By Mick Krever, CNN
The standoff between Russia, Ukraine, and the West has reached the “eleventh hour,” Andrei Kozyrev, the first post-Soviet Russian foreign minister, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.
“The [stakes are] still very, very high,” he said. “Let me just remind whoever concerned that Russia is still [a] nuclear superpower. So the [stakes] might be life and death. And maybe sooner than somebody is thinking.”
“It’s [the] eleventh hour for Russians, and for anybody else, to reconsider.”
A week after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, there is still considerable concern and uncertainty about what Russian President Vladimir Putin’s next move might be.
Russian military forces are massed along Ukraine’s eastern border. NATO’s top military official called them “very, very sizable and very, very ready.”
Ready for what exactly is not clear.
“We can only guess what actually happens next,” Kozyrev said. “It’s very much an impromptu kind of show.”
Few people are better positioned to analyze the situation than Kozyrev and Strobe Talbott, former deputy U.S. Secretary of State in the Clinton administration.
Together, they worked to manage Russia’s last big transition: the break-up of the Soviet Union and the birth of the Russian Federation.
Talbott chimed in on Kozyrev’s sentiment.
“I think [Putin] has been making this up as he goes along.”
In an interview with Amanpour last week, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said that Crimea was just the Russian president’s “opening game.”
Putin “is already going further than just in Crimea,” Talbott said. “Now that doesn’t mean that he has actually formally moved in, annexed territory, had an overt invasion.”
“But through all kinds of assets that Russia has inside of Ukraine, he is doing everything he can to shake the situation up, destabilize the country, so that he can have more leverage over what happens next.”
The choice Russia now finds itself, Kozyrev said, is a stark one.
“Now it’s the choice: Either to Europe or back to the USSR.”
Europe must stand with the United States, Kozyrev said, and make clear to “Russian oligarchs and their proxies” that they can no longer take the revenues abroad and leave the rest “with the Soviet Union.”
There is some strain of thought that with the fall of the Soviet Union, the West saw Russia as a “loser” – now, the thought goes, Putin is trying to regain Russia’s greatness.
“We did not regard the peoples of the former Soviet Union…as losers,” Talbott said. “Quite the opposite. We saw them as having seen a way that would actually protect their people from ending up, as it were, on the dust bin of history.”
Putin “wants to take the Russian Federation back to a system that has already been proved a failure.”
“I thought after the fall of the Soviet Union that we have to choose democracy and market economy. But competitive democracy and competitive economy.”
The Russian elite facing difficult reforms, chose to leave to go elsewhere, Kozyrev said.
“That is, take the cash and go to London or New York and leave the rest of it back home under the custody of the former security apparatus. And unfortunately that happened in the second part of the Yeltsin administration.”
“It’s time now to wake up – for all of us in Russia and for the West. And the sooner the better, because time is ticking.”