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
Earlier this summer, special counsel Robert Mueller's office interviewed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein about President Trump's firing of former FBI Director James Comey, The Wall Street Journal reports.
The questioning took place in either June or July, several people with knowledge of the interview told the Journal, and could mean that investigators do not see Rosenstein as a major figure in the probe. Rosenstein took over the probe into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, and appointed Mueller in May to his role as special counsel. Catherine Garcia
Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois, and Adriano Espaillat of New York were arrested Tuesday on disorderly conduct charges during a protest outside Trump Tower in Manhattan.
The three members of Congress were part of a small group of demonstrators calling for legislation to be passed helping undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States by their parents as children. Protesters sat down on Fifth Avenue and wouldn't move, The Associated Press reports, and they were eventually handcuffed and led away by police, who said they issued desk appearance tickets. They have all been released.
Before the protest, organizers said the lawmakers planned on getting arrested, and on All In with Chris Hayes after his release, Gutierrez said the goal was to keep the spotlight on the issue. When working with immigrants, "you see the fear, the trepidation that exists, and it's hurtful, it's painful to see that," he said. "I want to say, 'We're fighting.'" Trump, in town for his United Nations address, was supposed to be at Trump Tower at the time, but wasn't on the premises. Catherine Garcia
At the age of eight, Sophia Spencer has done something that most scientists only dream of: she co-authored a paper that was published this month in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America.
Spencer, who lives in Canada, loves bugs — snails, slugs, caterpillars, and her personal favorite, grasshoppers. When the kids at school started making fun of her because they thought it was weird for her to be so interested in bugs, Spencer's mom wrote a letter to the Entomological Society of Canada, asking if they could share any words of encouragement, Quartz reports. After the request was tweeted out, support started flooding in for Spencer, and Morgan Jackson, an entomologist at the University of Guelph Insect Collection, decided to publish a paper on the importance of social media making science accessible to a greater audience, and asked Spencer to be his co-author.
Jackson analyzed engagement and the topics that were brought up, like getting more women involved in STEM, while Spencer wrote about her love of insects and what it was like to speak with entomologists. The tide has turned at school, Spencer said, and now the kids think bugs are cool and they use her microscope to get a closer look. "If somebody said bugs weren't for girls, I would be really mad at them," she said. "I think anything can be for anybody, including bugs." Catherine Garcia
Attorneys for first lady Melania Trump have warned the Americki Institut in Croatia to stop using her image on their billboard, next to the words, "Just imagine how far you can go with a little bit of English."
Her lawyers said they are ready to sue the English-language school if they don't take down the billboards in Zagreb, which feature a painting of Trump in front of a microphone, within 24 hours, the BBC reports. The school's founder, Brett Campbell, told a Croatian publication all he is trying to do is emphasize the fact that "knowledge is essential for international success" and "if you are well-versed in English, in these markets you can go very far. And we can help you."
Trump is multi-lingual, speaking French, Italian, and German in addition to her native language of Slovenian and English. Since becoming first lady, her attorneys have gone after several companies for using her likeness without permission, including a honey business in Slovenia that was told they cannot use the name "Melania" on their labels. Catherine Garcia
A spokesman for President Trump's onetime campaign chairman Paul Manafort said Tuesday if reports are correct that Manafort was wiretapped by federal investigators as part of a probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, there should be an "immediate investigation" into the leak by the Department of Justice's Inspector General.
"It is a felony to reveal the existence of a FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] warrant, regardless of the fact that no charges ever emerged," Jason Maloni said in a statement. Manafort is requesting the Department of Justice "release any intercepts involving him and any non-Americans so interested parties can come to the same conclusion as the DOJ — there is nothing there." CNN reported Monday that Manafort was wiretapped before Robert Mueller was appointed as special counsel to take over the FBI's Russia investigation, and The New York Times reported that Manafort was told by prosecutors they plan to indict him. Catherine Garcia
Donations to President Trump's re-election campaign and the Republican National Committee are going towards paying off Trump's Russia probe legal bills, Reuters reported Tuesday. While it's legal for campaign funds to be used "to pay legal bills arising from being a candidate or elected official," Reuters reported that Trump "would be the first U.S. president in the modern campaign finance era to use such funds to cover the costs of responding to a criminal probe."
Reuters was not able to determine how much campaign cash Trump has spent so far on his team of lawyers, who are working on his behalf in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's ongoing investigation into Russia's election meddling and the Trump campaign's potential ties to it. However, one person familiar with the matter told Reuters that the first of his payments would be disclosed in public filings. The RNC is slated to release reports on its August spending Wednesday, and the Trump campaign's will be out in a month, on Oct. 15.
Either White House Chief of Staff John Kelly had a bad headache on Tuesday, or President Trump's debut address before the United Nations General Assembly was giving him one. While Trump was calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un "Rocket Man," threatening to "totally destroy" North Korea, and informing world leaders that some countries, "in fact, are going to hell," Kelly sat beside first lady Melania Trump with his head in his hands and his eyes on the ground.
John Kelly apparently went through some sort of existential crisis during Trump's UN speech. pic.twitter.com/v0JUz21klN
— Kyle Feldscher (@Kyle_Feldscher) September 19, 2017
Another notable reaction was displayed by representatives from Zimbabwe, who looked equal parts amused, concerned, and sleepy. Becca Stanek
— Mike Giannoni (@mikegiannoni) September 19, 2017