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]
Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who famously got in an armed standoff after refusing to pay federal grazing fees, flew to Portland late Wednesday night, en route to the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, where his sons Ammon and Ryan Bundy had led an armed occupation until they were arrested last month. FBI agents were waiting for Cliven Bundy when he landed and arrested him; Bundy was booked into the Multhomah County jail before midnight on Wednesday, detained on a U.S. Marshal hold for his role in the 2014 armed confrontation with Bureau of Land Management agents at his Nevada Ranch.
Ammon Bundy's lawyer, Mike Arnold, said that the arrest of Cliven Bundy could complicate the planned surrender Thursday morning of the last four holdouts at the Malheur refuge. The elder Bundy owes the federal government $1 million in unpaid grazing fees and penalties, and when BLM agents impounded Bundy's cattle in 2014, he and armed militia members confronted the federal agents, who relented rather than shed blood. Peter Weber
Over the weekend, the Indian news media was abuzz over reports, picked up worldwide, that a bus driver at a college in southeast India had been killed Saturday by the impact from a meteorite, potentially making him the first known human killed by a meteorite. By Tuesday, the Indian Institute of Astrophysics was casting doubt on the claim. "Considering that there was no prediction of a meteorite shower and there was no meteorite shower observed, this certainly is a rare phenomena if it is a meteorite," Prof. G.C. Anupama told The New York Times in a phone interview.
On Wednesday, NASA all but slammed the door on the meteorite-death theory, saying in a statement that from public statements and photographs of the crash, it appears that the driver was killed by a "land-based explosion," not the impact of a space rock. Although no confirmed deaths have resulted from chunks of meteors falling to Earth, several people have been injured by meteorites, including some 1,200 when a space rock crashed into Chelyabinsk, Russia; no fatalities were reported. You can learn more about the near-record in the CNN video below. Peter Weber
The prime minister of the United Arab Emirates says "national happiness isn't a wish," and in order to make good on his promise, he's appointed a minister of state for happiness.
Ohood Al Roumi as Minister of State for Happiness. She remains responsible as DG of the Prime Minister’s Office. pic.twitter.com/1Omrzc9b8F
— HH Sheikh Mohammed (@HHShkMohd) February 10, 2016
On Wednesday, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum announced his new cabinet, which includes five women. Ohood Al Roumi, the director general of the prime minister's office and former head of economic policy for Dubai, will keep her current job but also take on the role of minister of state for happiness. In this new position, she'll be tasked with aligning and driving "government policy to create social good and satisfaction," NBC News reports.
The prime minister is making it clear that this role is not just ceremonial. "Happiness in the UAE is not just a hope, there will be plans, projects, programs, and indicators," he said. Happiness will become "part of our lifestyle," he added, and to get the people motivated, he wrote a poem titled "Happiest Nation" and posted it to his website. Catherine Garcia
Under a plea deal, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca pleaded guilty to a federal charge of lying to investigators, and will spend no more than six months in prison, if he serves any time at all.
In 2010, a grand jury began an investigation into corruption and abuse at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles, and since then, the U.S. Attorney's Office has charged 18 former and current deputies with such crimes as obstructing justice, beating inmates, bribery, and conspiracy, NBC Los Angeles reports. Baca previously claimed he had no knowledge of abuse at any county jails, deputies intimidating an FBI agent outside of her home, or a coordinated effort by deputies to keep an FBI informant from testifying to a grand jury; NBC Los Angeles reports that for two weeks in 2011, deputies moved the informant around to different jails using a false name every time so the FBI couldn't find the informant and have him or her testify.
Baca, who stepped down in 2014 after more than 15 years as sheriff, is the 18th former member of the department convicted in the case, and he will be sentenced on May 16. Prosecutors have been going up the ranks in the department, and in May 2015, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka was charged with obstructing justice. He is now facing trial. "No one is above the law," U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker said Wednesday. "This is a fundamental principle in our society and when it is violated it's the job of the Department of Justice to step in and hold individuals accountable." Catherine Garcia
On Wednesday night, after five hours of live-streaming a phone call recording their standoff with federal agents, the four remaining holdouts at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge outside Burns, Oregon, said they planned to turn themselves in to the FBI on Thursday morning. The FBI, which encircled the refuge earlier on Wednesday, had agreed not to raid the refuge overnight, the armed occupiers said. The four militants — David Fry, 27, from Ohio; Jeff Banta, 46, from Nevada; and Sean and Sandy Anderson, 48 and 47, from Idaho — are the remnants of a group of armed anti-government protesters who took over the federal birding refuge on Jan. 2.
Before the livestream ended, Fry appeared to yell at the FBI negotiators, telling them: "You're going to hell. Kill me. Get it over with..... We're innocent people camping at a public facility, and you're going to murder us." At another point, he shouted that "the only way we're leaving here is dead or without charges," and telling the FBI to "get the hell out of Oregon." On Jan. 26, one of the occupiers had been wounded and another shot dead after running a police checkpoint; the occupation leader, Ammon Bundy, and other militants were arrested and most of the people at the refuge left after that.
"It has never been the FBI's desire to engage these armed occupiers in any way other than through dialogue, and to that end, the FBI has negotiated with patience and restraint in an effort to resolve the situation peacefully," FBI Special Agent Greg Bretzing said in a statement Wednesday. Peter Weber
At a three hour hearing in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Sirhan Sirhan was denied parole again for killing Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968, just after Kennedy won the pivotal California Democratic presidential primary. Sirhan, 71, maintained that he did not remember the shooting, though he clearly recalled going to a shooting range, getting drunk, and drinking coffee at a hotel in the hours before the assassination. The commissioners, in denying his parole request, said that Sirhan neither showed sufficient remorse nor seemed to understand the gravity of his crime.
Most of the drama at the hearing, Sirhan's 15th bid for parole, was provided by Paul Schrade, a 91-year-old former labor leader and RFK confidante who was shot in the head during Robert Kennedy's assassination. Schrade said that he believes Sirhan was the gunman who shot him but that Kennedy was slain by a second gunman, a theory he has espoused before. "I should have been here long ago and that's why I feel guilty for not being here to help you and to help me," Schrade told Sirhan, whom he was facing for the first time since Sirhan's 1969 trial. "Sirhan, I'm so sorry this is happening to you," he called out as Sirhan was leaving the room. "It's my fault."
The commissioners were not swayed by Schrade's theories, nor by Sirhan's protestation that he didn't remember the shooting. "This crime impacted the nation, and I daresay it impacted the world," said commissioner Brian Roberts. "It was a political assassination of a viable Democratic presidential candidate." Sirhan can petition for parole again in five years. Peter Weber
On Wednesday, the Senate voted 96-0 in favor of the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act, which targets North Korea's ability to finance the development of nuclear warheads and long-range ballistic missiles.
Republican presidential candidates Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida both left the campaign trail to return to Washington for the vote. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) chose to keep campaigning the day after he won the Democratic primary in New Hampshire, but released a statement voicing his support for the sanctions against the "totalitarian state of North Korea" that is "becoming more belligerent by the day." The sanctions, he said, "are an important tool in resolving the growing threat from Pyongyang. The legislation before the Senate would help prevent North Korea from obtaining goods or technology related to nuclear weapons, ban foreign assistance to any country that provides lethal military equipment to North Korea, and target the country's trade in key industrial commodities."
The legislation comes after North Korea's latest satellite launch. A similar bill was passed by the House of Representatives in January. Catherine Garcia