The key to solving the Ukraine tinder box almost certainly lies with Russian President Vladimir Putin. That's led a lot of people — including the White House, America's European allies, esteemed members of Congress, and even late-night comedians — to try and figure out just what makes Putin tick. Here are four columnists with some connection to Russia or Ukraine offering their insights into the wily Russian president, and their advice on how to deal with Putin's aggression in Crimea.
Emperor Putin has no clothes
"Vladimir Putin is a man obsessed with an idea: Russia was, is, and always will be a great power," says Mark Nuckols, who teaches law and business in Moscow, at the San Francisco Chronicle. He has publicly mourned the end of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the century," and his passion to "ensure that Russia regains its imperial greatness" outweighs all other considerations, including "the well-being of Russian citizens," Nuckols adds. That's why he invaded Georgia, then Ukraine.
[Putin] is driven by misplaced pride, domestic politics, and well-justified fear. His pride and desire to see a Great Power Russia impel him to military adventures and political interference in neighboring states. And these adventures appeal to Russian public opinion, still smarting from the humiliations of the 1990s. [San Francisco Chronicle]
Putin's worldview is simply incompatible with America's
"Putin has enjoyed a stunning variety of incarnations in the American imagination in his nearly 15 years as Russia's leader," and marauding authoritarian dictator is just the latest, says Russian American journalist Masha Gessen at the Los Angeles Times. But he's not insane, and he's not Hitler, she adds.
History's dictators have generally tried to convince themselves and others that they were good people fighting the good fight. But Putin has no positive spin for his aggression — or his actions in general... He believes that all governments would like to jail their opponents and invade their neighbors, but most political leaders, most of the time, lack the courage to act on these desires... For American culture, which relies heavily on a belief in the fundamental goodness of humanity, this is an impossible world view to absorb. It is another world indeed. But that does not make it crazy. [Los Angeles Times]
Putin needs an exit strategy
John McCarron, writing at the Chicago Tribune, offers an opinion based on his time in the Navy during the Cold War. McCarron's solution: "Give Russia a way out."
Let them save some face. After all, it's Vladimir Putin, not Barack Obama, who is caught in a wringer.... It would be a huge mistake to try to back the Russian bear into a corner, to bluff and to bluster, to escalate Cold War-style with increasingly harsh economic and diplomatic sanctions... Putin needs — Russians need — a nonembarrassing way around this mess they've made for themselves. [Chicago Tribune]
Putin's advantage is temporary
Putin didn't invade Ukraine because he thinks Obama is week, says Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times. He doesn't much care. "We don't have much leverage because Putin cares far more about Ukraine than he does about being in the G-8." But instead of panicking about Russia's resurgence, "let's also recognize that, in the long run, it's Putin who has stumbled here." Crimea will just be a headache for Russia, and the rest of Ukraine is now solidly in "the West's orbit."
[W]estern Ukrainians look across the border at a thriving Poland, now firmly embedded in Europe, and see that as a far better model for the future. Likewise, in a couple of decades, Russians may well look over the border at a thriving, European Ukraine and want that model for themselves as well. So be strong, Senators Graham and McCain: Putin's advantage is temporary. [NY Times] Peter Weber
James Shaw Jr., who heroically disarmed the Nashville Waffle House shooter, wants you to stop calling him a hero
James Shaw Jr., 29, acknowledges that if he hadn't disarmed the gunman who murdered four people at a Waffle House in Nashville early Sunday, more people would have died, but he said in a news conference on Sunday that he isn't comfortable with the "hero" label. "On my Instagram and Facebook, everybody's calling me a hero, but I want people to know that I did that completely out of a selfish act, I was completely doing it just to save myself," Shaw said. "Now, me doing that, I did save other people, but I don't want people to think that I was the Terminator or Superman or anybody like that. ... I figured if I was going to die, he was going to have to work for it."
