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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

7:47 p.m. ET

The New Jersey medical examiner has identified the victim in Thursday morning's train crash in Hoboken as Fabiola Bittar de Kroon, 34.

De Kroon was a resident of Hoboken and native of Brazil, who once worked as a lawyer there at the computer software company SAP, NBC New York reports. She recently moved to Hoboken with her family, and her young daughter was in day care at the time of the accident, which left at least 114 people injured. Officials said de Kroon was waiting on a platform when the New Jersey Transit train came careening into the terminal, and she was hit by falling debris. Catherine Garcia

7:16 p.m. ET
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Hillary Clinton says a Newsweek story about Donald Trump allegedly violating the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba shows he's "puts his personal and business interests ahead of the laws and values and policies of the United States of America."

While investigating the story, published Thursday, Newsweek interviewed former executives of Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts and looked at court filings and company records. They found that in 1998, Trump wanted to get into the Cuban market, and sent a consulting firm to Havana on its behalf to find any business opportunities. The company allegedly spent at least $68,000 in Cuba, without U.S. permission, and Newsweek says they made it appear as though the trip was connected to a Catholic charity. In 1999, Trump wrote in a Miami Herald column that he refused to do business in Cuba because "it would place me directly at odds with the longstanding U.S. policy of isolating Fidel Castro. I had a choice to make: huge profits or human rights. For me, it was a no-brainer."

Trump's campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, said on Thursday the money was never paid, giving the only statement so far from the Trump camp, the BBC reports. The Cuban-American vote in Florida is huge, and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who has endorsed Trump, told an ESPN/ABC podcast he hopes "the Trump campaign is going to come forward and answer some questions about this, because if what the article says is true — and I'm not saying that it is, we don't know with 100 percent certainty — I'd be deeply concerned about it." Catherine Garcia

5:40 p.m. ET

A New Jersey Transit commuter train crashed Thursday morning at a station in Hoboken, New Jersey. At least 114 people were injured, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) told CNN on Thursday afternoon, with many in critical condition. At least one person is confirmed dead.

"I got off my train on the way into work and as I was walking through the station, we could see that a train had come through the place where it's supposed to stop, all the way into the station — not into the waiting room but into the outdoor part," said Nancy Solomon of New York radio station WNYC. Photographs of the crash show significant damage to the station, including a partial collapse of the roof.

The crash happened at the height of the morning commute, around 8:45 a.m., though the number and severity of injuries is still unclear. Preliminary investigation suggests the incident was either accidental or caused by operator error. Full service is expected to resume for evening rush hour.

This post has been updated throughout. Jeva Lange

4:51 p.m. ET

There's a reason he won all those Tonys.

Sure, Broadway star Lin-Manuel Miranda can make theater sensations out of America's founding history or a dynamic three-day stint in a bustling New York City neighborhood — but that's kid stuff. No, the real talent comes out when you're tasked with making musical magic out of a single stump speech sentence:

Miranda is one of GQ's October 2016 cover men, and you can read the magazine's profile of him here. Kimberly Alters

2:39 p.m. ET
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Hillary Clinton held an early voting campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, on Thursday, focusing on her lifelong fight "for kids and families," which she said would be "the mission of my presidency."

Clinton and other Democrats are hoping to encourage voters to cast ballots early for fear that a lack of enthusiasm this election cycle could lead to lower voter turnout than occurred for President Obama's election, The Associated Press reports. Four in 10 Iowans voted early in 2012, and this year Democrats hope that number will be even higher, as more Republicans tend to turn up for the polls in November.

While early voting is now open in a handful of states, Iowa is the first battleground state to open voting. At this time, Donald Trump leads the state in the RealClearPolitics average, with 43 percent to Clinton's 38 percent in a four-way race. Jeva Lange

2:19 p.m. ET
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America's millionaire class is expanding rapidly. In just five years, the number of households whose investable assets totaled more than $1 million jumped 41.5 percent, from 4,797,879 millionaires in 2010 to 6,789,666 millionaires in 2015. Moreover, the growth spreads out across every level of the wealth pyramid, Barron's reports. For example, the number of households that crossed the $20 million mark soared a remarkable 64 percent in that time frame. And in a historical first, more than 1 million Americans can be considered penta millionaires, meaning their assets surpass $5 million total. Kelly Gonsalves

12:33 p.m. ET

Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf appeared before Congress on Thursday, for the second time since news broke that his bank opened up 2 million fake accounts without informing its customers. Stumpf faced the Senate Banking Committee last week, where he incurred the wrath of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who demanded he resign.

At Thursday's hearing before the House Financial Services Committee, Stumpf continued to face outrage from Democrats and Republicans alike, with Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) accusing Stumpf of running "a criminal enterprise":

Stumpf stressed he would cooperate with lawmakers: "I am fully accountable for all unethical sales practices in our retail banking business, and I am fully committed to fixing this issue," he said. "We will not stop working until we get this right." Jeva Lange

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