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
Hairstylist says 'entitled' Marla Maples expected free Inauguration Day services in exchange for 'exposure'
Will tweets be the new currency under Donald Trump?
Tricia Kelly, a Washington, D.C., hairstylist, says she was shocked when an "entitled" Marla Maples, Trump's second ex-wife, suggested that instead of paying Kelly to do her hair on Inauguration Day, she would post about it on social media, giving her "exposure." When Maples' assistant passed the message along, Kelly was "stunned," she told The Washington Post. "I told them... I work for a fee, not for free."
A client had asked Kelly if she was interested in working with Maples and her daughter, Tiffany Trump, on Inauguration Day. After telling Maples' assistant she would charge $150 for travel plus the cost of services, "I was told they had a $300 budget for both of them for hair and makeup," Kelly said. Once she agreed to accept $200, the "exposure" word was floated around. Kelly says she was insulted. "There are people who make far less than they do who pay full price," she said. "People on staff — the incoming White House and the outgoing one — pay full price. It seemed like they were trying to see how much they could get for free based on their names."
Kelly, who has prominent clients from both sides of the aisle, said she deliberately stays nonpartisan and would never want it to look like she was favoring anyone (she said she came forward to share this story only because she was so outraged by the request). She also said a nasty message she received from the client who set her up with Maples offers some insight into why the daughter of an alleged billionaire has to split $300 with her mom for hair and makeup: The client allegedly said Maples is worried about her finances, now that Tiffany is out of college and she no longer receives child support from Trump, and "she is used to a certain lifestyle and you don't understand that." Catherine Garcia
During her confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) asked Donald Trump's choice to lead the Department of Education, Betsy DeVos, if she was sitting in front of him due to the hefty contributions she has made to the GOP.
DeVos, whose father founded a manufacturing company that came to be worth more than $1 billion and whose father-in-law co-founded Amway, wasn't able to recall how much money her family has contributed to the Republican Party over time, but said it was "possible" they donated $200 million. "I don't mean to be rude, but do you think if you were not a multibillionaire, if your family has not made hundreds of millions of dollars of contributions to the Republican Party, you would be here today?" Sanders asked. DeVos, who has no professional experience working in public schools, has never held public office, and has spent decades lobbying for taxpayer-funded vouchers for private and religious schools, responded by saying she worked "very hard on behalf of parents and children for the past almost 30 years, to be a voice for parents and voice for students and to empower parents to make decisions on behalf of their children, primarily low-income children."
Sanders then pressed DeVos on whether she would work with him on making public colleges and universities tuition-free. "I think that's a really interesting idea, and it's really great to consider and think about, but we also need to consider the fact there's nothing in life that's truly free, somebody's going to pay for it," she said. Sanders said she's correct, and proposals to lower tax breaks for billionaires would help pay for the plan. "We can work together and work hard on being sure college or higher education in some form is affordable for all young people who want to pursue it," DeVos responded.Catherine Garcia
Vice President Joe Biden says he's torn when it comes to the presidential election — he still questions his decision not to run and regrets not going with a different message while campaigning for Hillary Clinton.
In a series of interviews with Jonathan Alter, published in The New York Times Magazine on Tuesday, Biden said he wished "to hell" he'd kept repeating the positive messages from his Democratic National Convention speech in July and said more about Clinton's plan for the middle class, as opposed to focusing so much on Donald Trump's lack of qualifications for office. He's also still coming to grips with not running for president himself — before his son, Beau Biden, died of brain cancer in 2014, he encouraged his father to run, but the vice president was told by several friends, including President Obama, that he wasn't ready emotionally. Biden concedes that he was "more broken" over his son's death than he thought he was at the time. "I don't know what I'd do if I was in a debate and someone said, 'You're doing this because of your son,'" he said. "I might have walked over and kicked his ass."
