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Schoen: Playing high-stakes poker with Putin

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Lake: So, Biden, just who’s appeasing Putin now?

This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin sent forces into Kazakhstan to provide support to President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev’s autocratic government amid violent protests that erupted over energy prices.

At the same time, thousands of Russian troops are currently massed on the border with Ukraine — an escalation that raises serious concerns about a military invasion on par with Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

The Biden administration met with Russian officials this week in an attempt to defuse the Ukraine standoff, but their efforts were to no avail. Moscow is unrelentingly seeking an agreement from NATO to not expand its reach eastward into Ukraine and to end security cooperation with Ukraine — proposals that the lead U.S. diplomat called “non-starters.”

To be sure, Russia’s actions — individually and collectively — with regard to Kazakhstan and Ukraine are part of a wider effort by Putin to reassert Russia’s dominance over former Soviet states, and to undermine both the actual and perceived strength of NATO.

And make no mistake, Putin is gaining ground in his quest.

Putin’s advances have been made possible by the fact that the United States and NATO lack a uniform strategy for dealing with non-NATO states that were part of the former Soviet Republic — including Ukraine and Kazakhstan — which former national security adviser John Bolton aptly noted in a recent piece for the Wall Street Journal.

Indeed, the U.S. said earlier this week that it would not intervene in the crisis in Kazakhstan, and the State Department went no further than to call for “restraint by both the authorities and protestors.” At the same time, the true extent of militaristic and economic support that the U.S. and NATO are willing to provide to Ukraine — either in the event of a full-on Russian invasion, or absent one — is unclear.

President Joe Biden reportedly warned Putin last month that an invasion of Ukraine would result in harsh economic sanctions, the disruption of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and Ukraine receiving defensive capabilities from the West.

Despite Biden ostensibly drawing a “red line,” Putin has held his ground and continues to demand a guarantee that NATO will not expand eastward into Ukraine — perhaps because Putin is testing the president, or because he has little reason to believe that Biden would follow through fully on his threats.

The U.S. has not drastically increased military aid to Ukraine since Biden took office, and in May, the administration waived sanctions against Nord Stream 2. And up until this point, Moscow has clearly not been deterred by any economic sanctions imposed against them.

Furthermore, the chaotic withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan in August — which weakened America’s standing on the world stage, and also signals that the Biden administration is reluctant to engaging in future foreign wars — has clearly emboldened Putin to behave more aggressively.

Whether or not Putin will actually engage in Ukraine has yet to be determined. Some have argued that because Kazakhstan — a neighboring autocracy — was thrown into chaos, Putin may be more likely to take aggressive actions to weaken Ukraine, which has been striving for democracy and working on integrating itself with the West.

To that end, I mostly agree with the argument made by those like former national security official Fiona Hill, who have said that the situation in Kazakhstan could very well “accelerate Putin’s desire to do something” in Ukraine.

However, I do not see Russian involvement in Kazakhstan as a sign that Putin’s influence is waning. While the uprising in Kazakhstan against the Russian-allied government there was not an ideal scenario for Russia, Putin can — as I anticipate he will — use the situation in Kazakhstan to his advantage with Ukraine and with other non-NATO former Soviet states.

Specifically, Putin can point to Moscow’s decisive intervention in Kazakhstan as evidence that Russia is a more reliable militaristic partner than NATO and the United States.

Putin is clearly already working to achieve this end. On Thursday, the Russian president effectively declared success in Russia’s mission to stabilize Kazakhstan, announcing that Russian troops had “accomplished their task,” and were preparing to return home. Earlier in the week, he had promised other pro-Russia ex-Soviet states that they would receive decisive Russian support in similar circumstances.

Following the withdrawal of troops from Kazakhstan, we can reasonably expect that Putin will ramp up efforts to undermine and pressure the democratically elected government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — which has received lukewarm support from NATO — especially given the lack of success of Russia’s talks with the U.S. and NATO this week.

To be sure, NATO could effectively stop Putin in his tracks — or at the very least, anticipate his next moves — if they had a concrete plan outlining the extent of support that they would provide to non-NATO former-Soviet states like Ukraine.

If Putin does invade Ukraine, the U.S. and NATO need to be prepared to take two concrete steps. First, to seriously consider suspending Russia from SWIFT, the global interbank payment system; and second, to begin providing lethal aid to the Ukrainian military.

