Recalling the title of the Beatles' song of the 1960's, "Back in the USSR," serves to remind us that something very different is now taking place in Russia. We are back to some of the characteristics of the Soviet era, notably that of the Big Lie. How can one believe that the Russian Special Forces (Spetsnaz) who crossed over to the Crimea from Rostov-on-Don by boat and helicopter were a figment of the imagination, and that the thousands of uniformed soldiers, in camouflage gear but without insignia, were from a locally recruited militia of ethnic Russians?
All this theater is to mask the fact that Putin has violated the 1994 Budapest agreement, signed by Russia, the United States, and Britain, and including Ukraine. The agreement obliged the parties to "refrain from the 'threat and use of force' or 'economic coercion' against Ukraine." The latter, for its part, agreed to give up the nuclear weapons it inherited after the breakup of the Soviet Union. (The New York Times, March 6, p. A13).
Clearly we have to view Mr. Putin and his "bel homme sans merci," Foreign Minister Lavrov in a different light from now on. As the former KGB chief, Yevgeni Primakov, said to a CIA interlocutor in the early 1990's, when contacts between the two services were being set up, "The New Abroad is ours." (The New Abroad refers to those countries that were on the outer edge of the former Soviet Union, including and most notably the Ukraine.) When the CIA officer reported Primakov's words to a senior State Department official, he got the following response: "There you go again. CIA always exaggerates these things. Russia is on the right track. Everything is going well."
And now, some 20 years later, never have Russian intentions become clearer: Mr. Putin is putting into practice Primakov's dictum. Look out!