Russia's invasion of Crimea in the Ukraine caught much of the world by surprise. Russian President Vladimir Putin has thrown down a gauntlet to the West, whether that was his intention or not. Here are four columns that help explain what Russia is thinking, and how this invasion could shape the world. --Peter Weber
With the Crimea invasion, "Putin is striking back and playing for keeps in Ukraine," says Damon Wilson at the New Atlanticist. We shouldn't be surprised:
The classic Putin playbook is now on display: fuel separatist sentiments, justify military action by asserting the need to protect ethnic Russians (or at least passport holders), and then "maintain the peace" by stationing Russian forces permanently. In effect, dismember your weak neighbors. [New Atlanticist]
America, and President Obama, will lose in any just about any resolution of the Ukraine crisis, says Aaron David Miller at CNN. In the U.S., "we have a very risk-averse president who's focused more on domestic affairs than foreign policy":
That president is facing a crisis in Ukraine, where geography, history, and proximity favor Putin and leave Washington with a weaker hand. Perhaps some face-saving win-win can be devised. But if not — and perhaps unfairly, because Obama's options are bad ones — America will again be judged a weak and feckless power. [CNN]
"In the parallel universe of the Russian media, the preemptive and humanitarian nature of the operation gets pride of place," says Charles King at The New York Times. In this telling, by Putin and his various mouthpieces, Russia is stepping in not just to protect ethnic Russians, but restore a democratically elected president ousted by what Russia calls "fascists" and thugs. "This interpretive frame may be hard to understand, but some things are not wrong just because Russians happen to believe them":
The Crimean affair is a grand experiment in Mr. Putin's strategy of equivalence: countering every criticism of his government's behavior with a page from the West's own playbook. If his government has a guiding ideology, it is not the concept of restoring the old Soviet Union. It is rather his commitment to exposing what Russian politicians routinely call the "double standards" of American and European foreign policy and revealing the hidden workings of raison d'état — the hardnosed and pragmatic calculation of interests that average citizens from Moscow to Beijing to New Delhi actually believe drives the policies of all great powers. [New York Times]
Putin doesn't care about what the West thinks or, even, does: "After the Olympics, the next 'event' is the Crimea, as cynical as that may sound," says KermlinRussia, a satirical Twitter duo who also writes serious columns on politics and the economy, in The New Republic. "For foreign observers this was a surprise, but not for Russians":
The West has already begun to threaten Russia with political and economic isolation, but this stems from a misunderstanding of the nature of Putin's power. For example, Western analysts say that "Russia will not invade Crimea because Russia's economy is in bad shape and this would only weaken it further." They are mistaken. Putin no longer needs economic growth. He has grasped the contradiction between economic growth and the consolidation of his own power, and he has made his choice. [New Republic]
A witness who observed and filmed at least part of the death of an unarmed Australian woman, Justine Damond, at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer has come forward, Minnesota state investigators told the Star Tribune. Any footage would be particularly valuable in this case because the officers involved, who were at Damond's house because she called 911 to report a suspected crime, were wearing body cameras that were not turned on during the incident.
The witness was reportedly bicycling near the alley where Damond was fatally shot and watched her receiving CPR before she died. How much of the interaction the witness saw or caught on camera is not yet known, but the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) said in a statement the witness "has been cooperative and provided an interview today."
Minneapolis officer Matthew Harrity, who was driving the squad car from which the shooting took place, already gave investigators a four-hour interview, but officer Mohamed Noor, who fatally shot Damond in the abdomen while still seated in the car, has yet to be interviewed by the BCA, which cannot legally compel his testimony. Noor's attorney "has not provided any update about when, if ever, an interview would be possible," the BCA statement said.
Actor John Heard, best known for his roles in Home Alone and The Sopranos, died Friday in Palo Alto, California. He was 72.
Heard was staying in a hotel room and recovering from minor back surgery at the time of his death, which has been confirmed by the Santa Clara Medical Examiner’s office.
— I am an 80's kid! (@I_am_1980) July 22, 2017
Heard came to fame in the 1970s and 1980s with roles in movies including Tom Hanks' Big, Martin Scorsese's After Hours, and Bette Midler's Beaches. Today, however, he is best remembered for playing Kevin McAllister's dad in the first two Home Alone films. "At the time, we didn't know the movie was funny," he later said of the role. "We were playing the parents who lost their kid, so we didn't how funny-stupid we could be."