Absent these two steps and a broader strategy, NATO would be effectively ceding Putin ground in his quest to re-gain control of former Soviet states and weaken the Western alliance.


Douglas Schoen is a longtime Democratic political consultant.

Russian soldiers take part in drills at the Kadamovskiy firing range in the Rostov region in southern Russia, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. Russia has rejected Western complaints about its troop buildup near Ukraine, saying it deploys them wherever it deems necessary on its own territory. (AP Photo)

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DJ LeMahieu confident he can avoid trip to injured list

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DJ LeMahieu confident he can avoid trip to injured list

ST. PETERSBURG — DJ LeMahieu was able to hit after Thursday night’s Yankees win and is fairly confident he will be able to avoid the injured list.

“I don’t want to get too excited, but it’s definitely felt better as the day has gone on,” LeMahieu said. “I think that cortisone finally just took.”

LeMahieu had a cortisone shot in his left wrist on Tuesday. Before Thursday’s game he said the wrist had not improved enough. He admitted he might need to go on the IL. Thursday night, he was not available off the bench and the Yankees had just catcher Kyle Higashioka available.

“DJ was not available. Although it sounds like he’s doing a lot better in literally the last two hours,” Yankees manager Aaron Boone said. “So we’ll see where we’re at. Kind of get together again tonight and see where we’re at in the morning.”

HICKS SCRATCHED

Aaron Hicks felt his right hamstring tighten during Wednesday’s game against the Orioles in the Bronx, but still tried to play Thursday. He had to be scratched less than an hour before first pitch, but he thinks he will be able to play on Friday.

“I definitely feel like I’ll be able to be there tomorrow and that’s what I’m planning on doing,” Hicks said.

The center fielder said he first felt it running to first base Wednesday. Boone said he asked Hicks to try and play Thursday, but after treatment he could not run at full speed.

The Yankees have gone through a bunch of injuries lately. Third baseman Josh Donaldson is on the COVID IL with a respiratory illness. Giancarlo Stanton is on the IL with an ankle injury.

NICE TO MEET YOU, YOU’RE BATTING EIGHTH

Matt Carpenter barely had time to put his bag down when he was called into a hitters meeting. The Yankees signed the former Cardinal and three-time All-Star before Thursday night’s game and when Hicks was scratched, he got rushed into the lineup.

“It was pretty crazy, I think I landed (in Tampa) at 3:20,” Carpenter said. “To be part of a huge win right away is pretty cool.”

Carpenter got hit by a pitch in the sixth and came around to score the Yankees first run of the night.

BRITTON AND GERMAN UPDATE

Zack Britton is expected to throw his first bullpen session since elbow reconstruction surgery on Tuesday, Aaron Boone said. The Yankees manager said he absolutely expects Britton to be back this season.

The lefty reliever was in the clubhouse before Thursday’s game. He has been recovering from left elbow reconstruction surgery in Tampa.

In other injury news, Yankees right-hander Domingo German, who has been rehabbing from a shoulder issue since spring training, has been facing live hitters in batting practice and is “close,” to getting a rehab assignment.

With the Yankees bullpen losing Aroldis Chapman (Achilles), Chad Green (Tommy John) and Jonathan Loaisiga (shoulder), German could possibly be a reinforcement when he is ready.

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David Banuelos’ impact with St. Paul Saints extends off the field

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David Banuelos, St. Paul Saints catcher

The backgrounds of Saints players feature a wide variety of honors and accolades from high school, college and earlier minor league stops.

Such notoriety for 25-year-old catcher David Banuelos includes being one of the three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award (given annually to the best collegiate catcher) in 2017 while playing for Cal State Long Beach. Banuelos’ recognized talents led to him being selected in the fifth round of that year’s draft by the Seattle Mariners.

Being recognized for his work off the field has proven to be equally gratifying. Banuelos was the recipient of the Twins’ annual Harmon Killebrew Award in 2018, given to players on all levels of the organization for their community work.

David Banuelos, St. Paul Saints catcher

“I love giving back to the community,” said Banuelos, who has continued his community work in the Twin Cities, prior to Thursday night’s 8-1 win over Indianapolis at CHS Field. “It’s something I was always appreciative of growing up.

“You can make a big impact in a person’s life just with the title that you have. Just taking a couple of seconds out of your day can make a little kid’s day — or year. I’m grateful for being in the position to be able to talk to kids and have a positive impact.”

