Putin's Dangerous Folly

Jon-Christopher Bua   |   March 14, 2014   11:00 PM ET

It is said that those who do not learn from history are often doomed to repeat its tragic mistakes.

Judging from the recent heated volleys between Russian Federation President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and the West over Crimea and Ukraine, it seems that history is regrettably repeating itself once again.

As with the un-heeded lessons in Afghanistan, Iraq, Vietnam, Korea, Israel and Palestine, the First and Second World Wars, the Crimea and what it has represented in history, has many lessons to teach us.

For those who are indeed students of history and its lessons learned several things should be universally clear:

Most wars have been fought to secure the means of wealth production - access to seaports, oil, silk, water and other natural resources - there is almost always an economic element.

Wars are often an expression of an inherent right of both a nation and its leader to dominate those who are weaker and less cultured and who may pose obstacles to their course in history.

If former KGB Colonel Putin wishes to prove that his Mother Russia should carry the same clout as the Soviet Union because of its potential contributions to global well-being and not because it just happens to have an enormous supply of nuclear weapons, so far he has failed to do so.

With Sochi Putin tried to show off Russia as a real player on the world stage that could put on a glorious Olympics.

Unfortunately, without skipping a beat, he sent his troops in to occupy his neighbor prompting threats of reprisals and condemnation from the West.

The parallels of this latest situation in Crimea and the 1936 Berlin Olympics are not lost on those who have studied that period and those who remember it first hand.

The 1916 Olympics which was also scheduled to take place in Berlin was cancelled due to the Great War.

Two decades later, the 1936 Olympics was awarded to Germany by the International Olympic Committee in 1931 before Adolf Hitler became Chancellor.

Hitler, not by any account athletic, was prompted by Joseph Goebbels, his minister for public enlightenment and propaganda to put on a stunning 1936 Olympics which could be used to showcase the "New Germany".

Hitler spent 42million Reichmarks building an impressive 325-acre Olympic Sports Complex at a time when the German economy was more than just struggling.

Only two years later in an effort to unify the German speaking people Hitler annexed Austria.

Clearly his lust for conquest did not end there.

History warns of the pitfalls to avoid and if we care to heed its lessons, can also provide solutions to our most difficult challenges.

There is another lesson to be learned: Beware of the unappreciated and insecure despot.

According to Barbara W. Tuchman, in The Guns of August - which analyzes the climate and causes for World War I - it was Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II who expressed his regret that he was never invited by the French to visit the 'City of Light' and complained to Theodore Roosevelt that English nobility never visited Berlin but always Paris.

"Le Gran Diss" provoked more than words from the Kaiser who according to Tuchman used the threat that his "Great Navy" would gain him the respect he deserved.

This kind of rhetoric which is prevalent in our world today intensified the climate allowing for the Great War.

Tuchman in attempting to explain the causes of this war quotes General von Bernhardi a German cavalry officer and well know writer of the later 19th Century as saying "She [Germany] cannot attain her 'great moral ends' without increased political power, an enlarged sphere of influence, and new territory. This increase in power, 'befitting our importance', and 'which we are entitled to claim' is a political necessity' and 'the first and foremost duty of the State.'"

Perhaps Putin may be sympathetic to the von Bernhardi concept of manifest destiny.

After all, Putin is quoted as saying that the collapse of the Soviet Union "was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century."

Although in fairness, what nation does not consider itself great?

Putin's desire to be front and center on the world stage has put him in a vicarious position.

As we play it forward, what is not so clear today is what his actual plans or intentions are...but we are taking him very seriously.

It is true, that Ukraine President Viktor Yanukovych put Putin in an embarrassing and difficult position by allowing the violent street protests to get out of hand in Kiev - for all the 24 hour news and social media to observe worldwide.

It was an embarrassing moment for Putin while he basked in the glory of Sochi.

Putin reacted forcefully when the street protesters chased the democratically elected Yanukovych from office and Parliament voted to free Yulia Tymoshenko, former opposition leader, from jail by sending Russian forces in to invade Crimea.

Although some believe Putin may have planned this all along, it is also equally plausible that he found himself in a difficult position with his domestic audience when a democratically elected president, who was friendly to Russia, was ousted by street protests.

Putin clearly did not want to suffer the economic consequences of a trade deal between the Ukraine and the EU.

In one of his latest moves, Putin working with the leadership in Crimea, is trying to put a democratic gloss on his on his move to make Crimea part of Russia with the Referendum.

The fast moving changes in Ukraine and Putin's aggressive moves to seize Crimea have also put President Obama and the West in a precarious situation with both their domestic and international audiences.

Obama needs to be seen as supporting democracy.

This is tricky since the US has taken almost no action when virtually the same thing happened in Egypt - and now here we go again!

The American public are becoming more and more skeptical of an aggressive US foreign policy which comes at a great cost of blood and treasure but yields little in terms of concrete positive outcomes for the US.

Obama has these domestic pressures to deal with on the eve of a mid-term election along with the responsibility of being a super power.

Now with Russia integrated into the borderless world economy, all sides have a great deal to lose.

Unless the West is willing to engage militarily, the only obvious way to get Putin's attention is by imposing real economic sanctions that have a real effect.

However the New Russia - which is integrated into the world economy - cannot be isolated by sanctions without severely damaging Russia's trade partners and investors in the West.

Although Russia can be "uninvited" to what was the G-8 and is now the G-7, billions of dollars worth of transactions and joint ventures cannot be unwound without significant damage to all parties.

Perhaps it is time to borrow an historic solution from the Cuban Missile Crisis.

During those now famous thirteen days Nikita Khrushchev and President John F. Kennedy went head to head escalating the stakes with each move and bringing the world perilously close to nuclear destruction.

