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
It's 2015 and most of us have long been tired of checking our voicemail — what kind of monster even leaves one instead of sending a text, anyway? Good thing Apple employees are apparently testing a major upgrade to Siri that would let her field your calls and transcribe your messages, unnamed sources told Business Insider on Monday.
The new iCloud Voicemail system could mean Apple does away with the cell phone carrier's traditional voicemail system. Apple's system reportedly may even be able to provide the caller with information about why you can't pick up the phone (you're too busy watching Netflix, obviously).
Apple Insider reports the company first filed a patent for such a voicemail system back in 2012, and Business Insider says the new feature could be unveiled as early as 2016, as part of iOS 10. Julie Kliegman
Leaked data from the results of 12,000 blood tests taken between 2001 and 2012 from 5,000 athletes allegedly reveal the "extraordinary extent of cheating" occurring at some of the world's top sporting events, according to a report released by The Sunday Times and the German broadcaster ARD/WDR. The Sunday Times and ARD/WRD allegedly obtained access to the files belonging to the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) "without consent," and proceeded to use two of the world's "foremost anti-doping experts" to analyze the data, revealing some potentially shocking findings.
The experts say at least one in seven athletes in the files had blood test results that were "highly suggestive of doping or at least very abnormal." Doping was found to be particularly prevalent among endurance athletes. The BBC reports that "a third of medals (146, including 55 golds) in endurance events at the Olympics and World Championships between 2001 and 2012 were won by athletes who have recorded suspicious tests."
The World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) is creating an independent commission to further investigate these claims. Since the information was leaked, the International Olympic Committee announced it would punish any athletes found guilty of doping in WADA's investigation. Becca Stanek
The ricotta was not really ricotta, if you catch my drift.
The BBC reports that 11 men were arrested in Italy for their connections to the fugitive head of the Sicilian mafia, Matteo Messina Denaro. Denaro, who has been on the run since 1993 and is the successor of two jailed godfathers, once boasted he could "fill a cemetery" with his victims.
As much as this sounds like a scene from The Godfather, one detail was, well, less Hollywood-ready than the others: The mafia boss reportedly communicated with his henchmen using sheep-related codes. By leaving scraps of paper on a farm in western Sicily, Denaro transmitted messages to his followers such as, "the sheep need shearing," or "the hay is ready," or "I've put the ricotta cheese aside for you, will you come by later?"
The BBC reports that "officers do not believe that the alleged criminals were really discussing agricultural matters." Jeva Lange
Triple Crown winner American Pharoah got plenty of cheers at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, as a crowd of more than 60,000 celebrated his latest triumph at the 2015 Haskell Invitational race. Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was on site to present the trophy in the winner's circle, received no such warm welcome.
The loudest boo I've ever heard in my life was for Chris Christie at the 2015 Haskell
— Carly Kaiser (@carlykaiser) August 2, 2015
As Christie came into view, he was met with long, loud booing from the tens of thousands of New Jerseyans in the audience. Booing subsided as others took the mic, only to resume once Christie's name was brought up again.
Darren Wilson, the former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man in August 2014, believes systemic racism is a thing of the past. Wilson, who has been cleared of wrongdoing in Michael Brown's death, gave The New Yorker a rare interview in a profile published Monday:
I am really simple in the way that I look at life. What happened to my great-grandfather is not happening to me. I can’t base my actions off what happened to him. We can’t fix in 30 minutes what happened 30 years ago. We have to fix what’s happening now. That’s my job as a police officer. I’m not going to delve into people’s life-long history and figure out why they’re feeling a certain way, in a certain moment. [The New Yorker]
Wilson also admitted that he hasn't read the Justice Department's report on systemic racism in the Ferguson police department because he doesn't want to "keep living in the past."
Another striking detail in The New Yorker profile is that Mike McCarthy, a field-training officer who helped guide Wilson in a previous job, conceded that the escalation of Wilson's confrontation with Brown probably could've been avoided. Check out the whole profile here. Julie Kliegman
As the investigation into the mysterious circumstances surrounding Sandra Bland's death in a Texas jail cell continues, a Department of Justice report (PDF) on jail deaths in America provides shocking broader context: Some 73 percent (698 out of 958 total deaths in 2012) of prisoners who die in jail have not been convicted of anything.
Exorbitant bail rates for relatively minor crimes, an issue brought into sharp relief by the 2015 suicide of Kalief Browder, is a primary reason for often lengthy pre-trial detentions during which these deaths occurred. Deaths were most common among older inmates, particularly in the 45-54 age group, and 29 percent of people who died in jail were black, more than twice the national population ratio of African-Americans.
Despite suggesting the vast majority of Mexican immigrants are drug dealers and rapists in a June campaign kickoff speech, Donald Trump has remained confident Latinos will back his bid for the Republican nomination.
"I think I will win the Hispanic vote," Trump told ABC's Jonathan Karl on Sunday. "And if you see the recent polls that came out, Jon, you'll see that because I'm leading in the Hispanic vote."
That turned out to be awkward timing for Trump. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Univision poll released Monday shows 75 percent of Latinos view him unfavorably, and only 13 percent think positively of the billionaire. More than half called his June comments offensive and racist.