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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

12:54 p.m. ET
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President Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), and other GOP supporters of the failed American Health Care Act cast the vote as a strict with-us-or-against us scenario: Either support this plan or you're stuck with ObamaCare while the White House "agenda moves on" to other issues. More than 30 House Republicans had other ideas.

As The New York Times details in a breakdown of which GOP lawmakers in the lower chamber opposed the AHCA and why, the proposal came under a diversity of criticism from left and right alike — and that's just within the Republican Party. It's a scenario which leads Paul Kane at The Washington Post to observe the rise of a new paradigm of power in the GOP:

[The AHCA's de facto defeat] suggested a new dynamic in which both the right and left flanks of the Republican conference are emboldened to challenge leadership. And that could make each future negotiation more difficult as the issue matrix gets more complicated and the pockets of internal GOP resistance continue to grow, not shrink, in the new era of Trump’s Republican-controlled Washington. ...

This new combination, with Ryan’s right and left flanks willing to buck him and the new president, presents deep concern for the long-term effort to take up the more complicated effort to overhaul the corporate and individual tax codes. [The Washington Post]

Read the rest of his analysis here, and for more context, check out this piece from The Week's own Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry on why the AHCA defeat can be good for the GOP. Bonnie Kristian

12:05 p.m. ET

President Trump reiterated on Twitter Saturday his argument that the health-care system set up by the Affordable Care Act will "explode" of its own accord — after which, he added, Republican lawmakers will successfully pass the replacement plan they could not swing without the added pressure of political explosion.

Trump's tweet echoes his Friday suggestion that the "best thing politically speaking is to let ObamaCare explode" so Democrats are forced to "come to us." Bonnie Kristian

11:52 a.m. ET
Tiziana Fabi/Getty Images

Leaders of the 27 European Union nations that will remain in the organization following the United Kingdom's forthcoming exit met Saturday in Rome on the occasion of the 60-year anniversary of the Treaty of Rome that established the European Economic Community, an EU forerunner. "Europe as a political entity will either be united, or will not be at all," said EU President Donald Tusk. "Only a united Europe can be a sovereign Europe."

The conference adopted the Rome Declaration, a brief statement affirming mutual "pride in the achievements of the European Union," including "common institutions and strong values, a community of peace, freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law, a major economic power with unparalleled levels of social protection and welfare."

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who did not attend the meeting in Rome, is expected to begin the formal Brexit process Wednesday by triggering Article 50. For more on how that process will work, see this explainer from The Week. Bonnie Kristian

11:24 a.m. ET
Niklas Halle'n/Getty Images

Two men remain in custody Saturday for questioning in connection to the deadly attack at Westminster Bridge in London on Wednesday. The attacker, a 52-year-old English native born Adrian Russell Ajao but known as Khalid Masood, was fatally shot by police at the scene of the crime.

Police are now investigating whether Masood "acted totally alone inspired by terrorist propaganda, or if others have encouraged, supported, or directed him." The two men currently detained were among 11 people arrested so far; of the others, seven have been released without charges and two women have been released on bail.

Londoners meanwhile have deluged the area where the attack occurred with a veritable sea of flowers. "You will always be in our hearts," said a note from London Mayor Sadiq Khan to Masood's victims. "Londoners will never forget the innocent people who lost their lives." Bonnie Kristian

10:35 a.m. ET

An armed robbery left the Bellagio hotel and casino in Las Vegas in chaos around 3 a.m. Saturday morning, and police have confirmed three suspects were involved in the break-in attempt at a Rolex jewelry store in the casino complex.

Where the story gets weird is in a photo snapped by an eyewitness and posted on Twitter: The image shows what appears to be one of the robbers wearing a rubber pig mask.

Though initial online rumors suggested shots were fired, law enforcement said the would-be robbers were only armed with sledgehammers. One person has been arrested so far. Bonnie Kristian

9:58 a.m. ET
Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Trump administration is ready to move on to addressing tax policy after the downfall of the health-care plan it supported, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Friday. Trump is "disappointed" by the loss, Spicer conceded, but is now motivated by "a desire to do fundamental tax reform, something we haven't seen since 1986," Spicer told Fox News. "The agenda moves on."

Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), chair of the House tax committee, affirmed he is prepared "to work with the administration to get this done." The health-care bill failure "made a big challenge more challenging," he said, "but it's not insurmountable."

Spicer also echoed President Trump's suggestion that ObamaCare will now fail of its own accord, leading to a future replacement project. "Democrats will crawl back once the system fails on its own," he said. "The people that stood with Nancy Pelosi today understand the system is going down and the higher costs are on their shoulders, not ours." Bonnie Kristian

8:16 a.m. ET

The Florida Gators bested the Wisconsin Badgers in a nail-biter 84-83 game of the NCAA basketball tournament's Sweet 16 round late Friday night.

After lagging behind Wisconsin for the first half of the game, the Gators pulled ahead for much of the second half. A concerted comeback by the Badgers produced a tied game with just four seconds left on the overtime clock when Wisconsin's Nigel Hayes scored two points. The game seemed finished — until Florida's Chris Chiozza sprinted down the court to make a running 3-pointer just as the buzzer rang out in Madison Square Garden.

Florida will next face South Carolina on Sunday. Bonnie Kristian

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