The American people may not much care, but among the foreign-policy elite, public opinion is undergoing its sharpest shift since the Iraq War went south. Fears of overstretch are out; fears of vacillation are in. Russia’s shrewd and thuggish behavior in Ukraine has alarmed not just the Dick Cheney-Bill Kristol crowd, for which every American adversary is Nazi Germany and every contested space is the Sudetenland, but many in the sensible center as well. The clearest evidence yet comes courtesy of that tribune of worldly prudence, The Economist, which declares in this week’s cover essay that “America is no longer as alarming to its foes or reassuring to its friends.” The Obama administration’s “retreats,” warns the magazine’s accompanying editorial, have sparked “a nagging suspicion among friends and foes that on the big day America simply might not turn up.”
This is bunk.
Read more. [Image: Reuters/The Atlantic]
While the world’s attention has been riveted on Ukraine and what move an emboldened Vladimir Putin will make next, diverse threats to democracy have intensified on other fronts as well. The story is not new. According to Freedom House, 2013 was the eighth consecutive year in which more countries experienced declines in political rights or civil liberties than improvements. Since 2005, democracy has ceased its decades-long expansion, leveling off at about 60 percent of all independent states. And since the military coup in Pakistan in 1999, the rate of democratic breakdowns has accelerated, with about one in every five democracies failing.
Read more. [Image: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]
Around the world, a number of groups looking to draw tourists have constructed upside-down houses, complete with inverted furnishings and decor. Collected here are photos of four recent examples of his topsy-turvy architecture in China, Russia, Germany, and Austria, As a bonus, all of the interior shots are interactive — click on them to flip the view and see it “right side up”.
Among the world’s many politicians to be regularly called a narcissist, Vladimir Putin may be given the label the most, and with the most serious intent, especially since the Sochi Olympics and the Russian invasion of Crimea. During a recent segment on the PBC NewsHour, for example, New York Times columnist David Brooks stated that U.S. attitudes toward Putin have “hardened to an amazing degree” and the current administration now views him as a “narcissistic autocrat.” Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, has accused Putin of “narcissistic megalomania.” The Financial Times referred to the Sochi Olympics as “Putin’s narcissistic self-tribute.”
Photos of the Russian president scuba-diving, piloting a plane, behind the wheel of a race car, demonstrating his skill in martial arts, and baring his chest on horseback only contribute to this view and evoke the predictably derisive response: Putin is a narcissist.
But is it accurate to describe Putin as a narcissist in the clinical sense of the word? Can an understanding of the psychological roots of narcissism help us to gain deeper insight into the man and how we should respond to his aggression, rather than using the label to deride him?
Read more. [Image: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP]
BAKHCHYSARAI, Crimea—Guliver Altın loves old maps. He loves the crudely drawn outlines of continents and oceans, the regions of bright green and red and yellow—shapes and colors moving across the ages, expanding and contracting. To him, maps represent the vagaries of political history, illustrated.
Few places in the world have had more colorful and mutable maps than the Crimean peninsula, where borders have shifted yet again after Russia annexed the region from Ukraine in mid-March, following a referendum. As if living in a world of Zeno’s paradoxes, Crimeans have suddenly found themselves in a new country and even a new time zone. But this is nothing new. In 1783, after a series of wars, the Russian Empire annexed the Crimean Khanate, the Muslim Tatar state that had ruled Crimea and part of the north littoral of the Black Sea for the three previous centuries. In 1954, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev transferred the peninsula from Soviet Russia to Soviet Ukraine, only for Crimea to become part of independent Ukraine after the disintegration of the U.S.S.R. in 1991.
Read more. [Image: Boryana Katsarova/Pulitzer Center]
If you could turn back the hands of time, what would you wish for? For Russian President Vladimir Putin, it seems to be to return to the days of mass physical fitness. Not just of physical-education training in schools—which already exists in Russia—but of mass calisthenics in stadiums, mass parades of athletes through Moscow’s Red Square, and fluttering banners with slogans urging ‘Everyone to the Starting Line!’
On March 24, Putin, a well-known fitness buff, signed an executive order to bring it all back. He ordered the revival of a Stalin-era fitness program from the 1930s called “Ready for Labor and Defense,” or “GTO” by its Russian initials. The state-sponsored program, which mixed fitness, health, and patriotism, had been moribund since the collapse of the Soviet Union, when it fell victim to Russians’ suddenly greater freedoms of choice.
Now, GTO is due to start in September across the country. How it will look in its modern incarnation remains to be seen. But if it is anything like before, it will be a sight more reminiscent of the bygone days of the U.S.S.R., or Maoist China, than anything around in the world today.
Read more. [Image: Ria Novosti via Reuters]
Today’s strangest headlines in global defense news come courtesy of the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, which reports, based on a tip from an anonymous aquarium employee, that the Russian Navy has enlisted the Ukrainian military’s dolphins. Ukraine’s sea lions have also “become Russian,” since they, like the dolphins, are housed and trained in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, territory now claimed and controlled by Russia.
Amid the Ukrainian army’s withdrawal from the southern peninsula, some are interpreting the marine-mammal annexation as a coup de grâce—the “final act of humiliation,” as The Independent put it. But this overlooks the fact that Ukraine was never all that thrilled with the combat-dolphin program it inherited from the Soviet Union.
In fact, the Ukrainian Navy was reportedly planning to shutter its program next month.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
Recently, photographer Amos Chapple spent some time in Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city. He used a small drone to lift his camera high above the cathedrals and fortresses, capturing some amazing aerial photos. Chapple: “There’s a legend in Russia that Saint Petersburg was constructed in the blue heavens and lowered in one piece into the marshland, ‘for how otherwise could a city so beautiful exist in a region so bleak.’” Chapple, has previously showed us Stalin’s Rope Roads, and took us on a trip to Turkmenistan.
In the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, some Ukrainians have been boycotting Russian goods. And some Ukrainian women are boycotting the most basic “good” of them all.The campaign, “Don’t Give It to a Russian” encourages women to “fight the enemy by whatever means,” on its Facebook page.
Read more. [Image: Aubrey Beardsley/Wikimedia Commons]