March 11, 2014

The key to solving the Ukraine tinder box almost certainly lies with Russian President Vladimir Putin. That's led a lot of people — including the White House, America's European allies, esteemed members of Congress, and even late-night comedians — to try and figure out just what makes Putin tick. Here are four columnists with some connection to Russia or Ukraine offering their insights into the wily Russian president, and their advice on how to deal with Putin's aggression in Crimea.

Emperor Putin has no clothes
"Vladimir Putin is a man obsessed with an idea: Russia was, is, and always will be a great power," says Mark Nuckols, who teaches law and business in Moscow, at the San Francisco Chronicle. He has publicly mourned the end of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the century," and his passion to "ensure that Russia regains its imperial greatness" outweighs all other considerations, including "the well-being of Russian citizens," Nuckols adds. That's why he invaded Georgia, then Ukraine.

[Putin] is driven by misplaced pride, domestic politics, and well-justified fear. His pride and desire to see a Great Power Russia impel him to military adventures and political interference in neighboring states. And these adventures appeal to Russian public opinion, still smarting from the humiliations of the 1990s. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Putin's worldview is simply incompatible with America's
"Putin has enjoyed a stunning variety of incarnations in the American imagination in his nearly 15 years as Russia's leader," and marauding authoritarian dictator is just the latest, says Russian American journalist Masha Gessen at the Los Angeles Times. But he's not insane, and he's not Hitler, she adds.

History's dictators have generally tried to convince themselves and others that they were good people fighting the good fight. But Putin has no positive spin for his aggression — or his actions in general... He believes that all governments would like to jail their opponents and invade their neighbors, but most political leaders, most of the time, lack the courage to act on these desires... For American culture, which relies heavily on a belief in the fundamental goodness of humanity, this is an impossible world view to absorb. It is another world indeed. But that does not make it crazy. [Los Angeles Times]

Putin needs an exit strategy
John McCarron, writing at the Chicago Tribune, offers an opinion based on his time in the Navy during the Cold War. McCarron's solution: "Give Russia a way out."

Let them save some face. After all, it's Vladimir Putin, not Barack Obama, who is caught in a wringer.... It would be a huge mistake to try to back the Russian bear into a corner, to bluff and to bluster, to escalate Cold War-style with increasingly harsh economic and diplomatic sanctions... Putin needs — Russians need — a nonembarrassing way around this mess they've made for themselves. [Chicago Tribune]

Putin's advantage is temporary
Putin didn't invade Ukraine because he thinks Obama is week, says Nicholas Kristof at The New York Times. He doesn't much care. "We don't have much leverage because Putin cares far more about Ukraine than he does about being in the G-8." But instead of panicking about Russia's resurgence, "let's also recognize that, in the long run, it's Putin who has stumbled here." Crimea will just be a headache for Russia, and the rest of Ukraine is now solidly in "the West's orbit."

[W]estern Ukrainians look across the border at a thriving Poland, now firmly embedded in Europe, and see that as a far better model for the future. Likewise, in a couple of decades, Russians may well look over the border at a thriving, European Ukraine and want that model for themselves as well. So be strong, Senators Graham and McCain: Putin's advantage is temporary. [NY Times] Peter Weber

5:33 p.m.

If you love Keanu Reeves, clear your schedule on May 21, 2021, because Hollywood is treating you to a double feature.

Warner Bros. has announced that The Matrix 4 will arrive in theaters on that date, which also happens to be the date Lionsgate had previously scheduled for the fourth John Wick movie. Honestly: Just cut out the middleman and give us the John Wick vs. Neo movie of our collective dreams. Read more at The Wrap. Scott Meslow

5:22 p.m.

Let's hope Vacation is all you ever wanted, because you're about to get a lot more of it.

The Griswold family — immortalized on the big screen in the movies Vacation, European Vacation, Christmas Vacation, Vegas Vacation, and an Ed Helms-starring reboot you probably forgot about — is bound for the small screen, reports Deadline.

The new TV series, titled The Griswolds, will premiere on the upcoming streaming service HBO Max, and promises to explore the family's "daily lives in the suburbs of modern-day Chicago," because nothing says "Vacation adaptation" like a bunch of people sitting around at home. Read more at Deadline. Scott Meslow

4:55 p.m.

The upcoming Game of Thrones prequel spinoff House of the Dragon is set hundreds of years before the events of the original series, which makes it rather unlikely that fan favorites like Tyrion Lannister or Arya Stark will be popping in for cameos.

But one Game of Thrones actor who could actually, plausibly appear in House of the Dragon says she might be down to reprise her role: Carie van Houten, who played the "red witch" Melisandre.

Melisandre was eventually revealed to be very, very old in one of many Game of Thrones plot twists that didn't actually go anywhere — but hey, at least that gives the spinoff something to explore. Read more at Entertainment Weekly. Scott Meslow

4:52 p.m.