In the end clever, behind the scenes diplomacy prevailed giving Khrushchev a promise he desired - US missiles out of Turkey - in exchange for removing Soviet missiles from Cuba.

Let's hope that there is some clever behind the scenes diplomacy going on now that will allow both sides to back down and save face before it is too late.

Obama: Funny, Clever, Neither or Both?

Preetam Kaushik   |   March 14, 2014    6:56 PM ET

When was the last time US President Barack Obama made us laugh? Was it when they gave him the Nobel Peace Prize even though he's known to be the man behind drone warfare? Or was it recently when he, the commander-in-chief of an army who's still fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, almost imposed trade bans on Russia for attempting to invade another country?

While the aforementioned incidents might invoke cynical laughs, we cannot forget that Obama is still the man who called Kanye West a "jackass" when the RnB artist interrupted Taylor Swift's speech at the MTV awards. Barring his "Yes We Can" motto during the 2008 elections, his rebuke of Kanye West is the one other time the internet nodded in agreement.

But recently, Obama made headlines (that's something US Presidents do quite often) again for appearing in Funny or Die's web-series Between Two Ferns which is hosted by comedian Zack Galifianakis. So, the next time someone asks "what's common between Justin Bieber, Bruce Willis, Bradley Cooper and Barack Obama?" we'll know what to say.

While people such as Bill O'Reilly think that it's very unprofessional of the POTUS to appear on a comedy show, (that's okay; the internet doesn't really care about what O'Reilly thinks) Obama's main agenda for being on the show was to connect with young Americans and sell the Obamacare idea. After all, if only baby boomers and other old people subscribed to the healthcare then there would be nobody to actually fund the plan without much need for the government to pay for their health.

So, when the right wingers are trying to tell the world that the appearance was "un-president-like", the joke's on them, because from a monetary point of view, this appearance of his is perhaps the best push Obamacare needed. Tara McGuinness, the White House communications advisor tweeted "FunnyOrDie.com is the #1 source of referrals to HealthCare.gov right now." If that's true, then funny or not, Obama's presence was definitely a success.

But then, if we strictly approach it from a comedic perspective, his appearance was, for lack of a better word, awkward. The obviously scripted (read - examined by the White House) lines could have used some better comic timing. Zack Galifianakis is known to be a funny person. He has a successful stand-up comedy life and he's also hit it big time in Hollywood, thanks to his portrayal of Alan in the Hangover series of comedy films. Speaking of which, one of the mildly high points of humor in the talk show was when Obama landed a jab by saying a third term as President wouldn't be as bad as the third Hangover movie.

Now, coming back to the core question - Is Obama a funny guy? Well it depends, doesn't it? On whether we're laughing with him or at him. Because if it's the latter, his predecessor Bush takes the cake. The Arab footwear industry probably started a whole new aerodynamic range just because one of them decided to fling a shoe at him. And Bush indulged the thrower too with a "bring it on" gesture.

Obama's definitely funnier than his Russian counterpart Putin, who has the same expression whether he's in diplomatic meet, counter Chechen rebels, reacting to Pussy Riot songs or posing topless on a horse. And surely Obama's funnier than the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, but then so is anybody who's ever spoken. The Indian leader is an icon of silence in his country's pop culture scene.

The point is, while Between Two Ferns is supposed to be a funny show, Obama's appearance was more of a "plug" for Obamacare, and he was successful at getting that part of the job done.

Cosmos - A Spacetime Odyssey and the Ironies it's Working Around

Preetam Kaushik   |   March 11, 2014    7:47 PM ET

"The cosmos is all that is or was or ever will be." - Carl Sagan.

"A generation ago, the astronomer Carl Sagan stood here and launched hundreds of millions of us on a great adventure - the exploration of the universe revealed by science. It's time to get going again." - Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

The first line up there includes the iconic words that Carl Sagan uttered when the original Cosmos - A Personal Voyage opened in the eighties. The second line opened the follow-up series titled Cosmos - A Spacetime Odyssey which aired last Sunday with Tyson as the host, who pays tribute to Sagan through these words.

The first episode in A Spacetime Odyssey is titled "Standing Up in the Milky Way", and the core intention of the almost hour long content here was to make the viewers understand where Earth stands with respect to the other celestial objects that make up the "observable" universe. Let's pause for a moment here and try to fully comprehend the use of the word 'observable'. Tyson, in his deep and highly comforting voice tells us "the observable universe is roughly 13.8 billion years old. There are stars out there in the unexplored universe that are so far away that there light will take more than 13.8 billion years to reach us."

The first episode was aired simultaneously across 10 networks in America and many other channels all over the world. There is a sense of nostalgia in watching Cosmos on TV with your family, where the background music is scored by Alan Silvestri (the man behind the iconic music in the Back to the Future sci-fi trilogy among other accomplishments) but with the evolution of VFX over the last 34 years (the gap between the two shows), having a screening on the large screen was quite inevitable. The theatre in this story happened to be Austin's Paramount Theatre which also saw Tyson and Ann Druyan, the widow of Sagan and the co-writer of the eighties' show, personally field questions among a live audience.

Tyson did not fail to see the irony of airing the heavily scientifically leaning program on FOX network, which is home to FOX news - the go-to news network for right wing Christians who believe in creationism, have doubts about Darwin's theory of Evolution and think global warming is a myth propagated by the liberal media. But he was also quick to counter that argument saying it was necessary to choose FOX as the network for such a show because that way the writers could reach out to the people who needed the most amount of convincing. This response is not surprising considering how one of Tyson's most famous quotes is - "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe it". When Druyan was asked how she'd describe the show, she kept it concise saying "equal parts rigorous scepticism and wonder".