On Trump, Biden says the president-elect reminds him of the bullies from his childhood who mocked him for having a stutter, and wherever he goes, he's asked if "American leadership" is "going to continue." Biden admitted he's worried about what might happen should Trump be all bluster and no action when it comes to matters of global importance — if Trump "just stays behind the lines — hands off — it could be very ugly. Very, very ugly," he said, adding: "It's like a Rubik's Cube trying to figure this guy out. We have no freakin' idea what he's gonna do." Read more about Biden's thoughts on Trump, how he became close friends with Obama, and the advice he received as a freshman senator that helps him while working with Republicans, at The New York Times Magazine. Catherine Garcia
More than 100 refugees and aid workers were killed and more than 200 wounded Tuesday when a Nigerian air force fighter jet on a mission against Boko Haram accidentally bombed a refugee camp, government officials said.
Maj. Gen. Lucky Irabor confirmed that "some" civilians were killed in the northeastern town of Rann, The Associated Press reports. In the military's fight against Boko Haram extremists, bombardments take place nearly every day in the area, and villagers have previously reported civilian casualties from airstrikes; it's believed this is the first time the Nigerian military has admitted it hit the wrong target. The general said he had information that Boko Haram insurgents were gathering in the area, and that's why he ordered the operation.
The International Committee for the Red Cross said six workers with the Nigerian Red Cross have died and 13 were wounded. "They were part of a team that had brought in desperately needed food for over 25,000 displaced persons," spokesman Jason Straziuso said in a statement. Dr. Jean-Clément Cabrol, the director of operations for Doctors without Borders, called the bombing "shocking and unacceptable." Catherine Garcia
Summer Zervos, a former contestant on The Apprentice who accused Donald Trump of making unwanted sexual advances during a 2007 business meeting, has filed a defamation lawsuit against Trump over statements he made in response to her allegations.
In October, Zervos alleged that Trump kissed her on the lips, groped her breast without consent, and pressed himself against her during the meeting. The suit, filed Tuesday, claims that Trump went on to publicly call Zervos a liar while on the campaign trail and say Zervos and the other women who have accused him of sexual harassment only want "10 minutes of fame." The suit also states that Trump knew his inflammatory comments would subject the women to "threats of violence, economic harm, and reputational damage."
Her attorney, Gloria Allred, said Zervos would be willing to dismiss the lawsuit without any monetary damages if Trump would agree to retract his remarks about her and admit the accusations she made against him were true. Trump's spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, told NBC News there is "no truth to this absurd story." Catherine Garcia
Esteban Santiago, the man charged in the Jan. 6 shooting at Florida's Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, claims he was inspired by the Islamic State, an FBI agent testified Tuesday at Santiago's bond hearing. The 26-year-old Iraq war veteran also told investigators he "chatted online with Islamic extremists" ahead of the shooting, which killed five people in the baggage claim area of the airport's Terminal 2, Reuters reported. It was not immediately clear whether Santiago was inspired by the terrorist group, or if he had connections to it; CNN noted ISIS has not claimed responsibility for the attack.
Santiago has been charged on three counts connected to the shooting, two of which carry the death penalty. Authorities said Santiago has "admitted to all of the facts with respect to the terrible and tragic events of Jan. 6."
Santiago is being held without bond. His next court appearance is slated for Jan. 30. Becca Stanek
On Tuesday, President Obama commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, the former army intelligence analyst convicted of leaking classified military documents and diplomatic cables to WikiLeaks. After nearly seven years in jail, Manning will be released in May 2017, long before her initial release date of May 2045; she was originally sentenced to 35 years, which The New York Times reported marked "the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction."
Many, including NSA leaker Edward Snowden, have urged Obama to commute Manning, who has twice tried to commit suicide and gone on a hunger strike to fight for gender reassignment surgery. At a press conference Friday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said that while Manning's leaks were "damaging to national security," they were not as "serious" and "dangerous" as those by Snowden, who has also applied for clemency. "Chelsea Manning is somebody who went through the military criminal justice process, was exposed to due process, was found guilty, was sentenced for her crimes, and she acknowledged wrongdoing," Earnest said. "Mr. Snowden fled into the arms of an adversary, and has sought refuge in a country that most recently made a concerted effort to undermine confidence in our democracy."
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange indicated last week that he would agree to be extradited to the U.S. if Obama granted Manning clemency. Assange, who has been hiding out in London at the Ecuadorian embassy, could face the death penalty in the U.S. because of WikiLeaks' role in releasing numerous classified documents. Becca Stanek