Today’s Ukraine talks don’t seem to have changed anything. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says his country has no plans to invade southeastern Ukraine. Of course, we all know plans can change. Vladimir Putin is always flexible.
This morning I saw a very interesting article on Quartz.com about Putin. The writer, Steve Levine, asks if the man in charge of Russia today is really the “same” Putin who rose to the presidency back in 2000.
Levine isn’t suggesting the current Putin is an imposter. Even American politicians “evolve” after they are safely in office. The last 15 years may have changed Putin in ways that make him less predictable — and possibly more dangerous.
Here is an excerpt from LeVine’s article.
Normally when assessing major figures both contemporary and historical, one takes the long view—you look all the way back in a figure’s biography.
Putin’s arc is familiar enough: the plucky Leningrad boy who grew up in a tenement teeming with rats and fist fights to be won and lost, who went on to master judo, earn a law degree and become a KGB case officer in Dresden. After the Soviet Union came his inadvertent, meteoric elevation from St. Petersburg mayoral office fixer to president of his nation in 2000.
He served two four-year terms, then in 2008 swapped positions with protégé Dmitry Medvedev, becoming prime minister for four years. In 2012, he returned to the Kremlin as president, this time for a six-year term.
A question not being asked is whether Putin came back to power a very different leader from the one elected president in 2000 and again in 2004; whether, while the Washington lunch group along with Russia hands around the world were microscopically scrutinizing the words and body language of that Putin, a mutation with a very different cognitive and ethical core assaulted Crimea … A figure less pragmatic, higher-risk, and much more likely than his progenitor to act out Russian glory in its imperial prime.
The Ukraine news continues to remind me of James DiGeorgia’s Putin video from last summer. It all sounds hauntingly consistent with today’s headlines.
James doesn’t think Putin has changed; he thinks Putin was ruthless all along. In the video, he explains how Putin manipulated events to reach Russia’s presidency and how he is using the nation’s energy reserves to keep power.
You can click here to view the video. You’ll see it also promotes the Global Resource Hunter service that James edits for us, but you don’t have to buy anything. Watching the video is free and it really is very informative.
Of course, I hope you’ll try Global Resource Hunter, but there’s no obligation. I think you will learn a few things and be a better-informed citizen after you watch it.
How do you think the Crimea vote will turn out? Will Vladimir Putin change plans and invade Ukraine? Is he the same Putin we thought we knew? Click here to send me an e-mail.
People in Crimea will vote Sunday on whether to leave Ukraine and join Russia. Global markets turned cautious ahead of the vote — and possible Western sanction actions next week.
This afternoon brought another twist. Russian web sites claimed their forces had captured a U.S. drone flying over Crimea.
I did not see any photos or other proof.If the reports are true, the stakes just went a lot higher. Remember what my colleague Patrick Watson said back in my Mar. 3 Black Sea Blues story.
“Putin will not allow NATO-friendly forces inside his wire. It is a very hard line for him. This will get very ugly, very fast if the U.S. tries to cross that line.”
This particular report may be wrong — but the fact that it is even plausible illustrates how fast the situation has deteriorated. Let’s hope for everyone’s sake that the U.S. and Russia don’t end up in a wider confrontation.
Next Tuesday and Wednesday there will be a two-day Federal Reserve policy meeting in Washington.
This will be their quarterly extended meeting, at which the voting members all present their economic forecasts and the Fed chair holds a news conference. We will see how Janet Yellen handles the media questions.
Just to make the next few days more interesting, we’ll get earnings from some key companies whose fiscal years that fall outside the normal cycle. They include Adobe Systems (ADBE), Oracle (ORCL), SolarCity (SCTY), Fedex (FDX), General Mills (GIS), and KB Homes (KBH).
In other words, get ready for an exciting few days! Here are the financial headlines as we head into the weekend.
- U.S. stocks ended the day down, capping off the worst market week in over a month. The Nasdaq and Dow fell, too.
- The S&P 500 gave up its year-to-date gain Thursday and got a little worse today.
- Consumer Confidence numbers came out lower than expected, but probably not enough to make the Fed pause its tapering strategy.
- The Producer Price Index was a bigger surprise, declining -0.1% in February instead of the expected +0.2% increase.
- Lower PPI may point to lower CPI. We’ll get that number next Tuesday.
- Quizno’s Subs filed for bankruptcy. Competition is driving weak players out of the fast-food business. Most Quizno’s franchise locations will stay open while a judge sorts out the brand’s assets and liabilities.