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
Two tourists are planning to take a trip to the moon in 2018. SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced Monday that two private citizens have paid the company a "significant deposit" to be flown around the moon. The space exploration company did not name the travelers or specify how much they'd paid.
The trip is expected to be about a week long, and the mission will likely life off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at the same launch pad used for the Apollo program. The space travelers would not actually land on the moon; they'd just circle it and then head back to Earth.
But first, the hopeful travelers will have to prepare for their out-of-this-world trip. "We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year," SpaceX said in a statement. "Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow." Becca Stanek
President Trump wasn't impressed with the 2017 Academy Awards. In an interview Monday with Breitbart News, Trump said the awards show Sunday night was "a little sad," probably because stars spent too much time criticizing him. "It took away from the glamor of the Oscars," Trump said of the night's political commentary. "It didn't feel like a very glamorous evening. I've been to the Oscars. There was something very special missing, and then to end that way was sad."
Trump suggested the mix-up at the end — when La La Land was mistakenly awarded Best Picture, only for the award to be passed off minutes later to the rightful winner Moonlight — actually may have happened because everyone was paying so much attention to him. "I think they were focused so hard on politics that they didn't get the act together at the end," Trump said.
Trump was mentioned many times during the awards show. Oscars host Jimmy Kimmel repeatedly ribbed Trump throughout the evening, even tweeting at the president at one point, and Casey Affleck deemed Trump's policies "abhorrent" during his Best Actor acceptance speech. Other stars slammed the commander-in-chief without even saying his name, rallying support for immigrants in the face of Trump's travel ban and calling for tolerance and acceptance. However, the Best Picture mix-up more likely had something to do with presenters Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway being handed the wrong envelope. Becca Stanek
White House meals are subject to celebration and scrutiny, ranging from Eleanor Roosevelt's famously inedible kitchen to Michelle Obama's homegrown fares. But one month into President Trump's stay at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., first lady Melania Trump "has said little publicly about what she expects or wants from the cooking and entertaining staff," The New York Times reports.
"Without a hands-on first lady, they're just pumping out food and seeing what the reaction is," explained presidential food writer Adrian Miller.
While the responsibilities of running the kitchen traditionally fall on the first lady, Melania Trump is living at Trump Tower, in Manhattan, through the spring. As a former model, her culinary preferences include water and fruit, although her Slovenian relatives were farmers. George Ball of the Burpee seed company said he is offering Melania Trump Raka red onion seeds to showcase in her garden as her maternal grandfather created the hybrid variety.
But "usually, the food suffers when the first lady is uninterested," Miller said.
President Trump's culinary preferences are thought to include well-done steak with ketchup and an abundance of fast food. "I don't expect to see President Trump expounding the value of spinach and broccoli," said Sam Kass, former President Barack Obama's senior policy adviser for nutrition. Jeva Lange
In an interview published Monday morning, Planned Parenthood's president Cecile Richards admitted to BuzzFeed News that she is uncertain what lies ahead for the organization under the Trump administration. "The truth is, no one really knows what will make a difference anymore," Richards said, after a draft of the House Republican proposal to repeal ObamaCare leaked last week that called for a complete defunding of Planned Parenthood.
BuzzFeed News reports that under the leaked proposal, the low-income women who make up roughly 60 percent of Planned Parenthood's 2.5 million patients would no longer be able to receive non-abortion health care. The organization currently relies on more than $500 million in federal funding to provide services nationwide including STI tests, birth control, and cancer screenings to women in need. While Richards said her organization won't go down without a fight, she told BuzzFeed News that "there's no way to overstate what a health-care crisis this would be for women" if Planned Parenthood were to lose that funding.
Since the election, protests like last month's Women's March have sprung up all across the globe in support of reproductive rights and Planned Parenthood in particular. Richards said she and her team are on a quest to "fill in a picture for people" about the other services the organization provides aside from abortion, including running an ad featuring a woman relaying how a visit to Planned Parenthood convinced her not to undergo the procedure. Federal funds do not pay for abortion services.
Asked whether the record-breaking number of donations to Planned Parenthood since Donald Trump won the presidential election — including tens of thousands made in Vice President Mike Pence's name — could replace federal funding should Congress pull the plug, Richards said "the answer to that is no. Not to take care of 2.5 million patients."
At least 16 Jewish community centers and day schools across the U.S. reported receiving bomb threats Monday, the latest in a recent uptick of anti-Semitic acts. The threats extended across 11 states, with threats confirmed in Maryland, Indiana, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Michigan, and Alabama, NBC News reported.
Updated list of bomb threats to Jewish Community Centers & day schools today — at least 16 in all. These are places where kids play & learn. pic.twitter.com/iYv9BLgBgc
— Bradd Jaffy (@BraddJaffy) February 27, 2017
The JCC Association of North America said in a statement that "many affected institutions have already been declared clear and have returned to regular operations."
The latest wave of threats comes just a day after dozens of headstones at a Jewish cemetery in Philadelphia were toppled, the second time a Jewish cemetery has been vandalized this month. Since the beginning of 2017, at least 80 anti-Semitic threats have been reported in Canada and the U.S.
The FBI and the Department of Justice have launched investigations, and President Trump has promised this "horrible" anti-Semitism is "going to stop." But the JCC Association of North America noted "actions speak louder than words." "Members of our community must see swift and concerted action from federal officials to identify and capture the perpetrator or perpetrators who are trying to instill anxiety and fear in our communities," the statement read. Becca Stanek
President Trump's Department of Justice just reversed the government's opposition to a discriminatory Texas voter ID law
President Trump's Department of Justice is reversing the government's opposition to a Texas voter ID law that critics claim intentionally discriminates against minorities, Dallas News reports.
The 2011 law requires voters to present one of seven government-issued identifications in order to fill out a ballot, although Hispanic and black voters are disproportionately less likely to have one of the approved IDs. The U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last year that the law was discriminatory but could not agree on whether it was intentionally discriminatory. Both sides are set to argue the question of discriminatory intent on the behalf of the lawmakers before a U.S. District Judge on Tuesday.
"The change in the administration is the only explanation for this change [in position], and it's outrageous," said Danielle Lang, who serves as the deputy director of voting rights at the Campaign Legal Center. "For the Department of Justice to change its position after six years, when none of the facts have changed, is appalling."
The law's supporters, including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), say the ID requirement is necessary to prevent voter fraud. President Trump has made his concern about voter fraud a central topic of his administration, despite a complete lack of evidence that the crime is widespread.
Rep. Marc Veasey, a Democrat representing Fort Worth, described the law as "the clearest manifestation of modern-day voter suppression tactics." Private plaintiffs will continue to fight against the law. Jeva Lange
Tired of stumbling off curbs or bumping into other pedestrians while consulting a map on your smartphone? When you wear Lechal Insoles ($100), a gentle vibration in one shoe or the other will tell you when and in which direction to turn. Just enter your destination into Lechal's GPS app, and let your phone do the navigating. The batteries for the vibrating pads last about 15 days on a charge. Besides steering you from place to place, the insoles can also act as activity trackers, monitoring distances traveled, steps taken, calories burned, and more.