Speaking of irony, this is also a very important time to talk about NASA. Without NASA a show like Cosmos would have never been possible - not now and not in the eighties either. The pictures of the surface of the moon, of Earth from the moon, of the other planets, of the Milky Way, of Andromeda - one of our neighbouring galaxies, etc. - all of these have been physically captured by NASA. But for NASA, this current administration has not been the most favorable one. There have been major budget cuts which have resulted in lesser amount of research and development work in NASA.

Considering all of this, having President Obama introducing the show was probably taken with a pinch of salt by many a science-supporting people. The suits in the Congress in US are not the most loved people by the brains working in NASA and so having their boss welcome one the most awaited shows was probably the most ironic thing on TV you've ever seen.

Another interesting aspect about the show is that the main producer behind the scenes is none other than Seth Macfarlane, who's probably most famous as the creator of animated comedy sitcom, Family Guy. From that to Cosmos is obviously a huge leap and a lot of people who do not know much about the person might consider this quite ironic. But Macfarlane has been quite vocal about this support for the Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan Archive at the Library of Congress and his openly critical views about American television. He has gone on record stating "The continuance of our journey outward into space should always occupy some part of our collective attention, regardless of whatever Snooki did last week", a clear jab at mind-numbing shows like Jersey Shore.

Lastly, and this is perhaps the most important and amazing part of the new show, we also have to understand the timing of this release. Americans and the world in general are at a crossroad where religion plays a huge role in world affairs even though there have been many examples of how that is a hugely problematic thing in this modern world. By getting a famous and popular astrophysicist like Neil DeGrasse Tyson to host the show, the scientific lobby has managed to hit a homerun. While in the 80's, Sagan was just a "science-guy" talking about space exploration, today Tyson is the agnostic host of Cosmos who's clearly a champion for the scientific way of thinking.

  |   March 11, 2014    1:24 PM ET

It's not many people who would have the nerve call Barack Obama a "nerd', "Kenyan", and accuse his affordable care act of not working to his face.

And to suggest he would be "the last black president? Wow.

Zach Galifianakis is one of those people.

In a rather erm... quirky interview with the President of the United States, Galifianakis covers all none of the important topics.

Obama didn't take it lying down though - he got a few quality digs about the host's weight as well as his role in the 'Hangover' films.

It is very funny. And the program is called 'Between Two Ferns' which is the best concept for a chat show we've ever seen.

Apparently a British version with Mademoiselles Britton and Cotton is in the pipeline...

  |   March 7, 2014   12:23 PM ET

A young British beautician has been torn to shreds by the internet after her attempt to spell the US President's name went horrifically wrong.

Gemma Worrall, 20, spelt Barack Obama as… wait for it... "Barraco Barner."

obama

Additionally, Ms Worrall thought Obama was the British president and scolded him for "getting involved with Russia."

But instead of sparking an intellectual debate about the Ukraine crisis, she found herself at the centre of global attention with social media users branding the message a new low for "dumb Britain."

Within 12 hours Ms Worrall's comment had been retweeted almost 7,000 times.

barack obama

The beautician, who admits politics isn't her strong point, has now been left too fearful to tweet.

Revealing the abuse she has received she said: "Some of the comments I was getting were funny and I could have a good laugh at myself but others were just brutal and extreme and they were coming from all over the world.

"I might have had a bit of a ditzy moment but I don't deserve to be called such horrible names. I am harmless and didn't mean to offend anyone with my tweet," she told the Cavendish Press.

"I'm just amazed at how quickly things can get out of hand from one comment. I will definitely think before I tweet in future."

Mehdi Hasan   |   March 7, 2014    7:58 AM ET

Here are the five things you need to know on Friday 7 March 2014...

1) 'NAZI' UKIP HAS DONE US A FAVOUR, SAYS TORY MP

Forget the infamous 'fruitcakes, loonies and racists' attack on Ukip by David Cameron from several years ago; yesterday, Tory backbencher Robert Halfon let rip against Nigel Farage's anti-EU party, comparing some of its members to Nazis in an interview with House magazine. My HuffPost colleague Ned Simons reports:

"Robert Halfon, the MP for Harlow, said in many ways he was pleased Nigel Farage's party was doing so well as it had helped draw "sinister" people away from the Conservatives. 'To me there are two kinds of Ukip – the Godfrey Bloom guy who’s like a cross between Sid James and Bernard Manning,' he said. 'And then there's a much more sinister element, like the MEP who said every Muslim has got to sign a declaration of non-violence, which to me is literally akin to the Nazis saying Jews should wear a yellow star. I genuinely find it abhorrent and frightening. I'm amazed that man is still an MEP. How someone could say such a thing and then not apologise for it.' In an interview with The House magazine, Halfon, who is Jewish, said that Nigel Farage's party had actually done the Conservatives a 'huge favour' by 'cleansing people from the Tory party that had these kinds of views'."

Let's be clear: plenty of Tory MPs privately sympathise with Ukip; but plenty of others privately agree with Halfon.

In response, Farage tweeted that Halfon's "hysterical slurs" were due to "Tory terror of Ukip's rising popularity" and said his party planned a national day of action against the Tory backbencher in his Harlow constituency. The Ukip leader didn't however deal with Halfon's specific criticism of Ukip MEP Gerard Batten who did indeed outrageously demand all British Muslims sign a "declaration of non-violence".

2) OBAMA MAKES ANOTHER PLEA

From the BBC:

"US President Barack Obama has urged President Vladimir Putin to seek a diplomatic solution to the crisis in Ukraine, in a lengthy telephone call... President Obama stressed to Russia's president that his country's actions in Crimea were a violation of Ukrainian sovereignty, the White House said in a statement. He said there was a solution available that suited all parties, involving talks between Kiev and Moscow, international monitors in Ukraine and Russian forces returning to their bases. For his part, President Putin said US-Russian 'relations should not be sacrificed due to disagreements over individual, albeit extremely significant, international problems,' the Kremlin said. It was the two leaders' second telephone call concerning Ukraine in less than a week."