Shaw explained that when he realized somebody was shooting, he ran behind an unlockable swinging door. "He shot through that door; I'm pretty sure he grazed my arm," Shaw said, and "at that time I made up my mind ... that he was going to have to work to kill me. When the gun jammed or whatever happened, I hit him with the swivel door." The gunman, identified by police as Travis Reinking, 29, had the gun pointed down, and Shaw said he grabbed the hot barrel of the AR-15. "When I finally got the gun he was cussing like I was in the wrong," he said. "I grabbed it from him and threw it over the countertop and I just took him with me out the entrance."
Waffle House CEO Walter Ehmer disregarded Shaw's request. "You don't get to meet too many heroes in life," he said, nodding to Shaw. "We are forever in your debt." Shaw's father, James Shaw Sr., had mixed feelings. "I take no pride in him charging a loaded gun," he told The Associated Press. "I do take pride in him helping save the lives of other people." Peter Weber
Police seized the Nashville Waffle House shooting suspect's guns last fall, then his father gave them back
Last July, the U.S. Secret Service arrested Travis Reinking, the 29-year-old suspect in Sunday's murder of four people at a Waffle House in Nashville, for being in a restricted area near the White House and refusing to leave, saying he wanted to meet President Trump. In the fall, state police in Illinois revoked Reinking's firearm license at the request of the FBI, and police took away four of his guns, including the AR-15 used in the Nashville shooting, authorities said.
Deputies returned the weapons to Reinking's father, Jeffrey Reinking, on the promise that he would "keep the weapons secure and out of the possession of Travis," Tazewell County, Illinois, Sheriff Robert Huston said Sunday, adding that based on past encounters with the younger Reinking, "there's certainly evidence that there's some sort of mental health issues involved." Nashville Police spokesman Don Aaron said that Jeffrey Reinking "has now acknowledged giving them back to his son."
Suspect in the deadly Waffle House shooting had previously had his firearms authorization revoked and 4 weapons were seized, including the AR-15 rifle used in the shooting; guns were returned by authorities to his father, who acknowledged he gave them back to him son, police say pic.twitter.com/GB7vm1xutc
— NBC News (@NBCNews) April 22, 2018
Reinking, who witnesses say fled the scene of the crime naked, is still on the run, and he is believed to have at least one of the remaining two guns police seized from him last fall. The four people killed in the shooting have been identified as Taurean C. Sanderlin, a 29-year-old cook at the restaurant, and patrons Joe R. Perez, 20, Akilah Dasilva, 23, and DeEbony Groves, 21. James Shaw Jr., 29, is credited with saving several lives by tackling and disarming the gunman. Peter Weber
A British expat urged President Trump to fire EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and slammed other Trump administration officials on American cable TV Sunday night, and it was not John Oliver at HBO's Last Week Tonight. On Fox News, Steve Hilton — a former adviser to British Prime Minister David Cameron whose L.A.-based Fox News show focuses on populism — took aim at corruption in the Trump administration, though he did not blame Trump personally.
"Remember, President Trump's historic election win was driven in part by a drain-the-swamp agenda, an agenda we strongly support here on The Next Revolution," Hilton said, arguing that "in many ways, the president has delivered," by ordering an end to the lobbying revolving door and cutting regulations, "which means less bureaucracy, and that means less opportunity for lobbying and corruption." But Trump appointees have fallen short, he said, citing a Public Citizen study he said uncovered "a shocking number of former lobbyists now working in this administration and regulating the same interests they used to lobby for."
Hilton listed some upper-management Trump appointees whose conflicts of interest "are undermining their boss' drain-the-swamp agenda," then noted that "a number of higher-level officials have abused their power in far more public ways." He pointed to ousted Cabinet officials David Shulkin and Tom Price, but also Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who "has reportedly not flown on a single commercial flight for business-related travel since taking office."
