Russia will likely take control of the Crimea region of Ukraine as part of President Vladimir Putin's long-term strategy to extend Russia's "sphere of influence," former Defense Secretary Robert Gates believes.
Putin's plan has been in place for some time, Gates told "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace, and has included Russia's invasion of Georgia, breaking off European Union discussions with Armenia, and many other of Putin's actions in recent years.
"This is part of a longer-term effort to stop the expansion of NATO, but more importantly, to bring the former states of the Soviet Union back under the influence of Moscow," said Gates. "Frankly, I don't think he will stop in Ukraine until there is a government in Kiev that is pro-Russian."
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In recent days, Putin has taken control of Crimea in an attempt to annex the region, which has a large Russian population, to Russia. The Crimean parliament is planning a vote on whether to rejoin Russia, and western leaders, including President Barack Obama, argue the move violates Ukraine's sovereignty.
But Putin and the Russian government say the new leaders of Ukraine seized their power through an illegal armed coup, and Russia can invade to protect the safety of Russians living there.
Gates said he supports Washington's efforts to enact more sanctions on Russia, and said the United States should support its European allies when it comes to Ukraine, short of military action.
This could include activities to make sure that Western Europe has the natural gas it needs the supply is cut off from Ukraine and Russia.
But meanwhile, Gates doesn't believe Putin wants to restore the former Soviet Union. Instead, he believe Putin wants the former USSR states to remain separate, but with governments that answer to Moscow.
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