×
FOLLOW THE WEEK ON FACEBOOK
March 2, 2014

As the West begins to shape its response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula, the emerging conventional wisdom is that there is little the world can do to stop Vladimir Putin from doing whatever he wants to do. Here is Peter Baker in The New York Times warning that Russia will likely get away with its Soviet-style land grab fairly easily:

Russia is an even tougher country to pressure, too formidable even in the post-Soviet age to rattle with stern lectures or shows of military force, and too rich in resources to squeeze economically in the short term. With a veto on the United Nations Security Council, it need not worry about the world body. And as the primary source of natural gas to much of Europe, it holds a trump card over many American allies. [The New York Times]

Ben Judah, writing in Politico Magazine, goes further, arguing that wealthy interests in Europe are too invested in Russia's oligarchical scheme to put any pressure on it:

Moscow is not nervous. Russia's elites have exposed themselves in a gigantic manner — everything they hold dear is now locked up in European properties and bank accounts. Theoretically, this makes them vulnerable. The EU could, with a sudden rush of money-laundering investigations and visa bans, cut them off from their wealth. But, time and time again, they have watched European governments balk at passing anything remotely similar to the U.S. Magnitsky Act, which bars a handful of criminal-officials from entering the United States.

All this has made Putin confident, very confident — confident that European elites are more concerned about making money than standing up to him. [Politico Magazine]

In this view, the West has neither the means nor the will to draw Putin's blood. But it does have the means, including the visa bans and banking sanctions that Judah cites, which would chip at the heart of the Russian regime; a revived effort to install missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic, which were scrapped amidst a "reset" in relations that is obviously dead and gone; and a general strengthening of Western-friendly governments around Russia, including Georgia, Poland, and the provisional government in Kiev (whether this includes NATO membership in the case of Georgia and Ukraine is a debate for another day).

Does the West have the will? To suggest that it doesn't seems to underestimate the historical significance of the moment. This is a naked land grab on a different order of magnitude than Russia's move into Georgia in 2008, which was legitimately shrouded in a fog-of-war-type situation. Now that the scales have fallen from everyone's eyes, now that Putin's territorial ambitions and agenda have been so totally exposed, the West has little choice but to make his transgressions as painful as possible — otherwise what would stop Putin from expanding his thug regime? Ryu Spaeth

7:09 a.m. ET

President Trump sent off his first tweet mentioning Stormy Daniels on Wednesday morning, commenting on a post by a Scottish Trump super-fan comparing the sketch Daniels released of the man she said threatened her to keep quiet about Trump with a photo of her ex-husband. Jimmy Kimmel had a little background on the Scottish woman who started the meme, suggesting Trump get a restraining order against her, but he found the entire episode "absolutely nuts. Reportedly, his advisers tried to convince him that he would only make things worse if he addressed this on Twitter," Kimmel said on Wednesday's Kimmel Live, "but you know that's like telling a 4-year-old with a squirt gun not to shoot you with it — you're going to get wet."

"So he tweeted, and he called it 'fake news,' which is his thing," Kimmel said. "President Trump seems to be confused about what is and isn't fake news, so to help out — because we're all about helping out here at this show — we asked a local third grader named Noah to break it down for the president in a very simple way." And Noah, 9, did just that, adorably and concisely. Watch below. Peter Weber

6:43 a.m. ET
Michael Thomas/ Getty Images

Missouri's embattled Republican governor, Eric Greitens, and its Republican attorney general and likely U.S. Senate nominee, Josh Hawley, are in an increasingly bitter feud over the legality and ethics of Greitens' activities in the run-up to his gubernatorial election. The St. Louis prosecutor has already indicted Greitens on one felony count for alleged invasion of privacy stemming from a messy extramarital affair with his hairdresser, and on Wednesday, Hawley announced he had uncovered "potentially criminal acts" by Greitens related to the use of the donor list for his charity. On Tuesday night, Greitens filed for a restraining order to bar Hawley from investigating him, The Kansas City Star reported Wednesday night.