Unlike David Cameron, Obama wisely decided not to tweet a picture of himself on the phone with Putin. The Guardian reports: 'European leaders went much further than expected in warning Russia that it will face "severe and far reaching consequences' if it fails to change course on Ukraine, David Cameron said at the end of Thursday's emergency EU summit in Brussels. The prime minister, who had feared German nerves about confronting Vladimir Putin would weaken the EU's resolve, returned home satisfied that Europe and the US are sending powerful signals to Moscow."

Meanwhile, the FT reports: "Crimea's parliament accelerated plans to break away from Ukraine and join Russia, bringing forward a planned referendum on the peninsula's future by two weeks and inflaming already heightened tensions between Moscow and the west. Crimean voters will be asked on March 16 whether the region, which is now in effect controlled by Russian troops, should become part of the Russian Federation or remain in Ukraine, though with much greater autonomy."

3) 'ANOTHER NAIL IN THE COFFIN' OF POLICE CREDIBILITY

From the Mirror:

"Doreen Lawrence held back tears in the Lords last night as she welcomed a damning report detailing police corruption in the probe into her son's murder. The report by top lawyer Mark Ellison said there were reasonable grounds for thinking a detective had a 'corrupt connection' with a dad of one of Stephen's killers and that police planted 'a spy in the family camp'. Baroness Lawrence said: 'I believed that there was corruption at the start of Stephen's case. It's taken over a year for that [review] but it's taken nearly 21 years since Stephen's been killed, and the fact we as a family had to go through all this and still there's more to come out.' She earlier said of the Metropolitan police force: 'This is going to put another nail in their coffin, you just can't trust them.'"

Yesterday, Home Secretary Theresa May ordered a judge-led public inquiry into the alleged undercover infiltration of political groups by the Met. Speaking to Newsnight last night, however, Neville Lawrence, Stephen's father, said he was "very wary" about the inquiry and said he felt he would "never be able to trust these people".

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Check out how Twitter, including Twitter celebs, took the p*ss of the photo that David Cameron posted of himself on the phone with Barack Obama.

4) GIDEON'S BLACK HOLE

From the FT:

"George Osborne faces a black hole of more than £20bn in the public finances, according to official government economic models, suggesting that Britain might have to endure an extra year of austerity before the books are balanced. The models by the Office for Budget Responsibility, which the Financial Times has replicated, indicate that the government should no longer rely on an economic recovery to eliminate part of the budget deficit. While Britain has staged a remarkable recovery, indicators of the economy's capacity for future growth have deteriorated... The estimates come less than two weeks before Budget day and pose a difficult challenge to whichever party wins the election. If the models are correct, the next government would have to announce new spending cuts or tax rises to eliminate the structural deficit and ultimately to run a surplus."

Meanwhile, the Guardian reveals: "Deep austerity cuts are crippling local councils and have put Britain in breach of its international obligations, the Council of Europe has said. Official rapporteurs found local authorities do 'not have adequate financial resources' and this is likely to 'get worse in years to come', meaning the UK is not compliant with the European charter of local self-government."

5) FOURTH TIME UNLUCKY

From the Huffington Post UK:

"Iain Duncan Smith has been caught up in a new row over his department's dodgy use of official figures, the fourth in a year. The controversy erupted after top Department for Work and Pensions official Neil Couling tried to defend the government's Work Programme during a grilling by members of Parliament's work and pensions committee using unpublished data, which angered MPs as they did not have a chance to properly scrutinize the figures. Labour member Sheila Gilmore complained to Sir Andrew Dilnot, chair of the UK Statistics Authority, who confirmed that 'published official statistics should be referred to in public statements' and that alternative information should be used only in 'exceptional circumstances'. Sir Andrew added: 'It is a matter of regret that DWP’s usual practice, which would have ensured compliance with the National Statistician’s guidance, was not followed.'"

Oh dear.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sun/YouGov poll:

Labour 40
Conservatives 31
Ukip 13
Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 96.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Isabel Hardman, writing in the Telegraph, asks: "Will voters swallow Nick Clegg’s sausage strategy?"

Henry Porter, writing in the Independent, says: "What secret Home Office court says about British openness."

Me, writing in the Huffington Post UK: "While the Tories Claim That Growth Is Back, Ed Miliband Will Seize the Inequality Moment."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

  |   March 6, 2014    8:32 AM ET

EU leaders, including David Cameron, are to begin talks in Brussels aimed at putting further pressure on Vladimir Putin to send Russian troops back to their bases in Crimea,.

The hastily convened summit comes is the latest tactic of European leaders to show strong condemnation of Russia's action in Ukraine, which have so far fallen on deaf ears.

The EU has now frozen the assets of 18 people suspected of "misappropriating" Ukrainian state funds - including ousted president Viktor Yanukovych and his closest allies.

crimea

An Ukrainian soldier talks to a Russian army force at the entrance of Ukrainian military base, as leaders meet in Brussels to discuss the crisis in Crimea

Meanwhile the EU proposed an aid package for Ukraine worth up to £9 billion to help "stabilise its economic and financial situation", as well as the asset sanction.

Those hit by the asset freeze - which came into force today - include a former interior minister, justice minister, the prosecutor general, the head of the security services and Yanukovych's son.

The sanctions also target former Ukrainian prime minister Mykola Azarov and his son.

In talks between US President Barack Obama and Cameron last night, the two leaders agreed the US and EU should be "united in condemnation" of Russia's actions.

"They reiterated their grave concern over Russia's clear violation of Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity and agreed that the international community should continue to work together to de-escalate the situation and to deter any further Russian action," a Downing Street spokesman said.