"But none of President Trump's appointees have been under more scrutiny for swampy behavior than EPA chief Scott Pruitt," Hilton said, running through some egregious examples. The White House has ordered an investigation into Pruitt's "exorbitant spending," he said, "but the last thing we need in Washington is another investigation. What we need is for President Trump to take the lead, fire Scott Pruitt, and throw out the lobbyists from his administration." Watch below — and remember, this is Fox News. Peter Weber
French President Emmanuel Macron will visit Washington beginning Monday to speak before Congress and meet with President Trump, and in a Fox News Sunday appearance he said he will use this time to promote a long-term U.S. occupation of Syria, including nation-building programs.
"We will have to build the new Syria after [the Islamic State is defeated], and that's why I think the U.S. hold is very important," Macron said. "Why? I will be very blunt. The day we will finish this war against ISIS, if we leave, definitely and totally, even from a political point of view, we will leave the floor to the Iranian regime, Bashar al-Assad and his guys, and they will prepare the new war. They will fuel the new terrorists."
"So, my point is to say, even after the end of the war against ISIS," he continued, "the U.S., France, our allies, all the countries of the region, even Russia and Turkey, will have a very important role to play in order to create this new Syria and ensure Syrian people to decide for the future."
Watch the full interview below, and read The Washington Post's preview of Macron's trip, which is expected to focus significantly on persuading Trump to keep the United States in the Iran nuclear deal. Bonnie Kristian
Kellyanne Conway bristles over questions about her husband's tweets: 'It's fascinating to me that CNN would go there'
White House counselor Kellyanne Conway's husband, George Conway, does not seem to share his wife's boundless enthusiasm for defending President Trump. He has repeatedly tweeted critiques of the president, going after Trump's Twitter habits, his staff turnover, and, most recently, his understanding of the law.
When Conway appeared on CNN's State of the Union Sunday, this was not a topic she wanted to discuss. "It's fascinating to me that CNN would go there, but it's very good for the whole world to have just witnessed ... that it's now fair game how people's spouses and significant others may differ with them," Conway told host Dana Bash.
Bash protested the question was not intended to be critical and had nothing to do with Conway's gender, only her husband's high profile as a conservative lawyer. "Oh, of course it was [critical]," Conway replied. "It was meant to harass and embarrass," she continued, labeling the exchange a "cross the Rubicon moment."
Watch a clip of the interview below. Bonnie Kristian
— Axios (@axios) April 22, 2018
Leaving or attempting to change the nuclear deal will undermine U.S. diplomacy, Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, warned in a press conference in New York Saturday.
"That's a very dangerous message to send to people of Iran but also to the people of the world," he said, "that you should never come to an agreement with the United States, because at the end of the day the operating principle of the United States is, 'What's mine is mine; what's yours is negotiable.'"
Zarif made similar comments in a CBS interview Sunday, arguing that exiting the deal "will lead to U.S. isolation in the international community" because it will show "the United States is not a reliable partner," and that "the length or the duration of any agreement would depend on the duration of the presidency."
President Trump faces a May 12 deadline to decide whether to maintain the agreement. Watch the full CBS interview below. Bonnie Kristian
Four people were killed and four others injured when a gunman dressed only in a coat opened fire around 3:30 a.m. local time at a Waffle House near Nashville. The shooting suspect has been identified as Travis Reinking, 29, of Illinois. A Waffle House patron, James Shaw Jr., wrestled the gun away from the attacker, who left his coat and fled the crime scene nude.
BREAKING: Travis Reinking, 29, of Morton, IL, is person of interest in Waffle House shooting. Vehicle the gunman arrived in is registered to him. Gunman last seen walking south on Murfreesboro Pike. He shed is coat and is nude. See Reinking? Pls call 615-862-8600 immediately. pic.twitter.com/duoWCo5fC0
— Metro Nashville PD (@MNPDNashville) April 22, 2018
"If you see a nude guy walking around, call the police immediately," said Metropolitan Nashville Police Department representative Don Aaron. "We believe he may be the suspect in this." A man dressed only in pants and fitting Reinking's description was seen later Sunday morning in a wooded area within a mile of the Waffle House but was not apprehended at that time. A manhunt is ongoing as of midday Sunday.
This is a breaking news story that will be updated as more details become available. Bonnie Kristian