The current dispute about Russia's seizure and annexation of Crimea has generated much TV talking-head and other media analysis and speculation. Here are personal observations from a somewhat different vantage point.
My bottom line: The Russian takeover of Crimea is not an isolated occurrence and should not be seen as such. Russian Prime Minister Putin will push us and our European partners as hard as he can, to gain what he can, until he meets what he regards as firm resistance. He does not want a shooting war with the West. But one could break out by accident or miscalculation.
Some key factors must be kept in mind:
- Generational and conceptual differences in perception: Secretary of State John Kerry has accused Putin in the wake of the Crimean aggression and takeover, of "19th century thinking in a 21st century world."
Kerry's statement illustrates a mindset of U.S. policymaking in the post-Vietnam era: That is, that the international agenda had moved from traditional national-interest concepts of policymaking —in which countries could be expected to pursue their own security and economic interests — to cooperative multilateral and global attacks on such common problems as climate change, poverty, eradication of disease, and human-rights abuses. The same mindset was behind President Barack Obama's stated desire for a "reset" in U.S.-Russian relations to allow a shift from adversarial stances to those in which common interests could be pursued. And it also was behind Obama's two-hour-long phone conversations with Putin during the Crimean takeover. Surely reasonable people could talk things through and reach a reasonable outcome. Well, no.