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March 11, 2014
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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

1:37 p.m. ET
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Conservative provocateur Ann Coulter agreed to participate in actor Rob Lowe's Comedy Central roast Saturday night to promote her new book (a campaign tract entitled, In Trump We Trust: E Pluribus Awesome!). That was a bad call.

Though the other celebrity roasters took plenty of shots at Lowe himself, Coulter was the butt of many of the evening's harshest jokes. Here are a few of the milder ones:

Pete Davidson: "If you are here, Ann, who is scaring the crows away from our crops?"

Peyton Manning: "I’m not the only athlete up here. As you know, earlier this year, Ann Coulter won the Kentucky Derby."

Nikki Glaser: "The only person you will ever make happy is the Mexican who digs your grave."

Jewel: "I do want to say as a feminist that I can’t support everything that’s been said tonight. But as someone who hates Ann Coulter, I’m delighted." [All via Variety]

You can read some of the more NSFW insults here, or just wait until the roast airs on Labor Day. Bonnie Kristian

12:44 p.m. ET
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Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus on Sunday declined to attempt explaining where his party's nominee stands on immigration. Asked by NBC's Chuck Todd whether Donald Trump is undergoing something of an evolution on the topic, Priebus deferred, promising that Trump himself would "be giving prepared remarks on this issue" sometime soon.

"I don't speak for Donald Trump," Priebus continued. "Here’s what I know: [Trump's] position is going to be tough. His position is going to be fair, but his position is going to be humane." As Todd pressed for more details, Priebus seemed unsure as to whether Trump would really attempt to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants — though he was willing to state with certainty that Trump would work to build a border wall (which, for the record, already mostly exists).

While Trump has long made strict border security a central issue of his campaign, this week he said "there could certainly be a softening because we're not looking to hurt people." Trump then reversed himself one day later, suggesting he is instead engaged in a "hardening" of his immigration views. When these pivots led to confusion and accusations of flip-flopping, Trump blamed the media for "miss[ing] the whole point" and taking his words out of context. Bonnie Kristian

12:04 p.m. ET
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Acting Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile said Sunday she doesn't see cause for concern in emails showing Clinton Foundation staff coordinating State Department access for their donors during Hillary Clinton's tenure as secretary of state.

"The way I look at it, I've been a government official," Brazile said in an interview on ABC's This Week. "So, you know, this notion that, somehow or another, someone who is a supporter, someone who is a donor, somebody who's an activist, saying 'I want access, I want to come into a room and I want to meet people' — we often criminalize behavior that is normal. I don’t see what the smoke is."

Brazile may have been referencing remarks from Clinton herself earlier this week, when the candidate told Anderson Cooper "there's a lot of smoke, and there's no fire" where accusations of a corrupt, pay-to-play relationship between the Clinton Foundation and State are concerned. Watch Brazile's comments below. Bonnie Kristian

11:33 a.m. ET
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A pair of barrel bombs killed at least 16 people in Aleppo, Syria, on Saturday as they attended a funeral for children killed by a previous bombing in the same neighborhood earlier this week. Another estimate puts the death toll as high as 24, with dozens more injured.

A video believed to show the aftermath of the attack sees a mother speaking to her 12-year-old child, who was killed in the strike. "Hassan, it's your mom," she says, but cannot wake him. "My sons, your brother is dead, your brother is dead."

The bombs were dropped by a helicopter, observers said, and hit the rebel-controlled area of Bab al-Nayrab. Barrel bombs are repurposed oil drums filled with scraps and explosives, and they are criticized by human rights advocates for their indiscriminate killing, especially in residential contexts. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied using such devices, but the activist group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says regime helicopters have dropped more than 28,000 barrel bombs. Bonnie Kristian

10:52 a.m. ET
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In a turn of events that would be bizarre in any other election year, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton are both attempting to create a link in voters' minds between their opponent and the Ku Klux Klan.

Clinton brought up the KKK in her speech on Thursday, in which she accused Trump of handing a "national megaphone" to the "paranoid fringe in our politics." The same day, her campaign released an online ad in which self-proclaimed Klan members and white supremacists explained their enthusiasm for Trump. And on Friday, Clinton's running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine, reiterated the connection by declaring, "Ku Klux Klan values, David Duke values, Donald Trump values are not American values."

Trump wasted no time returning the accusation. On Saturday, he retweeted a post from Lynette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson, two African-American sisters who support his campaign, referencing Clinton's ties to the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.). Byrd was a member of the KKK in the 1940s and filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964, though for the bulk of his political career he vehemently repudiated his past Klan involvement. When he died in 2010, Clinton mourned Byrd as "a true American original, my friend and mentor."

Hardaway and Richardson told CNN they called attention to Byrd's history because "Donald J. Trump can't help who embraces his campaign but Hillary Clinton could've helped who she embraced." CNN reports neither campaign offered comment. Bonnie Kristian

10:01 a.m. ET
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After more than half a century of conflict, the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) will announce a ceasefire Sunday to take effect at midnight local time. The two sides signed a historic peace agreement after negotiations in Havana, Cuba, on Wednesday, an accord Colombian voters will be able to approve or reject in an October referendum.

Colombians reacted to the news of peace with a mixture of hope and skepticism. "It is the opportunity to end a cycle of this terrible violence," said musician Julio Correal, who has worked on a state-led project to promote a cessation of hostilities. "It will not be easy — it has never been easy — but it is easier than a war scenario."

The 52 years of fighting between FARC and the government in Bogotá have claimed an estimated 260,000 lives and caused millions more to leave their homes. Bonnie Kristian

8:41 a.m. ET
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Supported by Turkish airstrikes, Syrian rebels seized territory from Kurdish-led fighters in northern Syria on Sunday. The attacks killed at least 35 people, most of them civilians in the villages that changed hands.

This offensive is part of a new escalation of Turkish involvement in neighboring Syria's conflict, intervention which includes fighting both the Islamic State and the Kurds. This weekend's airstrikes were the first time Turkish forces have targeted Kurdish militias in Syria, though Turkey's government has fought a Kurdish insurgency within its own borders for some time.

This dual opposition complicates matters for the United States, as Turkey is a NATO ally helping in the war on ISIS, and some anti-ISIS Syrian rebels are backed by the CIA — but the Kurdish forces Turkey is killing also oppose ISIS and are funded, armed, and trained by the Pentagon. Bonnie Kristian

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