What does Vladimir Putin really want? It may sound like an easy question, or maybe a setup for a bad joke. But according to John Beyrle, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia who spoke Monday evening at a Harvard Institute of Politics roundtable on that nation and its leader, it’s a crucial question for the next White House occupant to understand.What Putin wants, said Beyrle, is respect, and he can choose startling ways of getting it.“Our nuclear relationship with Russia is the main existential issue,” Beyrle told the Harvard Kennedy School panel on “Challenges for the Next President: The Crisis With Russia.” “Putin has boasted about Russia’s nuclear might, so the taboo of using one’s nuclear arsenal as a bragging point has been broken. That should give us all pause. Most people wouldn’t understand the details of a modern nuclear arsenal, but they do understand a senior Russian official who boasts the ability to reduce the U.S. to rubble.”As moderator and former CNN Moscow bureau chief Jill Dougherty pointed out, circumstances in Russia can change by the day, with the weekend’s Syrian ceasefire and legislative election as the most recent examples. Yet the panelists agreed that the next U.S. president needs most of all to understand Russia’s overall mindset.Panelist Maxim Boycko, a visiting lecturer in economics at Harvard, pointed out that the main lesson of last weekend’s legislatives election wasn’t that Putin seized more power, but that only about half of the populace voted. That indicates a certain apathy setting in during the Putin era. “I wouldn’t say that Putin is the problem or the solution; he is a fact. If you look at the Yeltsin and the Gorbachev eras, there was a sense that the Soviet Union was opening up. That’s not something we see anymore.”The two principal U.S. presidential candidates have far different approaches to Russia. Donald Trump has made headlines by speaking well of Putin, while Hillary Clinton has taken more of a hard-line, “almost a macho approach,” as Dougherty put it. Yet the panelists emphasized that the choice doesn’t boil down to one candidate wanting to appease Russia and one wanting to confront it. Beyrle said Putin wants to be understood, not necessarily to be coddled. And while Trump has proclaimed admiration for Putin, that’s not the same thing as offering a coherent strategy.It wouldn’t hurt, Boycko suggested, for the two nations’ leaders to have a personal relationship. “It’s very hard for me to comment on Donald Trump, but the personal aspect is quite important. The question is how the two interests can be aligned with each other, and that starts with a deep understanding of the other side — what it is that the other side needs from this relationship. Whichever candidate can do that better would have the best chance of improving the relationship.”Beyrle noted that Putin’s ties with the United States have been somewhat aggressive dating from his first meeting with President Obama, when he laid out a “tremendous list of grievances.” The narrative of Putin’s reign, Beyrle said, involves righting wrongs that he believes were done when the Soviet Union fell apart, its satellite nations drifted away, and NATO strengthened. “He and the people around him want a say in the major international issues, and they feel they’ve lost that.”Beyrle rejected the notion that Russian leadership would necessarily be friendlier to Trump’s approach.“I can’t discern any coherent foreign policy out of Mr. Trump,” Beyrle said, and he suggested that the Kremlin can’t either. “The things Mr. Trump says may be pleasing to them, but they don’t know anything about his policies. Secretary Clinton by contrast has a well-defined policy that has been spelled out. It’s likely that the Kremlin would rather deal with that than with the unknown quantity of Trump.”In a question-and-answer session afterward, Dougherty discussed another contributing factor: the television network RT (formerly Russia Today), and its rather dark impact on the Russian mindset. “The anchors are young, so it looks like a regular television network. But I believe their mission is to undermine and attack Western democracy and the belief that it can work. The message is ‘Everybody lies. Maybe we lie, but the Americans lie too.’ So it’s meant to undermine faith in anything. That’s dangerous and nihilistic. But in the context of social media, it works.”
No, the headline is not some twisted joke. There is nothing funny about being written off unless you have the last laugh as I pray Ghanaian Paralympians will do here in London.”Do not lower your expectations” that is the message coming loud and clear from the Local Organising Committee (LOCOG) of the London 2012 Paralympic Games.It seems like just yesterday when the world witnessed the start of the 2012 Olympics in grand style amid grand pomp and pageantry with tradition embracing modernity.What followed in the days after the opening theatre seems to be unanimous at the conclusion that the Summer Olympics went down as one of the finest of the modern era.For me, having never physically witnessed or indeed never covered a Paralympics event excites me to the core as would a teenager looking forward to a new adventure.Out of the over 4,200 athletes, Ghana would have FOUR citizens in action; each with the deep knowledge that back home, hope has been discarded like an orange sucked dry. It is all well and good for our Ministers and Sports officials in Africa (Please I have not mentioned any names) to make bold and positive proclamations about their country’s intent.Who does not love an inspirational speaker like Obama or Mandella? Especially when they back it up with results.Yet, as we jealously witnessed Obama’s team USA walking the talk, we are still talking the talk without research, statistics, facts and in today’s sport arenas – technology and science.Sadly, some of us who claim to have a duty as journalists to point in a certain clear direction regardless of our stomachs or consequences, are unwilling or un-knowing?Times are hard the world over and Ghana is no exception. Thus the risk of being isolated when it comes to calling a spade a spade is too much for some of us to take. However, it is a prize worth paying because ultimately, truth cannot be denied forever as real substance always stands the test of time whilst short cuts and mediocrity never leaves a legacy.One would have thought that feeding the aspirations of a nation must go hand in hand with practical, firm and long term planning but in Africa, we seem to love to bluff, only to huff and puff when the chips are down.Thankfully, the Paralympians are exactly the embodiment of hope. They mock defeat and stare adversity in the eye like prized bulls ready to be pierced in an arena. There are no guarantees but there is also no fear.Ghana is taking part in Games with just FOUR athletes who have been in London for several weeks now (thanks in part to the NGO, Right to Dream) preparing for the biggest event of their lives.So who are these men and women on whose shoulders medal hopes are heavily stacked against yet who have literally kept quietly confident under the media radar? Wheelchair Track athletes Raphael Nkegbe Botsyo and Anita Fordjour may not be household names yet but they have as much a chance perhaps, than their more illustrious able bodied compatriots who came, saw and left raw.Another athlete hoping to defy the odds and win a medal for Ghana in the Para-Cycling event is Alem Mumuni. He is the African defending champion in the C2 category of paracycling racing. He must not be ignored.Mumuni overcame a tough field to win the discipline for the third time running and to qualify to the Games in London. I am sure he has been watching the incredible media hype and support accorded the GB Paralympians.Then there is Powerlifter Charles Narh Teye who has great hopes in the bench press at the 67.5 kilogram weight class.Having won a Gold Medal at an event in Cardiff earlier this year, Narh Teye also competed in Dubai at one of the largest international Powerlifting competitions. Could he bring a medal and hope back to Ghana?On Wednesday evening, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will open the London 2012 Paralympics by attending the ”special” Olympics for the first time possibly minus her recuperrating husband. The Duke of Edinburgh was taken to hospital last week after a recurrence of an infection which also forced him to miss part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.91 year old Prince Phillip’s likely absence by the side of the Queen will not change the tone and theme of the opening ceremony as we have been told not to lower our expectations.According to the media release, the event will showcase some of the UK’s best creative performers as well as run through a raft of traditions, such as the raising of the Paralympic and Host Nation’s flag.