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
The Bank of England apparently needs a refresher on how to keep a classified project…classified.
An editor for The Guardian received an email on Friday, accidentally forwarded by the Bank's head of press, which details plans to research the financial repercussions of a British exit from the European Union. Nicknamed Project Bookend, the not-so-secret work was meant to be carried out by just a few senior officials, and examine how a "Brexit" would affect the country's export's and major cities' economies.
The email noted that any questions from the press should be answered by saying that "there is a lot going on in Europe in the next couple of months…that would be of concern to the Bank."
A note to the Bank's staff on the project: Take a good, long look at the "CC" field before you send any of Project Bookend's results. Also, consider a better name than Project Bookend. Sarah Eberspacher
Irish voters overwhelmingly said "yes" to same-sex marriage on Saturday, with 62.1 percent in support of amending the constitution to legalize gay marriage, The Associated Press reports.
The results make Ireland the first nation in the world to legalize gay marriage with a popular vote. John Lyons, one of just four openly gay members of the country's 166-member parliament, credited young voters with shifting Ireland's historically conservative constitution in a more liberal direction.
"This says something about modern Ireland," Lyons said. "Let's never underestimate the electorate or what they think." Sarah Eberspacher
"If nobody sees it, it didn't happen."
Such is the advice Whitey Bulger gives his small son in the new trailer for Black Mass, a film promising to peel back the layers on "the most feared, the most wanted, the most notorious gangster in U.S. history." Johnny Depp stars as Bulger, who was arrested in 2011 at age 84 after more than a decade on the run. He was sentenced to two life sentences in 2013, for a string of murders and extortion and money-laundering schemes throughout the 1970s and '80s. Some of the families of Bulger's victims are unhappy with Hollywood's take on the criminal; one told Boston's CBS affiliate the trailer glamorizes Bulger's actions.
Watch Depp's take on Bulger in the new trailer, below. —Sarah Eberspacher
It's a star-eat-star universe out there.
A group of astronomers published a new study with the Royal Astronomical Society this week in which they hypothesize that a star nicknamed "Nasty 1" is being subjected to "sloppy stellar cannibalism" by a second star buried in its hydrogen-dominated outer layers, NBC News reports.
Nasty 1 is a Wolf-Rayet, a huge type of star that begins its life with nearly 20 times the sun's mass. But those outer layers eventually disappear, leaving the star's core susceptible to space. So astronomers using NASA's Hubble Space Telescope were surprised to observe a unique gas disk nearly three trillion miles wide encompassing Nasty 1. The discovery is leading scientists to think a second Wolf-Rayet star located within that disk is causing a "mass-transfer process."
The study's authors say they hope to learn more about the process by "catching binary stars in this short-lived phase." Sarah Eberspacher
Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo was found not guilty on two counts of felony voluntary manslaughter on Saturday, The Washington Post reports.
He is the first of six officers to be prosecuted for their roles in the November 2012 fatal shootings of Timothy Russell, 43, and Malissa Williams, 30, both of whom were unarmed at the time of their deaths. Russell and Williams led 62 police vehicles on a chase after the Chevy Malibu Russell was driving backfired in front of police headquarters, which officers mistook for gunfire.
When Russell finally stopped his car in East Cleveland, 13 police officers, including Brelo, shot at least 137 rounds into the vehicle. Russell was shot 23 times; Williams was shot 24 times. Sarah Eberspacher
Two U.S. officials speaking anonymously with The Guardian on Friday said Iran has contributed troops to the Iraqi ground force operations against ISIS.
The U.S. military has previously stated that Iran's involvement would not be opposed, so long as its troops remain under the command of Iraqi government-led forces. Still, a U.S. statement released Friday detailing recent operations against ISIS made no mention of Iran's involvement.
The U.S. and its allies have staged a series of offensives over the past few days, in a bid to retake control of the Beiji refinery compound. U.S.-led airstrikes have also targeted the city of Ramadi, which was overtaken by ISIS earlier this week. Sarah Eberspacher
A gunfight between federal forces and suspected cartel members in the western Mexico state of Michoacán left at least 42 people dead on Friday night, government officials told Reuters.
Most of those killed were suspected gang members; while federal officials did not name the cartel involved, Michoacán's Governor Salvador Jara told a news station that the criminals were likely from the Jalisco New Generation cartel, which specializes in producing and trafficking methamphetamine to the U.S. from the region.
The Wall Street Journal reports that New Generation has orchestrated several police killings over the past few months, most notably on May 1, when its gang members targeted an army helicopter, while also setting fire to banks, gas stations, and cars in Guadalajara. Sarah Eberspacher