"While they noted that there had not been any further serious escalations by the Russians in the last 48 hours, both agreed that the current circumstances are unacceptable - the Russian authorities had yet to withdraw their troops back to bases, still refused to recognise the interim Government in Kiev and the situation on the ground remained extremely tense.

"They agreed that the EU and United States should stand united in their condemnation of Russia's actions and make clear to President Putin that such actions would face significant consequences."

Ukraine's interim prime minister Asenyi Yatsenyuk said in an interview with the Associated Press that he still feared Russia is planning to invade eastern Ukraine as well. "A number of military forces of the Russian Federation are deployed in Crimea," he said.

"This is Ukrainian territory and Russia wants to grab control over Crimea. But I will underline again, we will do our best in order to regain control over Ukrainian territory. The Russian military is to be back in the barracks."

We cannot figure out the reason why Russian boots are on Ukrainian ground. And it’s crystal clear that it was ordered personally by President Putin."

Pro-Moscow activists have recaptured the administrative headquarters of the eastern city of Donetsk, Reuters reporter, and flew the Russian flag from its roof on Wednesday, mere hours after Ukrainian supporters managed to fly their own blue and yellow standard there for the first time since Saturday.

US secretary of state John Kerry has warned Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov that Moscow had made the "wrong choice" but could now take steps to de-escalate the situation.

Following talks in Paris, Kerry said: "We renew our call for Russia to speak directly to the government of Ukraine, to send troops back to bases and to welcome international observers and human rights monitors."
In a hint that there could be progress he said the meeting was "very constructive, without promising something that is not defined yet, without raising hopes that are inappropriate to raise" and added "I'd rather be where we are today than where we were yesterday".

Asa Bennett   |   March 5, 2014    3:48 PM ET

Russia could seize the assets of European and American companies operating in the country in retaliation for any economic sanctions imposed by the West amid tensions over the Ukraine crisis, a top Russian senator has warned.

Andrey Klishas, chairman of the upper house committee on constitutional law, told RIA Novosti that a team of lawyers are preparing a federal bill that would enable Russian president Vladimir Putin and the government to confiscate foreign-owned property in Russia, including assets owned by private companies.

“All sanctions must be mutual,” Klishas said. “We are only suggesting that instead of threatening each other with sanctions we should together with our partners calmly read the Ukrainian Constitution and understand what has happened in this sovereign country".

“The main thing we are trying to achieve, whether our European and American partners want it or not, is to make others listen to our legal arguments and adequately react to them."

Conservative MP Brooks Newmark, a member of parliament’s influential Treasury Select Committee, suggested that the UK could hit Russian business assets and bank accounts in turn.

He told HuffPostUK: "We can economically hurt Putin and his cronies as well, we can put a huge amount of economic pressure on them. They have enormous business interests in the UK and bank accounts here, too."

The White House earlier this week called off trade talks with Russia. President Barack Obama warned earlier this week that if Russia 'continued on its current trajectory" then the US was prepared to impose "a whole series of steps — economic, diplomatic — that will isolate Russia and will have a negative impact on Russia’s economy and its standing in the world.”

In response, foreign minister Sergey Lavrov told the UN Human Rights Council: "Those who try to interpret the situation as a type of aggression and threaten sanctions and boycotts, are the same who consistently have encouraged the sides to refuse dialogue and have ultimately polarised Ukrainian society."

A spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry said: "Moscow has explained to the Americans, repeatedly and demonstrably, why their one-sided punitive measures are not matching the standards of civilized relations between nations. If this fails to take effect, we will have to retaliate, and not necessarily in a mirror way."

Mehdi Hasan   |   March 1, 2014   11:47 PM ET

Here are the five things you need to know on Sunday 2 March 2014...

1) DOES VLAD WANT WAR?

What was Vladimir Putin thinking, sending troops and tanks into Ukraine's autonomous Crimea region and deploying anti-submarine warships off the coast of the country? Does he want a proper, full-on shooting war, a la Russia and Georgia in 2008? With who? Just the new post-coup government in Ukraine? Or the west as a whole?

The BBC reports on the US president's 90-minute phone call with his Russian counterpart, in which he accused Putin of flouted international law by sending troops to Ukraine:

"Mr Obama urged the Russian leader to pull forces back to bases in Crimea. Mr Putin responded by saying that Moscow reserves the right to protect its interests and those of Russian speakers in Ukraine, the Kremlin said. Meanwhile, Canada has recalled its ambassador to Moscow for consultations... Ukraine says it has put its army on full combat alert after Russia's parliament approved the deployment of Russian troops."

Putin isn't just playing czar; he's playing hypocrite. Remember his New York Times op-ed making the case against US-led military action in Syria last September? "The law is still the law, and we must follow it whether we like it or not. Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council. Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations Charter and would constitute an act of aggression," wrote the Russian president. Hello kettle? This is pot. You're black.

Perhaps Obama should have re-read Putin's column back to him, over the phone, yesterday. Then again, Obama (and Cameron and co) have their own credibility and hypocrisy problem here. Western leaders denounce Russia's attack on Ukraine's "sovereignty" and "borders" while doing their own violating of "sovereignty" and "borders" whenever they see fit (remember Kosovo? Iraq? Libya?). They decry the illegitimacy of foreign military occupation while continuing to turn a blind eye to the longest foreign military occupation in the world: Israel's 47-year occupation of the Palestinian territories.

Pundits and politicians on Twitter seem to have reinvented themselves, this weekend, as experts on Russia and Ukraine. Most aren't. But Rodric Braithwaite, the former British ambassador to Moscow, is. Writing in the Independent on Sunday, he says:

"Much recent comment on Ukraine in the British press has been marked by a barely forgivable ignorance about its history and politics, an overhasty willingness to put the blame for all its troubles on Vladimir Putin, and an almost total inability to suggest practical ways of bringing effective Western influence to bear on a solution."

