Russia and western powers have been talking tougher than at any time since the Cold War over Ukraine.
The Crimean peninsula seems to have been under the control of soldiers following orders from the Kremlin for just over a week, though Moscow denies it.
Crimea is an autonomous region of Ukraine, with 75 percent of the people of Russian origin.
The Crimean parliament has called a referendum on formal attachment to Russia for next week.
US President Barack Obama said such a referendum would violate international law. He ordered visa restriction sanctions on a number of officials he considered to be threatening Ukraine’s sovereignty, and he froze certain assets.
European Union leaders received Ukrainian Prime Minister Artseny Yatsenyuk in Brussels with confirmation of their own suspension of negotiations with Moscow on visa-free travel, and threatening economic sanctions in case of any further deteriorations in Ukraine.
Political scientist, geostrategist and former United States National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, at 85 highly respected in Washington foreign policy circles, spoke to euronews about the events in Ukraine.
An author of many books, this Polish-born American has been a critic of a number of the superpower’s policies over the years; some of his ideas have rankled both US and European governments as well as Moscow.
Alternately, he has supported international detente, engagement and vigorous intervention in theatres where morality and human rights have been under threat, globally.
Washington euronews correspondent Stefan Grobe asked: “Dr. Brzezinski, you have been warning against a situation in which Russia would bully Ukraine and destabilise Ukrainian statehood for more than two decades. Did Putin’s action now come as a surprise to you?”
Zbigniew Brzezinski: “No, not at all, because he has told us things such as, ‘the Collapse of the Soviet Union is the greatest calamity of the 20th century.’ Just think what that means: World War I – millions killed. World War II – millions and millions and millions killed, plus the Holocaust. The Cold War – the possibility of a nuclear disaster for all of humanity. No, no, all of that is not as important as the disappearance of a state in which he was a secret policeman, KGB type. He wants to rebuild the Soviet Union. And Ukraine is the prize. If he can get Ukraine he can have a crack at that undertaking.”
Grobe: “We know the Russians are good chess players…”
Brzezinski: “Some of them; some of them are very bad.”
Grobe: “But now it looks like Putin is throwing the chessboard against the wall. Does he know what he is doing? Does he follow a master plan for Ukraine?”
Brzezinski: “Well, he is certainly following a calculus, but a rather short-term one in my judgement. For example, he disguised his troopers that he sent into Crimea as, somehow or other, people from Mars: you don’t know where they are from, right. That’s deniability. That’s a little bit like mafia sending in gangsters to kill someone with their faces covered. Okay, so what does that accomplish? Everybody knows that they are from Russia, but still there is deniability. My guess is that, when he did that, he was contemplating the possibility of then going further. If there is no reaction from the Ukrainians in general and if there is no reaction from the West, he can pull these stunts off in eastern Ukraine, take over district by district, and then eventually dismember Ukraine and then impose a government of his choice in Kyiv.”
Grobe: “You were National Security Advisor to President Carter when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. If you were National Security Advisor to President Obama now that the Russians have invaded Ukraine, what would be your advice?”
Brzezinski: “We ought to convey to the Russians that if they are serious in having a cooperative relationship with Ukraine, though not one hundred percent on their terms, we are also willing to accommodate, because we don’t want a monopolistic relationship with Ukraine. The country needs help, the country needs stabilisation, and both we and the Russians can cooperate in doing that. At the same time, we can assure the Russians that it is not our objective to seduce Ukraine into NATO, which the Russians might view as a military threat. And, incidentally, a large percentage of Ukrainians don’t want to be in NATO, while they do want to be independent. So, it’s quite consistent with political reality. But at the same time we have to convey to him very quietly, not in a fashion that humiliates him, that if he is not inclined to accommodate or if he is even inclined to go further and threaten Ukraine, there will be consequences. If the Russians refuse to accommodate in Crimea, I guarantee you the vast majority of Ukrainians who are not anti-Russian [now] will turn anti-Russian.”
Grobe: “What tools can the US and Europe bring to the table?”
Brzezinski: “Economic accommodations that now exist can be suspended. Money owned by Russians abroad can be put under constraint. There are many things of this sort that can be done that signal to the Russians that there are tangible costs for creating this kind of a challenge almost in the middle of Europe, geographically.”