March 1, 2014

That's from Julia Ioffe's excellent analysis of the crisis in Ukraine. Head over to The New Republic to read it. Spoiler alert: She is not optimistic that this will end well.

Neither America nor NATO can stop this. They've shown they won't in Georgia, because nobody wants to start a war with nuclear-armed Russia, and rightly so. So while Washington and Brussels huff and puff about lines and sovereignty and diplomacy, Russia will do what it needs to do and there's not a thing we can do about it.

Russia's next target is eastern Ukraine. Because pessimism conquers all, don't bet that Putin is going to stop once he wrests Crimea from Kiev's orbit. Eastern, Russian-speaking Ukraine — and all its heavy industry — is looking pretty good right now. [The New Republic]

Give the whole thing a read. Ben Frumin

3:19 a.m. ET
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President Trump woke up Saturday fuming over tweets from Friday afternoon unfavorably comparing the size of his inaugural crowd to those of former President Barack Obama, The New York Times reports, citing "several people close to him." Several senior advisers reportedly urged him to move on, while other aides, including press secretary Sean Spicer, encouraged him to hit back at the press — which Trump did, at CIA headquarters on Saturday, saying he has a "running war with the media" and accusing the press of lying about his inaugural crowd, which he incorrectly pegged at about 1.5 million.

Spicer then held his first press briefing and told the gathered reporters that Trump's was "the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period," which is demonstrably false. Senior counselor Kellyanne Conway said on Meet the Press Sunday that Spicer was citing "alternative facts," and White House chief of staff Reince Preibus said the media was trying to delegitimize Trump's win. By Sunday night, Trump friends and allies were telling the media they were ready to hit the reset button.

"They got off to a very rocky start because they see everyone as adversaries," Newsmax CEO Christopher Ruddy, a Trump friend who talks with him often, told Politico. Trump is surrounded by new people, Ruddy said, and "one of the things they don't understand about him is he likes pushback. They are not giving him the pushback he needs when he's giving advice.... If he doesn't have people who can tell him no, this is not going to go very well." Another "person who frequently talks to Trump" agreed, specifying that aides have to control information that sets him off, Politico reports. "He gets bored and likes to watch TV, this person said, so it is important to minimize that."

"The truth of the matter is he had a successful inauguration with a respectful crowd. The transition of power went off without a hitch. His supporters were amiable by and large," presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told Politico. "But then he can never let go and stop watching cable TV. Now he's off to the worst start of a presidency in a very long time."

Other Trump friends said the new president is just being the "folksy" leader his supporters love, arguing that the media doesn't have much credibility. But even allies urged aides to contain Trump's worst impulses. "It's unconventional at best and disastrous at worst," said Rep. Mark Sanford (R-S.C.), whose governorship was derailed when he disappeared to meet his foreign mistress, telling aides he was hiking the Appalachian Trail. "These distractions have the capacity to sink his entire administration." Peter Weber

2:09 a.m. ET

Amy Craton, 94, just received her bachelor's degree, but she's already moved on and is looking forward to earning her master's.

"I feel that I'm still on the road," she told Inside Edition. "I have more to learn." The Honolulu resident began attending college in 1962, but had to put her education on hold when she went through a divorce and became a single mom. All these years later, Craton decided to finish what she started, and because she is hard of hearing and uses a wheelchair, she completed her courses online, earning a 4.0 GPA along the way.

The president of Southern New Hampshire University surprised Craton by bringing her degree to Hawaii, and the new graduate said she's proud of her accomplishment. "It feels good to finish that part of my life," she said. "I couldn't see just sitting there watching Netflix all the time." Catherine Garcia

1:39 a.m. ET
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When peace talks begin Monday in the capital of Kazakhstan, the Syrian opposition will only discuss the cease-fire brokered by Turkey and Russia, which leaders say has been primarily violated by Iranian-backed militias supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"We will not enter into any political discussions and everything revolves over abiding by the cease-fire and the humanitarian dimension of easing the suffering of Syrians under siege and release of detainees and delivery of aid," Yahya al Aridi, a spokesman for the opposition delegation, told Reuters. "The Syrian regime has an interest in diverting attention from these issues. If the Syrian regime thinks our presence in Astana is a surrender by us, this is a delusion."