I agree with Braithwaite but I still nodded along while watching BBC1's Andrew Marr show this morning as historian and journalist Sir Max Hastings pithily remarked that the tragedy of modern Russia under Putin - who once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century, and came to prominence after brutally crushing the anti-Russia insurgency in Chechnya in the 1990s - is that the country only has three "bankable" exports: "oil, gas and fear".

2) THE UKRAINE BLAME GAME

So how does the crisis in Ukraine affect domestic UK politics, if at all? Well, some cynical Tories want to make it about Ed Miliband's judgement. Yep. You read that correctly. Conservative planning minister Nick Boles tweeted: "PM was right to urge Parliament to stand up to Putin and punish Assad's use of chemical weapons. Look where Miliband's weakness has led us." His colleague, the Tory treasury minister Sajid Javid went further, tweeting: "Direct link between Miliband’s cynical vote against Syria motion and Russia’s actions on Ukraine. Completely unfit to lead Britain."

Really? I mean, really? First off, the idea that Putin wouldn't have sent troops into Crimea - long considered part of Russia, not Ukraine, by the former's nationalists - if the US and UK had bombed Syria for a few days last September is laughable. Did the US/UK invasion of Iraq stop Putin going into Georgia in 2008? Do you really think Putin gives a damn about Labour's foreign policy platform? Second, if Miliband is going to be blamed for Ukraine for blocking a war in Syria, shouldn't he also get credit for the Syrian chemical weapons decommissioning deal and the Iranian nuclear diplomatic deal, both of which were the direct consequences of avoiding war with Syria last autumn? Third, Javid shouldn't forget, as the Spectator's Isabel Hardman reminded him, "30 of Javid’s own Conservative colleagues rebelled on [the Syria] motion and many more abstained". Is he blaming them for the situation in Ukraine, too?

Meanwhile, on a related note, Sarah Palin is taking credit for predicting the Russian incursion into Ukraine. Yes, you read that sentence correctly, too. From the Mail on Sunday:

"Sarah Palin had foreshadowed the impending Ukraine invasion six years ago - and she is not shy about telling her detractors 'I told you so.' The former Alaska governor and one-time vice presidential candidate on the Republican ticket wrote on her Facebook page Friday a strongly worded post calling out her 'high-brow' critics for mocking her. 'Yes, I could see this one from Alaska,' Mrs Palin wrote. 'I'm usually not one to Told-Ya-So, but I did, despite my accurate prediction being derided as “an extremely far-fetched scenario” by the 'high-brow' Foreign Policy magazine.' As Palin pointed out in her post, during the 2008 presidential campaign, Foreign Affairs wrote an article ridiculing her prediction that if then-Senator Barack Obama is elected into office, Russia under President Vladimir Putin will move to occupy Ukraine. Palin's statements on the campaign trail came during an armed conflict that broke out between Russia and Georgia over the contested territory of South Ossetia."

3) BORIS AND GEORGE GO TO WAR.. WITH EACH OTHER

Forget Ukraine, the real conflict brewing is within the Conservative Party, between heavy weights Boris Johnson, the London mayor, and George Osborne, the chancellor. The Mail on Sunday splashes on "Rage Of Boris At 'Osborne The Liar'". The paper reports:

"Supporters of the London Mayor claimed the Chancellor’s camp was engaging in a ‘dirty tricks plot’ to wreck his hopes of becoming Conservative leader – and boost Mr Osborne’s own ambitions for the job. The simmering ‘Boris versus George’ leadership feud burst into the open over reports that Mr Osborne had ‘delivered personally’ a message to Mr Johnson that David Cameron wants him to stand as a parliamentary candidate at the next Election... A well-placed source says that, when he was told Mr Osborne had approached him about the matter, the Mayor exclaimed: ‘Bull****! There has been no such conversation. They are trying to tie me in.’ Mr Johnson believes the manoeuvre is a ploy to ensure he gets equal blame if the Tories lose power, and make it easier for Mr Osborne to beat him in a subsequent race to succeed Mr Cameron."

If true, you've can't help but admire the chancellor's cynical and self-serving embrace of the dark arts...

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch my 60-second, semi-serious take on the week's top political stories - from Harman vs the Mail to Angela Merkel's visit to her 'naughty nephew' David Cameron. I even try speaking German in it... #mehdisminute

4) THE COLOUR OF UKIP MONEY

All is not well on Planet Ukip - the Observer reports:

"Ukip's spring conference ended in bitter feuding over funding on Saturday night as the party's deputy chairman, Neil Hamilton, accused a top donor of failing to deliver. Last year Yorkshire multimillionaire Paul Sykes promised to bankroll the party's European elections campaign, handing over 'whatever it takes' to ensure that the party topped the poll. At the time the pledge was seen as a coup for Ukip, but Hamilton, a former Tory minister, told the Observer: 'So far we haven't seen the colour of his money. This spending needs to be committed. Very large amounts of money can't just start a billboard campaign or publish a newspaper, things have to be planned – there's a lot of creative work involved.'"

Speaking on the Marr show this morning, Ukip leader Nigel Farage repeatedly denied that his party was a "splinter" group from the Tories and that the majority of Ukip members and voters weren't former Tories. He reminded viewers that a post-2015 Ukip parliamentary contingent could be up for doing a coalition deal with any party which promised an in/out referendum on the EU - that is, the Conservatives or Labour.

