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Tumult In Crimea Has Some Fearing A Cold War Redux


Russia's move to annex Crimea has put U.S.-Russian relations once again spiraling downward. The Obama administration is expanding the number of Russian officials on a sanctions blacklist. Russia is promising to respond in kind. The U.S. has gone through many turbulent moments with the Kremlin since the Cold War. Each time, there's a been a rapprochement. But it's increasingly clear that the Russian president's reading of recent history is very different than the one in Washington. Here's NPR's Michele Kelemen.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: One of America's leading foreign policy thinkers, former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski, was struck by Vladimir Putin's Kremlin speech in which the Russian leader laid out a long list of post-Cold War grievances.

ZBIGNIEW BRZEZINSKI: That speech is remarkably belligerent, angry and triumphant, at the same time.

KELEMEN: And he says it had echoes of Adolf Hitler.

BRZEZINSKI: Crimea is very much like Anschluss, Austria. Remember that? Hitler walked in and said, these people are Germans, really - even though they had a separate history for hundreds and hundreds of years - and proclaimed a triumph. The next year, he moved on Czechoslovakia.

KELEMEN: Brzezinski, now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, doesn't anticipate another World War or even, necessarily, a new Cold War. In fact, he's been advocating a dual approach with Russia - to stand up to military aggression, but also talk to Russia about how to stabilize Ukraine in a way that links the former Soviet Republic both to the east and to the west.

BRZEZINSKI: Make it clear that there's a choice, and that we're willing to cooperate with Russia in regards to Ukraine and assuring Ukraine's freedom of choice in terms of its cultural, political orientation. But at the same time, I think such as that if there is violence - Russian-initiated violence against Ukraine - we just cannot sit in our hands and weep.

KELEMEN: This week, Vice President Joe Biden visited Poland and Lithuania, to try to shore up nervous NATO allies. He says Russia is isolating itself by its actions in Crimea.

VICE PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: As long as Russia continues on this dark path, they will face increasing political and economic isolation.

KELEMEN: For years, the U.S. has tried to get Russia to be more integrated into the international community - for instance, helping it join the World Trade Organization in 2012. But Fiona Hill, of the Brookings Institution, says Putin made clear this week he's more interested in carving out a sphere of influence than integrating Russia into Europe.

FIONA HILL: He's operating in a very different framework from us, and different from what people have been assuming. All the way along, there's been this kind of sense that Russia was moving in a different direction. And what Vladimir Putin is saying - that Russia's present is shaped by its past, by this perception of the past - I mean, really, he has put Russia back, but he isn't putting Russia in a place that leads it forward. And now, we've got to figure out, you know, where do we go from here in this relationship?

KELEMEN: The West has tried ignoring Russia, and attempts to reset relations haven't worked. Hill says it's time now to play the long game, shoring up NATO defenses and not letting Putin exploit divisions in Europe.

HILL: We're going to have to basically go back to the drawing board here and think about, well, how do we deal with a Russia that isn't, in fact, looking forward but is constantly looking back?

KELEMEN: A former State Department policy planning staffer who worked on Russia, Samuel Charap, of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, says it will be a long time before the U.S. and Russia can return to a productive relationship.

SAMUEL CHARAP: Russia's great capacity to affect U.S. global interests is not in necessarily what it is doing to cooperate with us, but what it can do to undermine U.S. objectives. When feeling petulant, Russia plays the spoiler very effectively.

KELEMEN: So far, it's been business as usual for Russian diplomats working on Iran, but Moscow is signaling that could soon change. Michele Keleman, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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