The political genius of Vladimir Putin

The Russian president’s popularity has soared because he is doing what a leader is supposed to do: sticking up for the interests of his state.

The "one thing we know for sure is that we don't know what's going on" in Ukraine, says Marina Lewycka in The Guardian. The West's greeting of last month's violent insurrection in Kiev as an "uprising of the people of Ukraine" against closer ties with Russia is "willfully nave" and simply reveals our desperation to pin "goodie" and "baddie" labels on somebody. The situation is "volatile" and "murky": is Russia annexing Crimea or rescuing it? "It depends on your point of view."

But we should pause to remember that the erstwhile Ukrainian president, Viktor Yanukovych, "for all his grotesque self-enrichment, was democratically elected", and that EU membership the dream of the Maidan protestors was never on offer. What's more, the two countries' histories have been entwined for more than 1,000 years. What is certain is that the EU and the US are playing right into Vladimir Putin's "grubby little hands". The Russian president's popularity has soared because he is doing what a leader is supposed to do: sticking up for the interests of his state.

Putin's "political genius" is undeniable, says Ian Birrell in The Independent. He has taken back Crimea without firing a shot, while Western leaders "flounder". People are buying his line that "democracy was ditched and the country seized by fascists and street gangsters". But no one should be "under any illusions" over what is happening, which is that Russia is "annexing a slab of another country".

The Ukrainian crisis is about a historical tug between Europe and Russia, says Daniel Finkelstein in The Times. At Yalta in 1945, the Ukrainians, who saw themselves as part of mainstream Europe, were "taken into the Russian orbit". The Maidan revolution is a "cry for help" and the question now is "whether we will have the will and clarity of thought to respond". Putin is protecting Russian dominance, plain and simple.

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