Between HBO's Big Little Lies and and Apple TV+'s The Morning Show, Reese Witherspoon has spent much of 2019 on the small screen. But there's one big-screen character she's keen to revive: Elle Woods, the protagonist of 2001's Legally Blonde and its sequel.

A third Legally Blonde hasn't formally been greenlit, but Witherspoon confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter that it's on her list: "We discussed it and thought, maybe it's time to revisit" — and given that the last Legally Blonde movie ended with Elle Woods setting her sights on the White House, the 2020 election could be about to get very interesting.

Read more at The Hollywood Reporter. Scott Meslow

4:49 p.m.

Everything may be proceeding as some Star Wars fans had foreseen.

A wild new clip from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker released Thursday provided one last-minute bombshell reveal from the film, one that very strongly suggests a fan theory surrounding Emperor Palpatine will end up being true.

In the clip, Palpatine, who was thought dead in Return of the Jedi but has somehow returned in The Rise of Skywalker, communicates with Kylo Ren and tells him, "I have been every voice you have ever heard inside your head." The line starts in Palpatine's voice, then morphs into Supreme Leader Snoke's voice, and finally turns into the voice of Darth Vader.

The clip's implication seems to be that Palpatine isn't just suddenly back now but has actually been quietly manipulating Kylo for years. This immediately brings to mind Kylo speaking with Darth Vader's charred helmet in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and asking his grandfather to "show me again. The power of the darkness."

It wouldn't make sense for Anakin Skywalker to show his grandson visions of the darkness considering he turned from the Dark Side before he died. But ever since Palpatine's return was announced for The Rise of Skywalker, some fans speculated he was actually the one behind these visions all along, with Palpatine just tricking Kylo into thinking he was communicating with his grandfather. That certainly appears to be where The Rise of Skywalker is heading.

The addition of the Snoke voice could also imply he was merely a puppet of Palpatine or was even just Palpatine himself, which might explain why Palpatine's theme briefly popped up on Star Wars: The Last Jedi's score during a Snoke scene. Does this mean Palpatine alone was responsible for turning not one, but two members of the Skywalker bloodline to the Dark Side?

We'll find out for sure when The Rise of Skywalker hits theaters on Dec. 20. Brendan Morrow

4:24 p.m.

President Trump's impeachment saga is just begging for an HBO adaptation.

There's foreign intrigue. There are talkative star witnesses. And there's the possibility of seeing Timothée Chalamet squeeze on a bald cap to play Rudy Giuliani once he's a few decades past his prime. All of that — but in the present day and shoved into the Senate floor — is what Trump wants out of his upcoming Senate trial, Politico reports via interviews with eight current and former senior administration officials, Trump campaign aides and Republicans close to the White House.

Trump used to be worried about impeachment, even angry, Politico says. Yet lately, Trump has started laughing the whole thing off, calling the charges against him "flimsy" and the whole thing "impeachment lite." The change in attitude comes as "White House and campaign officials" start to believe "impeachment could become politically advantageous" both for swing-state Republicans and those challenging vulnerable House Democrats, Politico reports. They've gotten their confidence from polling that has shown impeachment is "unpopular with Republicans" and questionable among independents, and also the fact that no Republicans on the Hill have defected to back the process, Politico continues.

But Trump and Senate Republicans aren't on the same page about everything. While the Senate reportedly just wants to get this whole thing over with, Trump "would prefer it become more of a TV spectacle with high-profile witnesses and smooth-talking attorneys to fully exonerate him," Politico writes. After all, an appearance from Alan Dershowitz would make the O.J. Simpson parallels just too much to handle. Kathryn Krawczyk

4:00 p.m.

It's not a good day to have push notifications for President Trump's Twitter feed turned on.

The president's Twitter account has exploded with an absurd amount of activity throughout the day on Thursday, as the House Judiciary Committee debated articles of impeachment against him. As of the mid-afternoon, he had overwhelmed followers with more than 100 tweets or retweets.

The day's not even over yet, and The Washington Post reports Trump has already sent more tweets and retweets than he has on any day since he announced his candidacy for president in 2015. The previous record came on Sunday, when he hit 105. The Post notes that Trump sent more tweets or retweets today alone than former President Obama sent on the @POTUS account from May 2016 through January 2017.

The vast majority of Trump's Thursday tweets have been related to the impeachment hearing, although not all; among his first was an attack on 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who he told to "chill" after she was named Time person of the year.

Trump during the impeachment inquiry has insisted he's "too busy" to watch the televised hearings, and he even described himself on Thursday as having a "very busy day," Vox points out. Too busy for more than 100 retweets by mid-afternoon, though? Certainly not. Brendan Morrow

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