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
Donald Trump is backed into a corner in South Carolina, where he has been routinely booed by the debate audience for everything from insulting Jeb Bush to insinuating 9/11 was George W. Bush's fault. Perhaps as a result, when Ted Cruz turned his criticism on Trump, Trump came back swinging with a particular vengeance.
"You are the single biggest liar, you're probably worse than Jeb Bush," Trump said — a mighty insult in his book. Trump added that Cruz is a "nasty guy."
"This guy lied about Ben Carson…and he just continues," Trump went on.
However, Trump was met with what is becoming a familiar sound this Saturday: Boos. Watch below. Jeva Lange
— POLITICO (@politico) February 14, 2016
Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz are the only Cuban-Americans on the South Carolina Republican debate stage, and things got especially heated and personal when Cruz criticized a time Rubio went on Univision to speak in Spanish about his immigration policy.
When Rubio was given the chance to respond, he snapped, "I don't know how [Cruz] knows what I said on Univision because he doesn't speak Spanish."
Cruz countered by shouting in Spanish at Rubio. "We can do this in Spanish, if you want," he roughly said.
Some Spanish speakers took issue with Cruz's reply, however:
Spanish-speaking person here. Whatever gibberish Cruz uttered to Rubio wasn't Spanish. Gracias. #GOPDebate
— Alex Beech (@alexbeech) February 14, 2016
Anyone who heard Ted Cruz's gibberish and thought it was Spanish... Sorry you also you don't know Spanish.
— Aura Bogado (@aurabogado) February 14, 2016
Nevertheless, Rubio didn't take Cruz up on the challenge, continuing on in English — but it was a moment for the books. Watch below. Jeva Lange
— Huffington Post (@HuffingtonPost) February 14, 2016
Jeb Bush and Donald Trump locked horns for the second time in the South Carolina Republican debate when Trump took a swing at one of his favorite subjects of ridicule — the Bush family.
"I am sick and tired of him going after my family," Bush began in response, going on to say that, "While Donald Trump was building a reality TV show, my brother was building a security apparatus to keep us safe."
Trump interrupted, pointing out that 9/11 happened while George W. Bush was in office — and was greeted with a round of angry boos.
"He had the gall to go after my mother," Bush went on. "My mom is the strongest person I know."
But Trump, never one to cede the last word, quipped, "She should be running." Jeva Lange
After Jeb Bush explained his policy for going after ISIS at the GOP presidential debate in South Carolina Saturday night, Donald Trump ripped into the former Florida governor — and was met with ferocious boos from the audience. "Jeb is so wrong, Jeb is absolutely so wrong," Trump said of Bush's call to dispose of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, only to get the audience hissing.
Trump wasn't put off. "You know who that is? That's Jeb's special interest and lobby talking," he said, drawing his second round of boos.
"I only tell the truth, lobbyists," Trump replied. Jeva Lange
The opening questions of the CBS Republican debate naturally surrounded the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, with Donald Trump being the first up to bat. Responding to the question of appointing Justice Scalia's replacement, Trump said he believed Obama would pick a successor within the remaining 11 months of his presidency— and if Trump were in the president's shoes, he would do the same.
Nevertheless, Trump had some advice to those interested in protecting Scalia's legacy of conservatism: "Delay, delay, delay." Watch below. Jeva Lange
Trump on Scalia replacement: "Delay, delay, delay" pic.twitter.com/QYL34Uluu9
— Mashable News (@MashableNews) February 14, 2016
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who died Saturday at the age of 79, had a way with words. In court, those words weren't so much spoken as thundered. And in his memorable dissents or important majority decisions, those words could often be described as biting.
The Catholic, Italian-American justice, the longest-serving on the court, was passionate about his belief in the Constitution and his faith.
"He was a hysteric in cases he cared about most," legal scholar Cass Sunstein told NPR. The cases that fired him up ranged from same-sex marriage and prayer in public school, to the death penalty and ObamaCare.
Scalia so intensely disagreed with the court's 2015 decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act ruling that he voiced his colorful dissent aloud from the bench, with phrases like "jiggery-pokery," "quite absurd," "feeble arguments," and "pure applesauce."
Words were important to Scalia, both in his reading of the Constitution ("The Constitution that I interpret and apply is not living but dead, or as I prefer to call it, enduring.") and in his "carefully crafted" opinions, which will live on long after his death.
Following the unexpected death of conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia on Saturday, Republicans and Democrats immediately began fighting over who should select his replacement. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said in a statement that "this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president," while Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said President Obama "can and should send the Senate a nominee right away."
And McConnell delivers the hammer pic.twitter.com/rYWVwQrffh
— Sam Stein (@samsteinhp) February 13, 2016
— Mike Memoli (@mikememoli) February 13, 2016
Were Obama to nominate Scalia's replacement, it would dramatically refashion the ideological make-up of the court, with the reliably conservative Scalia almost certainly being replaced by a liberal like Obama's other two nominees, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor. Ben Frumin