By the way, you didn't think we were going to get through Ukip's spring conference on Friday without a series of gaffes and scandalous remarks, did you? From the Sunday Mirror:

"Nigel Farage and hundreds of his UKIP supporters roared with laughter – as a comic cracked a string of offensive jokes about foreigners. The party’s leader clapped as Paul ­Eastwood took swipes at Indians, Muslims and Poles at a gala dinner marking the climax of its spring conference... The scenes were witnessed by Sunday Mirror investigators who joined 200 guests at the £35-a-head black-tie feast. The dinner was a chance for delegates, donors and officials to mingle after the day-long ­conference in Torquay, Devon. Earlier our reporters were invited to an exclusive boozy bash on a £1million yacht. We listened as a UKIP backer claimed Essex was 'full of Arabs'. He complained that people in East London were ­impossible to understand."

Oh dear.

5) LORD OWEN LIKES ED

Talking of donors and donations, has Labour's prodigal son come home? From the Observer:

"Former Labour foreign secretary David Owen last night swung his support dramatically behind the party he left 33 years ago – pledging a substantial donation to it – as Ed Miliband won overwhelming backing from delegates for his party reforms... The peer's move came after delegates supported sweeping internal changes, which will introduce a system of 'one member, one vote' for Labour leadership elections and end the automatic affiliation of union members to the party, by 86% to 14%. In a statement issued afterwards, Owen said: 'This is a brave and bold reform ... and one I strenuously argued for as a Labour MP at the special conference on Saturday 25 January 1981... To help Labour reverse the 2012 NHS legislation without yet another major reorganisation, I have made a declarable contribution of over £7,500 to Labour funds. Unless there is a change of government, the NHS in England will be completely destroyed by 2020.'"

Owen, however, will continue to sit as an independent in the Lords and won't be taking the Labour whip. He joins Tony Blair and Unite's Len McCluskey in endorsing Miliband's internal party reforms; as the New Statesman's George Eaton quipped on Twitter last night: "That's quite a big tent."

QUOTE UNQUOTE

"The Conservatives must ditch this statistical nonsense." - Dr Liam Fox, former defence secretary and standard bearer for Tory Eurosceptics, attacks the coalition's net migration target in a column for the Sunday Telegraph.

OSCARS ALERT

Tonight's the Oscars in Los Angeles. I'll be rooting for Jeremy Scahill and his anti-drone movie 'Dirty Wars', which is up for 'best documentary'. Meanwhile, the HuffPost UK has done a 'political Oscars' featuring, among others Barack Obama and Norman Tebbit.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From the Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 38
Conservatives 34
Ukip 12
Lib Dems 9

That would give Labour a majority of 44.

From the Observer/Opinium poll:

Labour 34
Conservatives 29
Ukip 19
Lib Dems 10

That would give Labour a majority of 48.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@WilliamJHague We oppose decision to deploy Russian troops on Ukrainian soil against wishes of #Ukraine gov and condemn any act of aggression

@jreedmp Those calling for clear response from EU and US...there is no possibility of a clear response. Every single move has a negative consequence.

@StewartWood A shame to see @sajidjavid use the Ukrainian crisis to spout nonsense in the quest for party political point scoring at home.

900 WORDS OR MORE

Matthew D'Ancona, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "Angela Merkel’s visit is a small step in the long march to reform."

Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Observe, says: "Not even Angela Merkel can bridge the vast Europe divide for David Cameron."

John Rentoul, writing in the Independent on Sunday, says: "Ed Miliband’s Labour Party reforms are good news for all."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan (mehdi.hasan@huffingtonpost.com) or Ned Simons (ned.simons@huffingtonpost.com). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

  |   March 1, 2014   10:01 AM ET

Reports suggest 6,000 Russian troops have been sent into the Ukraine, despite a warnings from Barack Obama that "there will be costs" if the country militarily intervenes in the crisis.

The US president's blunt message came yesterday after armed men described as Russian troops took control of key airports in Crimea yesterday and Russian transport planes were said to have flown into the strategic region - an ominous sign of the Kremlin's iron hand in Ukraine.

Mr Obama did not say what the "costs" might be, but US officials said he may cancel plans to attend an international summit in Russia this year and could halt discussions on deepening trade ties with Moscow.

According to Sky News, Russian troops are continuing efforts to gain control of key sites in the south-eastern region of Crimea, including an anti-aircraft missile base.

David Cameron also renewed his call on Moscow to respect Ukraine's territorial integrity in a telephone call with Vladimir Putin yesterday.

No 10 said the premiers agreed that free and fair elections were the best way to secure Ukraine's future.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister called President Putin to discuss the situation in Ukraine, particularly the escalating tensions in Crimea.

"The Prime Minister emphasised that all countries should respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said: "The Prime Minister called President Putin to discuss the situation in Ukraine, particularly the escalating tensions in Crimea.

"The Prime Minister emphasised that all countries should respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. President Putin agreed, stressing that Russian military exercises in the area had been planned before the current situation in Ukraine.

"The two leaders discussed how the international community could support Ukraine on the path to stability. They agreed that the free and fair elections that the interim government has pledged to hold are the best way to secure a positive future for Ukraine in which all Ukrainian people are represented. A future that would not involve forcing the Ukrainian people to make a choice between Europe and Russia.

"They agreed the international community should also consider how to help the interim government tackle the economic situation.

"They plan to keep in touch on the issue."

The Foreign Office has issued fresh travel guidance advising against all visits to the Crimean Peninsula and calling on those already there to leave.

Why Is the UK Facilitating Oppression in Bahrain?

Amelia Amin   |   March 1, 2014   12:00 AM ET

He's put teenagers in prison for calling him names, and made treating wounded protesters a crime punishable by death. He's a pretty nasty guy, the King of Bahrain. However with such high stakes in the stability of the Kingdom of Bahrain, it comes as no surprise that Bahrain's fellow conservative Gulf Arab states and other Western countries continue to bolster support of the controversial monarchy of the world's smallest desert Kingdom.

