Heritage Foundation policy expert not optimistic about Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin is a bully. That's what a foreign policy expert from the Heritage Foundation says about Russian troops taking over Crimea in Ukraine.

Steve Bucci, director of the Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation in Washington D.C., is in St. Louis for a conference on cyber security.

He spoke on the stand-off in Ukraine when he dropped by the station on Wednesday. Bucci says Putin is threatened by the influence of Western democracy in a country he still considers his.

"You remember his famous quotation that the fall of the Soviet Union was the biggest catastrophe of the 20th century," says Bucci. "So he really thinks that Russia should have that sphere of influence. And the loss of that is considered a grave threat to him and his country."

When asked about the timing of this, Bucci says he thinks Putin feels very confident right now.

"He's come off looking like a statesman in Syria, helping the U.S. try to cut a deal with Iran, the Olympics being a big success, he felt he had enough credibility in the world that he could pull this off," says Bucci. "And he seemingly has. There's not too many people that think he's going to back up from Crimea."

"I think if he doesn't try to take more of Ukraine, that will be a victory for the west," says Bucci.

And Bucci doesn't expected a quick resolution to the crisis.

"I have a very pessimistic view of it, but with a tinge of optimism. I'm hoping that Putin will be satisfied with controlling the Crimea and the little bit of Eastern Ukraine that he's grabbed already, and that he'll stop and consider that a victory."

If not, Bucci says other foreign countries should be on guard.

"If I were some of the other countries like Belarus and the Baltic countries, I'd be a little concerned because all of those countries have pretty significant Russian minorities on their borders. If one of them starts to complain, does that mean Mr. Putin is going to roll tanks into their countries as well? We don't know."

"He's a bully, and he's bullying his neighbors," says Bucci. "And I think for the world in general, that's not a good thing."

In Washington, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he was pessimistic about a quick solution between the West and Russia. The former CIA chief told CBS that Putin "knows exactly what he's doing. He's trying to re-establish Russian influence and a measure of control over the former states of the Soviet Union."

Bucci says Putin has claimed for decades that Ukraine is still a part of Russia.

He believes Putin waited for the Olympics to end before making a play for the former states of the Soviet Union.

"The Ukraine to him is part of Russia," says Bucci. "He told President Bush when President Bush was still in office, 'you understand that the Ukraine is not really a country, it's always been part of Russia and will always be part of Russia.'"


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