation, didn't they?
The Crimean's rejoiced in rejoining the Russian Federation, and Russia didn't take anything from Ukraine, did they?

by: paidbythehigherpower
March 30, 2014 12:14 PM
How nice that you joined Belarus to the Eu already.
That's the the way it should be done - quietly and quickly.No muss no fuss.

by: Dona from: USA
March 30, 2014 9:36 AM
a "new" world order..??? absolutely not. its a world order that has been and will ever be. The only problem is the advent of Hussein Obama - which has been a traumatic experience to the US and its closest allies. The Iranian Mullahs are not only scoffing but scorning US... the Saudis are running around like headless chickens... Assad still slaughter his own Arab population... NATO is floundering... and we are betraying Israel... forcing them to make "peace" with a despicable corrupt terrorist organization... WE ARE BETRAYING ISRAEL


by: Nebojsa Bogicevic from: Peania , Greece
March 30, 2014 9:18 AM
Good analysis, but problem is simpler. As in the case of Panama and Gen.Noriega, Putin didn't have much options. Crimea is of vital importance for Russia and finally he had to take it under control as Raegan did with Panama. Circumstances are different but result is the same.
In Response

by: Jeff W. from: Washington, DC
March 31, 2014 9:34 AM
Except that President Bush ordered the invasion of Panama, and the US had maintained a military presence in that country since the early 20th century.

The situations are not analogous because control of the canal itself was never threatened, only internal stability and safety of a large number American citizens who resided within the Panama Canal Zone.
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