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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

12:15 p.m. ET

A hot mic captured Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and an unidentified male senator talking smack about Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) as a subcommittee hearing wrapped up Tuesday. In an interview last week with a local Texas radio station, Farenthold blamed female GOP senators like Collins for the health-care impasse and suggested he'd "settle this Aaron Burr-style" if they were men.

"Did you see the one who challenged me to a duel?" Collins says. "You could beat the sh-- out of him," the man responds.

At another point, Collins calls Farenthold "huge " and "so unattractive, it's unbelievable." She also mentions an old photo of Farenthold wearing rubber duckie pajamas and standing next to a woman in lingerie. "Did you see the picture of him in the pajamas?" she says.

Listen below. Becca Stanek

11:28 a.m. ET

President Trump's public shaming of Attorney General Jeff Sessions isn't going over well with Republican lawmakers. After Trump took to Twitter on Tuesday to accuse Sessions of taking "a VERY weak position on Hillary Clinton crimes," a handful of Republicans fired off some criticisms of their own.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) suggested that Trump "maybe just try a meeting" instead of publicly calling out his own Cabinet members:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) released a statement declaring that Trump's suggestion that Sessions "pursue prosecution of a former political rival is highly inappropriate." "Prosecutorial decisions should be based on applying facts to the law without hint of political motivation," Graham said. He also defended Sessions as "one of the most decent people I've ever met in my political life."

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) also posted a defense of Sessions' character. He called Sessions "a man of integrity, loyalty, and extraordinary character" and pledged his "deep respect and unwavering support":

Trump is reportedly seriously considering replacing Sessions, as he's upset Sessions recused himself from the investigation into the Trump team's alleged collusion with Russia. Becca Stanek

10:58 a.m. ET
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Freshly minted White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci on Tuesday told Politico that he intends to fire Assistant Press Secretary Michael Short. Scaramucci's announcement, it seemed, was the first that Short had heard of his own impending firing. "No one has told me anything and the entire premise is false," Short said, shortly after Scaramucci spoke to Politico.

It's not yet clear when Scaramucci would ax Short. Apparently Short's role in the White House was a surprise to many, as he'd previously abruptly quit the Trump campaign. Politico reported that Short was "closely aligned" with White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer, who recently submitted his resignation over Scaramucci's appointment to the team.

Short's possible dismissal could be the first in a long line of ousters from the communications team. Scaramucci is on a mission to rid the Trump communications and press shop of leakers, and he's made clear that he'll be ruthless if necessary. "I'm committed to taking the comms shop down to Sarah [Huckabee Sanders] and me, if I can't get the leaks to stop," Scaramucci told Politico.

Scaramucci revealed that he dedicated his first day on the job to warning the communications team about leaks. "I offered amnesty in the meeting, but that decision is above my rank," Scaramucci said.

Read more on the story at Politico. Becca Stanek

10:44 a.m. ET

The Senate Judiciary Committee has issued a subpoena for former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to publicly testify at Wednesday's hearing on the ongoing Russia probe. Committee chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) confirmed Tuesday that they requested Manafort's participation after they were "unable to reach an agreement for a voluntary transcribed interview with the Judiciary Committee."

Manafort has agreed to a single interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee about his participation in the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, but his notes and comments would be unavailable to the Judiciary Committee. Grassley and Feinstein said they may excuse Manafort from the hearing if he agrees to an interview.

Read the Senate Judiciary Committee's entire statement below. Becca Stanek

10:26 a.m. ET
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Arizona residents perusing their state's official driver's license manual will find new information on how to interact with law enforcement roadside — or, in the words of state Rep. Reginald Bolding (D), who helped add the language to the handbook, how to avoid getting shot by the cops.

"When you look at what's taken place across the country, you have seen a majority of individuals who are people of color that have had higher incidence of interactions with law-enforcement officers, particularly in shootings," Bolding, who is black, explains. "Hopefully we can get to a place where that's not the reality."

The idea to add this update to the manual was particularly inspired by the death of Philando Castile, the black motorist in Minnesota who was fatally shot by police during a traffic stop in front of his girlfriend and her young daughter. Bolding consulted with eight Arizona police departments and said he received eight different sets of conflicting advice. He ended up working with his state's departments of transportation and public safety to come up with something more consistent.

"I recognize this won't solve all officer-involved shootings," Bolding concedes. "I do hope that this could potentially save a life by giving a recommendation of what to do." You can read the resultant guidance beginning on page 56 of this PDF version of the manual. Bonnie Kristian

9:55 a.m. ET
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President Trump lambasted Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Twitter on Tuesday, and new White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci as well as incoming Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders each strongly suggested in interviews the same morning that Sessions' days in office are numbered.

Scaramucci was speaking with Hugh Hewitt when he said the radio host is "probably right" in his comment that "the president wants [Sessions] gone." "I don't want to speak for the president on that because he's a Cabinet official and I sort of think that has to be between the president of the United States and the Cabinet official," Scaramucci added, labeling Trump "obviously frustrated" with the situation.

Sanders was speaking on Fox & Friends when she made similar remarks. Trump's "frustration [with Sessions] certainly hasn't gone away," she said. "And you know, I don't think it will." Bonnie Kristian

9:17 a.m. ET
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People are not pleased that President Trump decided to unload the details of his electoral victory and political battles onto America's youth during his speech Monday night at the quadrennial Boy Scout Jamboree. In Trump's freewheeling speech before 30,000 Boy Scouts, he jokingly threatened a Republican senator and his Health and Human Services secretary over the ObamaCare repeal; criticized Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama; and pondered whether the "fake media" would miscount his "record-setting" crowd.

The official Boy Scouts of America Facebook page quickly filled up with comments expressing outrage and concern. "I have no problem with a president speaking to scouts but what occurred at Jamboree today was reprehensible ... One of the main concerns that leaders have is trying to recruit more scouts from minority communities; that effort was dealt a serious blow today," a father of three Scouts wrote. "As a Cub Scout den leader and mom of 2 scouts, I am livid," another commenter posted. "You owe all of us, especially the scouts who were present, a sincere apology and assurance that you are not okay with what happened."

Several other commenters demanded an apology and questioned how Trump's speech jives with Boy Scout values. "As the mother of two soon-to-be Eagles and the wife of an Eagle Scout, this man goes against everything scouting stands for," a commenter said. An Eagle Scout and 1985 Jamboree attendee posted that he was "still awaiting a statement denouncing the president's speech and his attempt to turn the BSA into the Trump Youth."

On Tuesday, Boy Scouts released a statement responding to the Trump backlash. "The Boy Scouts of America is wholly non-partisan and does not promote any one position, product, service, political candidate, or philosophy," the statement said. "The invitation for the sitting U.S. president to visit the National Jamboree is a long-standing tradition and is in no way an endorsement of any party or specific policies." Becca Stanek

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