The peace talks are being orchestrated by Russia and Iran, supporters of the Syrian government, and Turkey, which backs the rebels. Over the last six years of fighting, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been killed and 11 million have been displaced. Catherine Garcia

1:21 a.m. ET
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On Sunday, an adviser to Gambian President Adama Barrow said that former President Yahya Jammeh had nearly drained the national coffers in his final weeks before flying into exile on Saturday, as a regional West African military force entered Gambia to force him out of office. Jammeh lost December's election to Barrow, conceded defeat, then changed his mind a week later. Jammeh, who was in power 22 years, also shipped an unknown number of luxury vehicles and other goods out of the country on Saturday on a Chadian cargo plane.

"The Gambia is in financial distress," Barrow adviser Mai Ahmad Fatty said at a press conference in Senegal, where Barrow took the oath of office and is staying until Gambia is deemed safe. "The coffers are virtually empty. That is a state of fact.... It has been confirmed by technicians in the ministry of finance and the Central Bank of the Gambia." Fatty said that Jammeh had made off with at least $11.4 million in the two weeks, and financial experts are trying to see how much more is missing. Barrow "will return home as soon as possible," he added.

The West African military force arrived in Gambia's capital, Banjul, on Sunday night, greeted by cheering residents. They will start sweeping the State House, the president's official residence, to make sure it is safe, and stay in the country "until such time the security general situation is comprehensively redressed," Barrow said in a statement. Barrow is assembling a Cabinet and working on plans to reverse the state of emergency Jammeh put in place in his final weeks. Jammeh is reported to be in Equatorial Guinea, which is not party to the International Criminal Court. Peter Weber

12:51 a.m. ET
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In Russia, a bill introduced by a controversial lawmaker is being advanced that would decriminalize domestic violence.

A recent poll found that nearly 20 percent of Russians think it's acceptable to hit a spouse or a child, The Associated Press reports. Battery is a criminal offense in Russia, but the bill would remove criminal liability for assaults against relatives that do not cause severe injuries. Last summer, the Supreme Court ruled to decriminalize battery that does not inflict bodily harm, but retain criminal charges for anyone accused of battery against a family member. Conservative activists said this wasn't right, because it meant a parent spanking their child would receive a heftier punishment than a non-parent hitting the child. The woman who introduced the bill is ultra-conservative lawmaker Yelena Mizulina, who also authored a law banning "gay propaganda."

This bill "is not going to improve the situation to say the least," Irina Matvienko, who runs the Anna Center Foundation hotline, told AP. "Domestic violence is a system which makes it difficult for a woman to seek help. It's not a traditional value. It's a crime." The foundation runs the only domestic violence hotline in Russia, and in 2016 received more than 5,000 calls during office hours. In 2013, more than 9,000 women were reported to have been killed in domestic violence incidents, and many more being abused are too afraid to come forward, activist Alyona Popova said. "Society is judgmental," she said. "It goes like this: you're a bad woman if you allow this to happen to you, or you're airing dirty laundry and you're to blame, or it's he beats you [and] it means he loves you. And a lot of people don't want to go public about it." Catherine Garcia

12:28 a.m. ET

Protecting America's top political leaders — including the outgoing and incoming presidents, Supreme Court justices, and leaders of Congress — at an outdoor inauguration, plus the crowd of people who came to watch President Trump sworn in on Friday, is no small feat, and the various U.S. law enforcement officers who kept everyone safe deserve commendation. On Sunday, Trump gave law enforcement leaders his personal thanks — in some cases, very personal — at a reception in the White House.

Trump called newly sworn-in Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, whom he called "General," up for a hand-clasp and arm-pat, saying, "From Day 1, I have felt safe." Then he pointed to FBI Director James Comey, making a gesture with his lips. "Jim," he said. "He's become more famous than me." Trump shook Comey's hand, whispered something in his ear, and gave him a pat on the arm. Watch below. Peter Weber

January 22, 2017
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FBI, CIA, and NSA agents have investigated communications between retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President Trump's national security adviser, and Russian officials to determine if the contact may have violated laws, people familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

It's unclear when the inquiry began or whether any incriminating evidence has been found. Flynn plays a role in setting U.S. policy toward Russia, and the probe is looking into a series of calls Flynn made to the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced sanctions against Russia for interfering with the 2016 presidential election. Read more about the investigation at The Wall Street Journal. Catherine Garcia

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