Of chief interest to the US is the maintenance of the Navy's Fifth Fleet which has been based in Bahrain for 40 years, and is a counterpoint for Iranian military in the region (and monitors the flow of oil in the Gulf region). Since Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama's inauguration, more than $100million in aid has been sent to Bahrain, and the Pentagon has overseen plenty of arms deals. Is it just me who thinks that perhaps Obama shouldn't have been put into the same category as Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King?

Then comes big brother Saudi Arabia, whose support of the Bahraini monarchy is an extension of its protection of all Gulf monarchies. The effect of sending in 1,000 troops when the protest began in 2011 was to send a clear message to Shi'ites living in Saudi. Particularly now that Iraq no longer has a powerful presence in the region (understatement of the year), the Gulf states feel that the balance has been offset. Iran's power is making Gulf Arab leaders jittery, and Saudi's intervention in Bahrain during the 2011 protests sent a clear message of warning to Iran to stay away.

Without question the Bahraini government's manipulation of power is morally unsound. That much is surely undebatable. Reports of torture, rape, corruption, discrimination and oppression dominate the political landscape. In light of gross human rights violations and wrongdoing, the natural assumption would be that 'Great' Britain will review the type of business, if any, that they conduct with the leaders of Bahrain. We are a civilized country after all, the land of tea and crumpets, not to be associated with a despotic regime. Apparently satire isn't dead after all.

It turns out that the UK continues to court Bahrain regardless of the rather unsavory goings on. Andrew Smith, media co-ordinator from the Campaign Against Arms Trade told The Huffington Post that since the Arab Spring began in 2011, the UK government has approved over £30million worth of arms export licences to Bahrain including assault rifles, pistols and naval guns. They say that many of the weapons sold to the closely affiliated Saudi regime were also used in the harsh crackdown on demonstrators in the 2011 uprising.

Smith added that: 'When our government sells arms it is giving moral and practical support to an illegitimate and authoritarian regime and directly supporting their systematic crackdown on opposition groups'.

Many UK citizens will be unaware that the UK is engaging in such arms trade with Bahrain. However, our government's involvement with a morally dubious country by default makes the hands of the entire nation bloody. In fact, a report from the House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee concluded that "Both the government and the opposition in Bahrain view UK defence sales as a signal of British support for the government."

It gets worse. In addition to the arms trade, negotiations are currently underway to supply the Royal Bahraini Air Force (RBAF) with Eurofighter Typhoons. Arabian aerospace online news service said Eurofighter negotiations 'stepped up a gear' following a meeting between British Prime Minister David Cameron and Bahraini Monarch King Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa last August. The two leaders spoke about the Kingdoms plans to purchase a squadron of 12 Typhoons. However the greatest hypocrisy by far was Great British Week. An entire week of jubilations which ran from January 15 to 22 last month celebrated strong bilateral ties between the UK and Bahrain.

The cosy relations between the two countries saw over £300million of bilateral trade in the year of the uprising (2011) alone. It's also worth mentioning that Bahrain hosts 25 British companies, including Ernst & Young, HSBC, McLaren Automotive, and Standard Chartered Bank, as well as thousands of British workers. Funny, that.

It would be a struggle to find a more blatant incidence in which business takes precedent over human rights. The Commons foreign affairs committee are fully aware of this, but quite frankly, couldn't care less. In a recent report they said that although cooperation between the two countries is undoubtedly "controversial" given the Bahraini uprising, "Bahrain provides an immensely valuable home in the Gulf for UK naval assets which would be difficult to find elsewhere". And so it continues... business as usual.

The future for Bahrain is uncertain. Uprisings against entrenched autocratic regimes elsewhere in the Middle East have resulted in four victories for protesters since the Arab uprising began in 2011. In Syria, civil war still continues, and the future is unclear. Whether protesters will be able to force democratic reform onto this island Kingdom is unclear. However, one certainty amidst the chaos, is that change is Bahrain will remain a mirage so long as the king is bolstered by so much international support. Let's not beat about the bush, the British government is publicly supporting a repressive and undemocratic government in Bahrain, and by doing so they are bloodying the hands of a nation which prides itself on promoting civil liberties and human rights for all. Now, who fancies a cuppa?

  |   February 28, 2014    3:09 PM ET

From unfortunate moustache pictures to unfortunate Simon Cowell pictures - we round up this week's silliest snaps...

  |   February 27, 2014   10:42 AM ET

It's official: America is building Iron Man.

Well, kinda. President Obama recently said it - but as we know, in politics that's rarely a guarantee that it's actually happening.

There's also the fact that he laughed audibly after having said it - and that the press conference was about new military technology, and collaboration between different agencies, and not a specific program to weaponise Robert Downey Jr.

On the other hand, we're already aware of several US-funding programs to build exo-suits, next-gen armour and AI-controlled hardware and bring it to the battlefield. At this point Iron Man could be a period piece before we know it.

Sara C Nelson   |   February 25, 2014    4:02 PM ET

Barack Obama has paid tribute to late actor Harold Ramis, describing him as "one of America's greatest satirists".

In a statement issued via the White House twitter account, the American President said: "When we watched his movies . . . we didn't just laugh until it hurt. We questioned authority. We identified with the outsider. We rooted for the underdog. And through it all, we never lost our faith in happy endings."

The Ghostbusters star died on Monday from complications of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a rare disease that involves swelling of the blood vessels.

The 69-year-old was known as much for his off-screen work - writing the Ghostbusters films, along with 'Groundhog Day' and 'Analyze This' - as he was for playing Dr Egon Spengler in front of the camera.

Ghostbusters co-star Dan Aykroyd, Billy Crystal and William Shatner were just some of those who have also tweeted their sadness at his death.

Keep scrolling for Ramis's top ten comedies

SEE ALSO: The 21 Greatest Moments In 'Groundhog Day'