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
x
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.
x
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. 

You May Like

Israelis Quietly Expand Enclave in Palestinian District of Jerusalem

Estimated 500 settlers, armed or protected by paramilitary police, live in Silwan among 50,000 Palestinians More

Video US, Iran Face Similar Challenges in Syrian Fight Against IS

Both Washington, Tehran back fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq -- but in Syria they support opposing sides in country’s civil war More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
 Previous    
by: rbockman from: Philly
March 30, 2014 9:14 AM
Vlad has given the world the finger and no one has the nerve to do anything about it.

In Response

by: bronko billy from: usa
March 31, 2014 10:12 AM
I like this debate , but the World needs melody. I do not think Putin is any worse than George W Bush of yesteryear. It is quite Rich for the US to now talk about international law when they have broken it as many times as they wish. Panama, Grenada, Iraq etc etc - The list is endless. They encourage Isreal to break international law willy nelly and now they have found peace with international law. How amazon....This is a satan condeming sin.They even undermine the united nations. Those that live in glass houses........ it insults the world and there are many out there that neither respect the US not listen to the blame game they are now engaged in. Countries that seek to be World leaders should do so by example. Mr. Putin has thrown the guntlet and he awaits anybody with guts to pick it up. This world is in danger indeed.

     

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid