Smart takes
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]

Iran and the bomb
11:51 a.m. ET
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday assailed the emerging details of a nuclear agreement intended to curb Iran's nuclear program.

"This agreement, as it appears, confirms all of our concerns and even more so," he said.

The U.S. and Iran have three days left before the deadline to reach a framework deal.

This just in
11:21 a.m. ET
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Arab leaders on Sunday announced a tentative agreement to create a joint military force to combat violence and extremism in the region.

"We recognize the clear challenges in the Arab world and the need to take measures to combat them," Nabil al Araby, chairman of the Arab League, said on the final day of the group's summit in Egypt.

The announcement came days after a Saudi-led coalition began launching airstrikes in Yemen against the Houthi rebels who have overrun the country and forced President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi to flee.

Developing story
10:27 a.m. ET
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Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R) said Saturday his state would move to "clarify" the intent of a controversial so-called religious freedom law that critics contend will allow businesses to discriminate against gays.

"I support religious liberty, and I support this law," Pence told the Indianapolis Star. "But we are in discussions with legislative leaders this weekend to see if there's a way to clarify the intent of the law."

The law, which will go into effect in July, bars the state from enacting legislation that could "substantially burden" the ability of people and businesses to practice their religious beliefs. Several high-profile businesses and figures have expressed concern over the law, or threatened to boycott the state.

Developing story
8:54 a.m. ET
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Andreas Lubitz, the co-pilot believed to have deliberately crashed a Germanwings airliner last week, sought treatment for a vision problem that could have been psychosomatic and impacted his ability to fly, according to investigators. In addition, investigators on Saturday revealed they found antidepressants while searching Lubitz's home earlier in the week, though it was not clear whether the medication factored into the crash.

Also this weekend, a woman who identified herself as an ex-girlfriend of Lubitz told a German newspaper that the 27-year-old co-pilot once vowed to do something so dramatic that "everyone will know my name and remember."

March Madness
7:47 a.m. ET
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The Kentucky Wildcats are back in the Final Four for a second straight year after holding off Notre Dame's upset bid on Saturday.

The undefeated Wildcats did not miss a shot in the final 12 minutes of the game, and then watched as a potential game-winning desperation three sailed over the rim. They now sit just two games away from a perfect season.

Also Saturday, the Wisconsin Badgers punched their ticket to the Final Four with a convincing win over Arizona. On Sunday, Michigan State and Louisville will meet and Duke will take on Gonzaga to determine the final two teams in the national semifinal round.

Germanwings Crash
March 28, 2015
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A spokesman for Lufthansa, Germanwings' parent company, told NBC News on Saturday that the airline will distribute initial payments to families of up to $54,450 per victim in the tragic Tuesday crash of Flight 9525.

"This is to offer the families immediate support to help them in this major change in life," Boris Ogursky said. "They shouldn't have to face a financial problem, and they need not worry about paying it back."

Family members have been flying into France from more than a dozen countries; Lufthansa is also covering transportation and living accommodations for those affected. German investigators believe co-pilot Andreas Lubitz intentionally crashed the Germanwings plane into the French Alps on Tuesday, killing all 150 people on board. He appears to have hidden the fact that he had been receiving psychiatric treatment for more than a year from the airline; investigators searching his home found a ripped-up doctor's note authorizing Lubitz to take time off from work due to an illness.

Foreign affairs
March 28, 2015
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Yemeni President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi directly blamed the Islamic Republic on Saturday for his country's current chaos, calling the Shiite rebels who have forced him to flee Yemen "puppets of Iran," The Associated Press reports

"You have destroyed Yemen with your political adolescence and by manufacturing domestic and regional crises," Hadi said, speaking directly to the rebels and their backers.

Hadi fled the country and made his way to Saudi Arabia earlier this week, after the rebels, known as Houthis, pushed farther toward the southern Yemen city of Aden, where he had been staying. An Arab summit on Saturday addressed the Houthi advances, with one Gulf diplomat warning that Saudi-led airstrikes in Yemen could continue for months. And while other leaders did not mention Iran by name, they criticized the Shiite power indirectly, which they claim is supporting the Houthi rebels in their advances on the Sunni nation.

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