TIME Ukraine

Ukraine Crisis Will Kill the G8, Fears Germany’s Merkel

From left: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin answer journalists' questions during a joint news conference in Moscow's Kremlin Nov. 16, 2012.
From left: German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin answer journalists' questions during a joint news conference in Moscow's Kremlin Nov. 16, 2012. Maxim Shemetov—Reuters

Germany has tried to limit Russian ambitions by holding it close, developing extensive diplomatic and commercial ties. The crisis in Ukraine has thrown that strategy into such disarray that German Chancellor Angela Merkel thinks the G8 may not survive it

Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin have more in common than most world leaders. They speak frequently, especially since the Ukraine crisis began to unfold. In an age of cookie-cutter politics, their brands stand out. They wield influence. They have staying power. They are astonishingly popular with broad swaths of their electorates. They literally speak each other’s languages. As a schoolgirl in East Germany, the future Chancellor twice won the Communist state’s top prize for Russian. As a KGB spy stationed in Dresden, the future Russian President learned to speak a fluent and earthy German.

They also understand how to push each other’s buttons. After one of their first meetings, in 2002, Merkel laconically told her aides she had survived the “KGB test,” meeting Putin’s icy gaze without flinching. At their bilateral meeting in Sochi in 2007, Putin allowed his black Labrador Koni to rest her head on Merkel’s knee, aware that the otherwise unflappable Merkel is frightened of dogs. And both premiers know, viscerally, what Soviet power meant.

The difference between them—and this gulf may be wider than any that separates their fellow world leaders—is that Merkel remembers that power, and its toxic manifestation through the repressive state apparatus of East Germany, with revulsion. Putin, once an instrument of Soviet power, regrets its passing.

Some voices in the West argue that Putin is misunderstood: his goal is not to build an empire but simply to secure Russian national interests. Merkel, by contrast, believes Putin aims to recreate something of the past that shaped both leaders. Her reluctance to wield hefty sanctions against Russia in defense of the Ukraine’s territorial integrity has therefore harvested criticism that Germany places its commercial interests before its duties as a world citizen.

Germany does depend on Russia for about a third of its oil and gas needs; it avidly exports its goods and services to Russia; German business chiefs are lobbying against any response to the current situation that might hurt their bottom lines. But the reality is that until Russian troops rolled into Crimea, Merkel’s two aspirations, of containing Russian ambitions and fostering German prosperity, appeared compatible and interlinked. “Part of the strategy towards Russia over the last years was to get closer, to create some degree of interaction, and that has economic consequences, so the cost of any break in the relationship increases,” says Daniela Schwarzer, the Berlin-based Europe program director of the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

Trade was only one element in this soft-power strategy. Germany has tried to bind Russia closer through diplomacy, and sees the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries not only as an important forum for discussion and decision-making but also as a mechanism for keeping Russia onside. As the West scrambled to formulate a response to Russia’s incursion into Crimea, Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier opposed a U.S. proposal to exclude Russia from the G8, but German officials privately believe that battle is already lost. Merkel herself believes the G8 cannot survive the crisis, according to one government source.

Publicly the rhetoric in Germany is hardening too. On March 9, Steinmeier gave an interview to the German broadcaster ZDF threatening Moscow with tough sanctions. Much though strategists still believe in keeping lines open between Germany and Russia, between Merkel and Putin, they also fear the consequences of schisms within Europe and between Europe and the U.S. And those calls between the German Chancellor and the Russian President are becoming chillier by the day. During their most recent conversation, on Sunday, Merkel told Putin the planned Crimea referendum on March 16 offends against Ukrainian and international law. Her spokesman Steffen Seibert said she “regretted, that no progress had yet been made on setting up an international contact group to find the political path to a solution of the Ukraine conflict. She pointed to the urgency in finally achieving substantial results.”

She didn’t blink when she looked into Putin’s eyes in 2002. Will she blink in today’s higher-stakes contest of wills?

TIME Royal Family

Diaper Diplomacy: Britain’s Royal Baby Goes To Work

Prince William, right, and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, hold the Prince of Cambridge, as they pose for photographers outside St. Mary's Hospital in London, July 23, 2013.
Prince William, right, and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, hold the Prince of Cambridge, as they pose for photographers outside St. Mary's Hospital in London, July 23, 2013. Kirsty Wigglesworth—AP

He’s already been tapped as Britain’s youngest and highest profile envoy, set to embark on a globe-spanning mission to strengthen the ties that bind the Commonwealth. But unlike most emissaries, Prince George Alexander Louis of Cambridge won’t rely on the force of words to further his cause — and he had to get his great-granny’s permission to make the journey at all.

Heirs to the throne of the United Kingdom and the 15 other Commonwealth realms that bend the knee to Queen Elizabeth II usually travel separately, a precautionary measure to protect the future of the monarchy. But the Queen has agreed to make an exception, and so next month Baby Cambridge will leave the snuggly warmth of his Kensington Palace nursery to jet off with his parents Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge—Kate—on an official visit to two of those realms, New Zealand and Australia.

