What did we learn from Putin's wild Ukrainian weekend?

The Putin show was in full effect last weekend during the prime minister's visit to Ukraine. Putin visited a biker rally in Sevastapol where he rode what he called a "tricked out bike," but as Russia Monitor's Jesse Heath noted, the three-wheeled contraption looked more Rascal Scooter than Easy Rider

Then there was the revelation that met and held an impromptu Soviet karaoke session with the returned SVR "illegals":

"I met with them. We talked about life," Putin told reporters Saturday at the Crimean resort of Foros, according to a transcript published on the prime minister's web site.

"They will find decent work — I'm sure. I don't doubt that they will have interesting, bright lives," said Putin, who served as a KGB agent in East Germany in the 1980s and led the Federal Security Service in the late 1990s.

He said he had joined them in singing several songs, including "With What the Motherland Begins?" from the 1968 Soviet movie "The Shield and the Sword" about an undercover Russian spy in Nazi Germany.

Here's the song if you're curious. According to the IMDB synopsis of the film, the hero's "perfect German and cool demeanor allows him to make a career in the SS Headquarters in Berlin." This sounds a bit more heroic than attending PTA meetings in Montclair but I guess times change. 

Putin also suggested that a betrayal was responsible for the spies' capture, and engaged in some characteristic machismo:

Traitors always end badly. As a rule, they end up in the gutter as drunks or drug addicts,” he said.

When asked whether the state was planning to take revenge on the traitors, Putin said, "The special services live under their own laws, and everyone knows what these laws are."

On RFE/RL's Power Vertical blog, Brian Whitmore speculates that the spy scandal will lead to a house cleaning at the SVR, and perhaps even a return to something more closely resembling the Soviet KGB:

Putin has in the past used security disasters to strengthen his beloved power vertical -- most notably scrapping the election of governors following the 2004 Beslan tragedy.

The recent spy scandal gives him the chance to reverse something he has always despised -- the post-Soviet breakup of his beloved KGB.


For more on how the SVR has evolved since the breakup of the Soviet Union and how Putin has worked to remake the agency, see Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan's recent FP piece



Wyclef for President?

The blogosphere is bubbling with rumors that Wyclef Jean, hip-hop star, former Fugees frontman, and humanitarian, is considering a run for president of Haiti. The current president, René Préval, is barred by law from seeking a third term. Préval announced that the election would take place on November 28, after polls in February and March were postponed due to the January 12 earthquake. U.S. Senator Richard Lugar had recommended that the corruption-rife Provisional Electoral Council be disbanded, and that Fanmil Lavalas, the banned party of exiled former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide, be allowed to sponsor candidates -- suggestions ignored by Préval.

According to Canadian newspaper Le Droit, Haitian authorities confirmed that Jean is waiting for his paperwork to be approved before announcing his candidacy. Jean was born in Haiti but immigrated as a child to the United States, growing up in New York and New Jersey. He founded the Yéle Haiti Foundation in 2005, focusing on education, health, the environment, and community development. Donations to the organization surged in the days following January 12, despite questions surrounding its fiscal responsibility.

Jean, in an online message on Friday, noted that he has not announced his candidacy and later, when asked if he would run, told Fox Business: "I would say right now, currently at this minute, no."

Nonetheless, it's possible that a Wyclef Jean presidency would mark an improvement over Haiti's recent political travails. In his report, Lugar wrote "President Préval's actions do not suggest a departure from the self-destructive behavior that has kept Haiti the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere." Additionally, as Haitian citizen Françoise Moïse told Le Droit, "At least, Wyclef Jean already has money, he cannot steal that of the people."

Jean's uncle, Raymond Joseph, is the Haitian ambassador to the United States. His nephew has been a goodwill ambassador to Haiti since 2007.

Some more evidence for the benefits of a Wyclef presidency? Check out his lyrics:

Presidential Aspirations and Economic Policy: 

"If I was President/ Instead of spending billions on the war/ I can use that money, so I can feed the poor" ("President")

In "President" from his 2004 album "Welcome to Haiti: Creole101," Jean showed an early interest in a chief executive position and demonstrated his liberal leanings -- although he conveyed doubts about his own permanence ("Assassinated on Saturday/ Buried on Sunday").

Social Policy:

"Tell my brother to go to school in September/ So he won't mess up in summer school in the summer/ Tell my cousin Jerry wear his condom/ If you don't wear condom you see a red line" ("Gone Til November")

According to UNICEF, Haiti has an adult literacy rate of 62 percent, while about 2.2 percent of the population has HIV. The New York Times reported that 45 percent of Haiti's population are children, making recovery from the earthquake and further growth especially problematic.

Foreign Policy:

"The Middle East/ The Middle East/ When will the violence sleep in the Middle East" ("War No More")

While it's unlikely that any Haitian president will have the time to focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Haiti was a founding member of the United Nations and maintains 19 embassies in countries around the world.

Disaster Relief:

"Where my money at?" ("Sweetest Girl")

Following the earthquake, governments around the world pledged billions to help Haiti rebuild -- $5.3 billion alone at a single conference in March supporting the Interim Haiti Recovery Mission. Yet according to CNN, less than 2 percent of that pledge has been handed over as of July 15. The United States, for example, pledged $1.15 billion to the commission. It has since paid nothing, with all money tied up the congressional appropriations process.