The award has extra meaning to Banuelos due to the fact that one of his friends back in his native Ontario, Calif., is Killebrew’s grandson.

“It was a really cool award to win because I know the family personally,” Banuelos said. “His mom congratulated me as well for winning an award that was named after her father.”

Banuelos credits his own parents with instilling in him the willingness to give back whenever he can.

Interestingly, Banuelos’ middle name is Clemente, the surname of baseball’s greatest humanitarians, Roberto Clemente, who died in a plane crash on December 31, 1972, while delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. Following his death, Major League Baseball established the Roberto Clemente Award, given annually to a player for his commitment to community service.

While Banuelos was not named after Clemente (it’s his father’s first name), the Pittsburgh Pirates legend has had an impact on him, especially being in a position of influence.

“People like that inspire you to do things (to help),” Banuelos said, “because there are bigger things in the world than baseball. When people like us can give back to the community they appreciate those kind of things.”

Banuelos’ community work usually involves kids, and he and his wife, Jessica, have a son, Ezekiel, who just turned 1. Being a father also has impacted Banuelos’ life, including on the field.

“The way I think has completely changed,” he said. “I control my temper a little more now on the field. It’s made me think twice before I do things — maybe three times. Because there are consequences to everything.”

BRIEFLY

Royce Lewis moved over from his customary shortstop to play third base on Friday. He made a diving stop behind the bag and threw out the hitter in the fifth. He also had two hits, drove in a run and stole a base.

Alex Kirilloff had a two-run home run, a double and an RBI single. Spencer Steer also homered.

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Grieving husband dies after wife is slain in Texas rampage

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Grieving husband dies after wife is slain in Texas rampage

By STEFANIE DAZIO

Irma Garcia’s family was already reeling from her death in the Texas school shooting that targeted her fourth grade classroom and killed her co-teacher and 19 students.

Then, a mere two days after the attack, her grieving husband collapsed and died at home from a heart attack, a family member said.

Joe Garcia, 50, dropped off flowers at his wife’s memorial Thursday morning in Uvalde, Texas, and returned home, where he “pretty much just fell over” and died, his nephew John Martinez told The New York Times.

Married for 24 years, the couple had four children.

Martinez told The Detroit Free Press that the family was struggling to grasp that while the couple’s oldest son trained for combat in the Marine Corps, it was his mother who was shot to death.

“Stuff like this should not be happening in schools,” he told the newspaper.

The Archdiocese of San Antonio and the Rushing-Estes-Knowles Mortuary confirmed Joe Garcia’s death to The Associated Press. AP was unable to independently reach members of the Garcia family on Thursday.

The motive for the massacre — the nation’s deadliest school shooting since the 2012 attack in Newtown, Connecticut — remained under investigation, with authorities saying the 18-year-old gunman had no known criminal or mental health history.

The rampage rocked a country already weary from gun violence and shattered the community of Uvalde, a largely Latino town of some 16,000 people about 75 miles (120 kilometers) from the Mexican border.

The Garcias loved to barbecue, 48-year-old Irma wrote in an online letter to her students at Robb Elementary School. Irma enjoyed listening to music and traveling to Concan, a community along the Frio River about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Uvalde.

The couple’s oldest child, Cristian, is a Marine. The couple’s other son, Jose, attends Texas State University. Their eldest daughter, Lyliana, is a high school sophomore, while her younger sister is in the seventh grade.

The school year, scheduled to end Thursday, was Irma’s 23rd year of teaching — all of it at Robb. She was previously named the school’s teacher of the year and was a 2019 recipient of the Trinity Prize for Excellence in Education from Trinity University.

“Mrs. Irma Garcia was my mentor when I began teaching,” her colleague Allison McCullough wrote when Irma was named teacher of the year. “The wealth of knowledge and patience that she showed me was life changing.”

For five years, Irma co-taught with Eva Mireles, who also was killed.

The suspect, Salvador Ramos, was inside the classroom for more than an hour before he was killed in a shootout with law enforcement, authorities said.

“Welcome to the 4th grade! We have a wonderful year ahead of us!” Mireles wrote last year in an online letter to incoming students.

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Associated Press journalist Jamie Stengle in Dallas contributed to this report.

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More on the school shooting in Uvalde, Texas:

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