President Trump spoke at a ceremony Saturday commissioning the USS Gerald R. Ford, the newest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the U.S. Navy fleet. His speech warned that the "sea holds many challenges and threats" and called the ship an "incredible work of art [that] becomes the pride of the U.S. Navy and symbol of American pride and prestige no matter where in the world you go."
Trump also used the occasion to address his plans to increase military spending. "It's been a very, very bad period of time for our military, that is why were reached a deal to secure additional $20 billion for defense this year and it's going up and why I ask Congress for another $54 billion for next year," he said. "Now we need Congress to do its job and pass the budget that provides for higher stable and predictable funding levels for our military needs that our fighting men and women deserve, and you will get, believe me."
As in past discussions of the spending bump, Trump connected more money to more winning. "We will win, win win; we will never lose," he said at the commissioning in Norfolk, Virginia. "When it comes to battle we don't want a fair fight," he added. "We demand victory and we will have total victory, believe me." Bonnie Kristian
A Friday Washington Post story reported President Trump has been exploring the option of exercising his broad constitutional pardon power on behalf of himself or members of his campaign team or family. Trump set tongues wagging Saturday morning with a tweet apparently reserving the right to do exactly that:
While all agree the U. S. President has the complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us.FAKE NEWS
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 22, 2017
"The Constitution doesn't specify whether the president can pardon himself, and no court has ever ruled on the issue, because no president has ever been brazen enough to try it," explains University of Michigan Law School professor Richard Primus at Politico. "Among constitutional lawyers, the dominant (though not unanimous) answer is 'no,' in part because letting any person exempt himself from criminal liability would be a fundamental affront to America's basic rule-of-law values."
Conservative columnist Rod Dreher similarly highlighted rule-of-law issues in a post on the subject for The American Conservative, arguing that what such a pardon "would reveal about how respect for the rule of law and basic republican order in the United States had decayed would be staggering."
Harvard law professor Mark Tushnet also focused in impropriety over illegality. "A self-pardon might well be outrageously improper (unless there was the prospect of charges brought by a rogue prosecutor, whom, for some reason, the president could not control by firing him or her)," he told Vox, "but the response the Constitution creates for such misconduct is impeachment, a political rather than criminal remedy." Bonnie Kristian
Jared Kushner, President Trump's son-in-law and White House adviser, disclosed 77 previously unreported assets in paperwork released Friday.
Kushner's attorneys said these assets were "inadvertently omitted" in previous disclosures to the Office of Government Ethics, which certified the new disclosures as part of the "ordinary review process." The assets are valued between $10 and $50 million, depending on where each item falls in the valuation ranges on the federal forms.
Kushner's wife, Ivanka Trump, also a presidential adviser, reported assets valued around $66 million and $13.5 million in 2016 income in additional disclosures filed Friday. Bonnie Kristian
A U.S. soldier was indicted on terrorism charges by a federal grand jury in Hawaii Friday. Army Sgt. 1st Class Ikaika Kang is accused of attempting to provide material aid to the Islamic State, including leaked U.S. military documents, as well as planning a mass shooting after pledging his allegiance to ISIS. He was arrested by the FBI earlier this month and is held without bail.
Kang's court-appointed attorney, Birney Bervar, is pursuing a mental health defense, arguing Kang may suffer from known mental illness which the military did not appropriately address. Bervar said he expected the indictment. Bonnie Kristian
President Trump presented Senate Republicans with a to-do list on Twitter Saturday and also offered some thoughts on congressional Democrats:
The Republican Senators must step up to the plate and, after 7 years, vote to Repeal and Replace. Next, Tax Reform and Infrastructure. WIN!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 22, 2017
ObamaCare is dead and the Democrats are obstructionists, no ideas or votes, only obstruction. It is solely up to the 52 Republican Senators!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 22, 2017
In a rambling interview with The New York Times on Wednesday, the president seemed to share a different view, conceding that at most 50 GOP senators would support the most recent iteration of the plan to repeal and replace ObamaCare. Given that "very tough standard," Trump said, "let's not vote on repeal. Let's just vote on this. So first, they vote on the vote. ... And then they’ll vote on this, and we'll see." Bonnie Kristian