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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] Peter Weber

7:21 p.m. ET
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President-elect Donald Trump spoke with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday, in a move that critics say will surely infuriate the People's Republic of China. While the phone call between the U.S. president-elect and the Taiwanese president appeared to be mainly congratulatory, it broke over three decades of precedent; the last time leaders of the two countries spoke directly is believed to be 1979 and the U.S. doesn't formally recognize the Taiwanese government. China considers the island a breakaway province, and so the phone call is expected to create an uproar in Beijing.

"That's how wars start," Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) tweeted. Nico Lauricella

4:17 p.m. ET
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The Hamilton Mixtape dropped Friday and immediately rose to the top of the charts. The 23-track album sits at No. 1 on iTunes and is also the No. 1 paid album on Amazon. A homage to the Broadway hit Hamilton, the album features covers from artists like Alicia Keys, Sia, The Roots, and Busta Rhymes. Some tracks stay loyal to the cast album renditions, but The Atlantic noted "many do shift emphases in refreshing ways, confirming these songs' potential to live outside a narrative."

The album debuted Thursday night with a live performance at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, the home of Hamilton. Becca Stanek

1:24 p.m. ET
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President-elect Donald Trump has reportedly invited Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte — the man who told President Obama to "go to hell" and threatened to "break up" with America — for a meeting at the White House next year, Reuters reported Friday, citing an aide to Duterte. The Philippine president's special adviser Christopher Go said the invitation came during a "very engaging, animated" phone call between Trump and Duterte that lasted "just over seven minutes."

Duterte has already expressed enthusiasm about Trump's victory, and said he does not "want to quarrel anymore" now that Trump will be assuming office. Duterte's relationship with the U.S. has been rocky recently, after Obama suggested he would question Duterte's campaign against the drug trade that has left thousands dead. "Son of a b-tch, I will swear at you," Duterte responded, prompting Obama to cancel their meeting.

A "source" indicated last week to Reuters that Trump will approach his relationship with Duterte with a "clean slate." "He is perfectly capable of talking to Duterte in an open way without being wedded to previous policy failures," the individual told Reuters. "If anyone is going to be able to right the ship, it's someone with Mr. Trump's profile."

Even before news broke of Trump's conversation with Duterte, The New York Times reported that the president-elect's "freewheeling phone calls with foreign leaders" had "unnerved diplomats at home and abroad." So far, he has praised the president of Kazakhstan, who The Times described as "one of the world's most durable despots," expressed interest in visiting the "fantastic country" of Pakistan, and seemingly blown off the British prime minister. Becca Stanek

12:00 p.m. ET

The Indiana wind seems to have blown the cover on President-elect Donald Trump's secret to keeping his red ties perfectly in place. As Trump stepped off a plane Thursday to tour the Carrier plant in Indianapolis, a strong gust briefly upended Trump's signature hairdo and tie — revealing two pieces of strategically placed Scotch tape:

Apparently even men with sprawling business empires and a penchant for gold leaf can enjoy the simplicity of DIY fixes. Becca Stanek

11:22 a.m. ET
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Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette is putting the brakes on Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein's recount efforts. On Friday, Schuette announced he is filing a lawsuit to block Stein's "frivolous, expensive recount request" in the state. "It is inexcusable for Stein to put [Michigan voters] at risk of paying millions and potentially losing their voice in the [Electoral] College," Schuette tweeted, noting he had filed an "emergency motion" with Michigan's Supreme Court to "ensure a timely process."

Stein's efforts are also facing pushback in Wisconsin. The Associated Press reported Friday that Trump supporters have filed a federal lawsuit to halt Wisconsin's recount, which started on Thursday. The lawsuit argues that the recount "threatens the due process rights" of those who voted for Trump.

Stein announced last week she would raise money to fund recount efforts in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, after cybersecurity experts noted alleged irregularities in the states' results. No evidence of a hack has emerged. Becca Stanek

10:45 a.m. ET
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Accomack County Public Schools on Virginia's eastern shore have decided to at least temporarily pull Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from campus shelves after a parent of a biracial child complained about the novels' racial language.

"I keep hearing, 'This is a classic, this is a classic,'" the parent, Victoria Coombs, said at a school board meeting. "I understand this is a literature classic... But there [are so many] racial slurs in there and offensive wording that you can't get past that." Coombs argued it is "not right to put that in a book" or teach such a book to a child because to do so would be "validating that these words are acceptable."

While it is certainly true that both books include racial slurs, they do so to accurately represent the historical racism each work condemns. In Mockingbird, the main characters defend a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in the pre-Civil Rights South; and Huck Finn decides he'd rather risk hellfire than abandon his runaway slave friend.

Still, this is hardly the first time either work has been banned over accusations of racism. The Accomack school district will soon convene a meeting with a librarian to determine whether the ban should be permanent. Bonnie Kristian

10:22 a.m. ET
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In the fall of 2015 alone, some 67,442 state and federal prison inmates were kept in solitary confinement, defined as at least 22 hours per day locked alone in a cell. So finds a new report released this week by the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) and Yale Law School, which sought to fill longstanding data gaps on the use of solitary confinement in America today.

The study results show solitary rates vary widely by state. At the high end, Louisiana kept 14 percent of inmates in solitary for 15 days or more in the time period studied. Utah and Nebraska were the only other states to top 10 percent, while at the low end are states as geographically and demographically diverse as Mississippi and California, Connecticut and Hawaii.

The study also found race-based disparities in the solitary population, with most states seeing disproportionate representation of black men in solitary as compared to their share of the general prison population. Also noteworthy: Texas holds the dubious distinction of keeping the most inmates in solitary the longest, with more than 1,000 people isolated for a shocking six years or more.

Though solitary confinement use has declined in recent years thanks to evidence that it is inhumane and counterproductive, that 67,000 figure still provides just a partial tally. It only counts segregated inmates in state and federal prisons, excluding those in local jails as well as juvenile, military, and immigration detention centers. Bonnie Kristian

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