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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

3:04 p.m. ET

And you thought American politics were the wild west. Meet Daniel Delomez, the mayor of the town of Annezin, in northern France. Delomez is so mad that 38-percent of his local electorate voted for far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in Sunday's election that he says he might step down, he told French publication L'Avenir de l'Artois.

"It is catastrophic," Delomez said. "It's possible that I will step down as I do not want to dedicate my life to assholes."

Delomez belongs to the Socialist Party; far-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon received the second highest amount of votes in Annezin, after Le Pen. Le Pen will face centrist candidate Emmanuel Macron in a two-way run-off election in May.

"Well done," one person applauded Delomez, as reported by The Independent. "He makes me feel better about humanity." Jeva Lange

2:43 p.m. ET
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The United States embassy in the U.K. is apparently promoting President Trump's "winter White House" on its official webpage, sparking renewed concerns about Trump's potential conflicts of interest. "Trump is not the first president to have access to Mar-a-Lago as a Florida retreat, but he is the first one to use it," reads the article, which was originally published on ShareAmerica, the Department of State's "platform for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society."

"By visiting this 'winter White House,' Trump is belatedly fulfilling the dream of Mar-a-Lago's original owner and designer," the article goes on, claiming its builder, Marjorie Merriweather Post, "willed the estate to the U.S. government, intending it to be used as a winter White House for the U.S. president to entertain visiting foreign dignitaries."

Hillary Clinton's former national spokesman, Josh Schwerin, criticized the webpage on Twitter: "The State Department is spending money to promote Mar-a-Lago," he tweeted. "Can we really continue to ask a coal miner in [West Virginia] or a single mom in Detroit to pay for promoting Mar-a-Lago?"

The Mar-a-Lago club's initiation fee doubled to $200,000 after Trump was elected, and Trump's frequent visits have been criticized as a potential conflict of interest by many observers. "Trump has an incentive to host an event at Mar-a-Lago (personal financial gain) that runs directly counter to what would be best for the country's security (hosting the event at the White House or an otherwise secure location)," writes The Atlantic. "Not only that, part of the appeal of Mar-a-Lago is that guests will have a front-row ticket to see Trump at work."

Jeva Lange

2:00 p.m. ET
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Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced at Monday's White House Press briefing that the U.S. has issued new economic sanctions against Syria in response to the deadly chemical attack there earlier this month. The sanctions will be imposed on 271 individuals who work for the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, the Syrian government agency that is believed to be responsible for developing chemical weapons.

Many of the individuals facing sanctions are "experts in chemistry and related fields" or people who have worked "in support of the center's 'chemical weapons program' since at least 2012, or both," Reuters reported. "We intend to hold the Assad regime accountable for its unacceptable behavior," Mnuchin said, noting the new sanctions send a "strong message."

The April 4 attack, which the Trump administration has blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, killed nearly 100 people, including children. The U.S. responded days later with a missile strike. Becca Stanek

1:59 p.m. ET
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In the beginning, there was Hollywood. Long before Stephen Bannon ever joined President Trump in the White House as chief strategist, the conservative firebrand navigated the glitz and glam of Southern California no less conspiratorially than he did his later tenure at the helm of Breitbart.

Bannon's films weren't exactly Finding Dory; think more along the lines of documentaries about eugenics, Hitler, and clones. But in 2005, he seemed "emblematic of a new wave in Hollywood, a group that intends to clean those media pipes with pictures that promote godliness, Pax Americana, and its own view of family values," The New York Times' James Ulmer wrote in a profile of Bannon.

Looking back at those conversations now, though, Ulmer admitted to The New Yorker that Bannon was a little strange:

In the Times article, Ulmer said that Bannon had told him, "We're the peasants with the pitchforks storming the lord's manor." Ulmer recalled, "He was always making these grand, hyperbolic analogies between good and evil, the culture of life versus the scourge of death that, in his view, Hollywood had become. Hollywood was the great Satan."

Ulmer met with Bannon at his Santa Monica office, where Bannon had written the names of some recent movie releases on a whiteboard. Ulmer reported that Bannon had said, "On Ash Wednesday, The Passion of the Christ is released theatrically, and on Sunday, Lord of the Rings — a great Christian allegory — wins 11 Academy Awards. So here you have Sodom and Gomorrah bowing to the great Christian God." Ulmer recalled, "I was watching him draw all these configurations and connecting lines about the Beast and Satan, and half of my brain was saying, 'This guy's a comic stitch,' and the other, 'He's really off the deep end.'" [The New Yorker]

Read the full report of Bannon's time in Hollywood at The New Yorker. Jeva Lange

1:47 p.m. ET
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The State Department has named former Fox News Channel anchor Heather Nauert as its spokeswoman, filling a position that had been left vacant for nearly 100 days, The Associated Press reports. Mark Toner, the department's deputy spokesman under former President Barack Obama, had previously filled the role on an acting basis.

The State Department stopped its sporadic on-camera press briefings in late March, with officials saying Secretary of State Rex Tillerson would resume the briefings once the department hired a permanent spokesperson. It is unclear when Nauert, a Fox & Friends alumna, will restart briefings. The State Department has been criticized since President Trump took office for its inaccessibility. Jeva Lange

1:36 p.m. ET

At the University of Chicago on Monday, former President Barack Obama offered his first public remarks since leaving office in January. Obama recalled his past as a community organizer in Chicago, and said his "next job" will be to help "prepare the next generation of leadership to take up the baton."

Obama was at the school to serve as a moderator for a civic engagement discussion panel featuring six Chicago-area students, and he questioned the students about how the country can tackle "the barriers discouraging young people from a life of service." While he avoided mentioning President Trump in his remarks, Obama did begin by joking: "What's been going on while I've been gone?"

Catch a snippet of Obama's remarks below. Becca Stanek

1:33 p.m. ET
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A Catholic college in Kansas is renaming its yoga classes to avoid promoting "eastern mysticism." Benedictine College said alumni and faculty had complained that yoga is a Hindu spiritual practice not in keeping with Catholic teaching. The classes will be rebranded "lifestyle fitness," but will be taught the same way. "We're changing the name," a spokesman said. The Week Staff

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