Greiten's motion says that Hawley compromised any investigation into the governor's conduct when he called on him to resign, after the state House released a brutal report detailing the former mistress' allegations of violent behavior. "Hawley must recuse himself and his entire office from any investigation or prosecution related to Gov. Greitens or the governor's office," the motion reads, arguing that any investigation must be conducted by "a court-appointed special prosecutor independent of the (attorney general's office)."

A spokeswoman for Hawley's office, Mary Compton, called the recusal motion "frivolous" and said "we look forward to arguing this matter in court. ... The attorney general called for the governor's resignation because the House Investigative Committee reported substantial evidence of sexual, violent misconduct by the governor," not the charity list, she added. "The fact that the governor has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct does not mean he is exempt from investigation into other wrongdoing." Peter Weber

5:30 a.m. ET

Stephen Colbert began Wednesday's Late Show interview with actress and gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon by warning New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) to watch out for his "formidable opponent," because Nixon beat Colbert for a Grammy. He asked why Nixon was running under the banner "Cynthia for New York," not the more alliterative "Nixon for New York"? "My mother used to say that she grew up during World War II with a father named Adolph and then she lived through the 1970s with a husband named Nixon," she replied. "So I am aware of the dubious nature of my last name, but I have to say, if I was given a choice, I'd rather be the good Nixon than the bad Cuomo."

Nixon said she's running for governor "because I'm a lifelong New Yorker, and I love this state, and I just know we could do so much better." Colbert stopped her when she said Cuomo is governing like a Republican, asking for specifics. Nixon replied that New York should fully fund public education and be more like California and Oregon in leading the way on renewable energy, campaign finance reform, voting rights, and criminal justice reform.

Nixon said she's 100 percent serious about becoming governor, and Colbert stepped in to play "the governor's advocate," asking her if "we need another celebrity in office," and "should governor of New York be the first job you have" in politics? Nixon said she's not at all like President Trump, and celebrity is just a platform, and what matters is how you use it. She explained her support for legalizing recreational marijuana as primarily "a racial justice issue," not a drug one. "For all intents and purposes, for white people, marijuana has ... effectively been legal for a long time," she said, "and I just think it's time to make it legal for everybody else." Watch below. Peter Weber

4:46 a.m. ET

Stephen Colbert kicked off Wednesday's Late Show by declaring he's "still riding high" from Tuesday night's interview with former FBI Director James Comey. "I'm not sure if the president saw the interview — I hear he doesn't watch TV hosts who don't share his lawyer," he joked, but one "seemingly out-of-nowhere" tweet suggests he might have. Either way, the interview "is already healing a nation," he said, because "James Comey is now friends with the Wu-Tang Clan." (Unlike Jeff Sessions.)

"Speaking of unlikely duos," Colbert said, CIA Director Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea — and he's not even secretary of state yet. "Apparently now, just anyone can have face-to-face talks with the leader of North Korea." He said he hopes the denuclearization talks are successful, and he couldn't believe "Trump kept something this big secret. How did he do it? I mean, the only possible explanation is that Michael Cohen paid him $130,000 to stay quiet about it."

The Late Show also imagined Kim's reaction to Pompeo's visit, and yes, it includes a Dennis Rodman reference.

Russian sanctions are dividing the White House, with U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley announcing new sanctions Sunday — before Trump then scrapped the idea over the objections of his advisers. "We tried to get a follow-up from Nikki Haley, but it's so hard to reach her under that bus," Colbert said. Trump reportedly got so angry watching Haley announce the sanctions on TV, he shouted "Who wrote that for her?" at the screen. "Fun fact, Mr. President," Colbert said: "Not all women are under legally binding agreements about what they can say."

"Trump may be angry because he accidentally appointed someone competent," but Republicans are reportedly suspicious that Haley and Vice President Mike Pence are conspiring to run together in 2020, Colbert said. "That is absurd. Mike Pence can't be on a ticket with a woman who's not his wife." Peter Weber

4:01 a.m. ET
Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

On Wednesday, South Korea confirmed that it has been in talks with the U.S. and North Korea about negotiating a treaty to formally end the Korean War, which stopped in 1953 with an armistice signed by America, China, and North Korea. South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong said that he, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, and other Trump administration officials "held in-depth discussions" last week in Washington "on various ways of how to end hostilities and eventually establish a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula."

