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]
Russian and Western leaders don’t see eye-to-eye on the crisis in Ukraine, but they’ve reached consensus on another important issue: Adolf Hitler was bad.
Read more. [Image: Alex Kuzmin/Reuters]
KIEV—In front of the scorched husk of the city’s Trade Union building, three young men in grubby fatigues sit outside a tent pitched on Independence Square, their faces rattled and vacant. One stares up at the clear blue sky, spinning idly on an office chair.
The tent is a rehabilitation hub, part of efforts by ‘Euromaidan’ supporters to provide counseling and relief to thousands of protesters struggling to cope with a mix of defiance, grief, and fear as the demonstration’s hard-won triumphs have suddenly given way to the threat of war over Crimea, whose residents recently voted for reunification with Russia in a referendum.
Read more. [Image: Gleb Garanich/Reuters]
On Sunday, Crimeans voted in a hastily organized referendum to secede from Ukraine and join the Russian Federation, pending Moscow’s approval. And while international observers have widely dismissed the vote as illegal, Russian officials have taken issue with that claim, drawing comparisons between Crimea’s independence bid and similar Western ones.
RT, a Kremlin-funded news organization, helpfully compiled a list of “5 referendums that the West has not taken issue with,” including those in Kosovo, Catalonia, and Scotland. And Russian authorities have also cited these precedents. “The decision [by Crimea’s parliament] is fully in line with international practice. It is enough to look at Scotland and you can find other examples,” claimed Valentina Matviyenko, the speaker of the Federation Council, Russia’s upper house of parliament. “No one says the Scotland referendum is illegal.”
The British government isn’t exactly thrilled about the comparison.
Read more. [Image: Russell Cheyne/Reuters]