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in are meeting in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) on April 29, and President Trump confirmed Wednesday that he sent CIA Director Mike Pompeo to meet with Kim earlier this month to help lay the groundwork for a Trump-Kim summit in late May or June. On Tuesday, Trump said Kim and Moon "have my blessing to discuss the end of the war."

Negotiating a formal peace treaty would require the participation of China and the U.S. as well as the Koreas. A spokeswoman for China's Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that "China's attitude is open and supportive to any peaceful means to resolve the Korean Peninsula issue through consultations," but Cheng Xiaohe, a North Korea expert at Beijing's Renmin University, told The New York Times that Trump's hard line on trade "is complicating and undermining cooperation." If the U.S. wants to sign a treaty with Pyongyang, "it has to talk to China, and the United States has to recognize North Korea diplomatically," Cheng added. "A treaty is not a memorandum or a communiqué."

It's an open question what Pyongyang would give up or demand in the treaty — a withdrawal of America's 28,500 troops from South Korea would probably be a nonstarter, for example, but a reduction might align with Trump's goals and China's. You can read more about the sticking points at The New York Times. Peter Weber

3:04 a.m. ET

Samantha Bee ended Full Frontal's two-week hiatus with an occasionally NSFW recap of the past week, from "election-ruining giant" James Comey's "creeping Trump gossip fatigue" book tour to outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan's big announcement. "For the first time in his political career, Paul Ryan has offered the nation something we actually want: his retirement," Bee said. After thrashing Ryan and his legacy for a few minutes, she used Beyoncé's Coachella performance to show that it's not really that hard to hire women and people of color, proving her point with 10 black people doing Jerry Seinfeld impressions.

Bee turned to the news that President Trump's lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen also apparently worked for Sean Hannity. "Why the f--k did Sean Hannity — the guy who made $36 million last year? — retain a graduate of the actual worst law school in the country, a guy whose whole business model seems to be built around blackmailing mistresses?" she asked. Hannity said he innocently asked Cohen "exclusively almost" about real estate, and Bee decided he "must have done something so much worse" than infidelity. She had a suggestion, keying off a clip where a lawyer said Cohen knows "where all the bodies are buried." "Whoa, is Sean Hannity a serial killer?" Bee asked, melodramatically.

"I know what you're thinking: You can't just throw together a bunch of scary buzzwords and out-of-context clips to support an outrageous conclusion, and normally I would agree with you," Bee said. "But you know who does that all the time? Sean Hannity." She showed some examples. "His whole show is just an hour-long list of lies and conspiracy theories, but people think it's news because he doesn't sweat as much as Alex Jones and because he's on a channel that calls itself news," Bee said. So she used "deceitful editing to reach an outrageous conclusion," and it's pretty harsh and NSFW, and you can watch below. Peter Weber

2:08 a.m. ET
AP Photo/Amr Nabil

It was the hottest ticket in Saudi Arabia — an invitation to a private screening of Black Panther in Riyadh.

On Wednesday, the first cinema to open in Saudi Arabia in more than 30 years welcomed excited moviegoers. In the 1980s, the kingdom prohibited public movie screenings, due to ultraconservative clerics labeling Western movies as sinful, but Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman lifted the ban amid a series of reforms. By 2030, Saudi Arabia plans on hosting 300 movie theaters with 2,000 screens.

Just two weeks ago, AMC signed a contract to open the inaugural theater, and public screenings are expected to start Friday. Government censors will have the final say on what moviegoers get to see — in Black Panther, a final scene featuring a kiss has been cut — and the theaters will likely be separated with women and related men sitting in the family section and single men in another. "It's a new era, a new age," moviegoer Rahaf Alhendi told The Associated Press. "It's that simple. Things are changing, progress is happening. We're opening up and we're catching up with everything that's happening in the world." Catherine Garcia

See More Speed Reads