Republicanism occasionally bubbles up in these countries, with Australia going so far as to stage a referendum in 1999 on cutting its ties to the crown. Supporters of retaining the Queen as head of state won by almost 10 percentage points, but the vote served as a reminder to the royals that they must keep shoring up their further-flung franchises. Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, visited Australia and New Zealand in 2012. Prince William has made four trips to the region, the first in 1983 when he was just nine months old.

This was the first such exercise in diaper diplomacy. In opting to bring their son with them, Charles and his then wife Diana broke with a tradition that outsourced hands-on parenting to relatives and staff when royal duty called. Diana later told her biographer Andrew Morton that her opportunities to spend time with William in Australia and New Zealand had been limited, “but at least we were under the same sky.”

William and Kate’s schedule for their forthcoming trip, which starts in New Zealand’s capital city Wellington on Apr. 7 and ends 18 days later in Australia’s capital Canberra, looks pretty packed. Successful trips generate goodwill in the host countries and promote British products and services, not least that most enduring of brands, House of Windsor. So the royal couple will be on show. They’ll work rope lines, attend receptions, display their athleticism by participating in sporting events, get cheerfully soaked on New Zealand’s Shotover Jet boat ride, and spend an afternoon at Taronga Zoo in Sydney, Australia — a rare species among rare species. Still, by the standards of previous royal tours Will and Kate will set a leisurely pace, ringfencing private family time most days, earmarking a couple of dates for resting beyond the public gaze and spending only two nights away from George.

Baby Cambridge’s own appearances will be more sparing, with photo opportunities limited to perhaps as few as four in total. There’ll be a glimpse when the family disembarks at Wellington Airport. His first ever fully-fledged royal engagement will come a day later, at Government House, when he attends a reception for Plunket, New Zealand’s largest provider of support services for the development, health and wellbeing of children under 5.

It’s a gentle introduction to life as a royal. Parents have been invited to bring their kids, so George may not be the youngest or wriggliest in the room. Laugh, gurgle or cry, he’ll still have done his bit for great-granny and country. As the images of the third in line to the throne are beamed across the world they’ll send a message about the future potential of Britain and its monarchy. Never mind soft power. Britain has babysoft power and it’s not afraid to use it.

TIME U.K.

Wet U.K. Swamped by Floodwaters and Politicians

Leader of UKIP Nigel Farage tours flooded properties and roads as he visits Chertsey on Feb. 11, 2014 in Chertsey, United Kingdom.
Leader of UKIP Nigel Farage tours flooded properties and roads as he visits Chertsey on Feb. 11, 2014 in Chertsey, United Kingdom. Christopher Furlong—Getty Images

The wettest winter weather in centuries has led to a deluge of attention-seeking politicians

There are two battles raging on an island waterlogged as rarely in its history. England and Wales are huddled against the wettest winter for more than two centuries, according to data from the Met Office; today the U.K.’s official weather service also issued a rare red alert warning of a risk to life and property as violent winds bear down on the country. Residents, watching their communities overwhelmed by flood waters, deprived of electricity or isolated after giant waves and howling storms breached roads and transport lines, face a struggle to survive. There have been casualties including 7-year-old Zane Gbangbola, thought to have asphyxiated on fumes given off by pumps used to try to clear water out of his home in Surrey, southwest of London. Many more face smaller griefs: the loss of personal possessions; the certainty of months, even years, of hardship and disruption.

The second battle is, for most Britons, less serious but it’s no less visceral for that. Prince Charles triggered it, by acting, as he told TIME, he is impelled to do. “I feel more than anything else it’s my duty to worry about everybody and their lives in this country, to try to find a way of improving things if I possibly can,” he explained back in September, and so on Feb. 4 he pulled on his Wellington boots and waded, more or less literally, into the issue of the flooding in a part of southwestern England called the Somerset Levels. “There’s nothing like a jolly good disaster to get people doing something. The tragedy is that nothing happened for so long,” he said, surveying the devastation.

It is safe to assume that he meant the failures by serial governments to invest in flood defenses or by the Environment Agency, the body tasked with combating floods and managing rivers, to act more decisively to mitigate further disaster and discomfort. Or he may have been referring to climate change, a threat that he has highlighted for decades.

What the Prince almost certainly did not mean is that it was a tragedy that public figures had not, until that moment, taken it upon themselves to view the damage for themselves. Yet that has been one side effect of his visit. This BuzzFeed post captures the result: 21 Pictures Of Politicians In Wellies Staring At Floods.

It won’t be easy for any one political party to gain traction amid the rising waters. The current Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition has cut the funding to the Environment Agency; predecessor Labour governments also underestimated the investment needed to dredge rivers and implement other precautionary measures. But that won’t put a dampener on the Westminster blame game, especially with a parliamentary by-election tomorrow and European elections in the spring.

And politicians need only look across the Atlantic to understand the dangers of seeming to do too little in the teeth of natural disasters. As ice storms gather again in parts of the U.S., Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed has been quick to assure TIME that his city is ready, this time. Prime Minister David Cameron, who yesterday promised “money would be no object” in helping those affected by the U.K. floods, earned sharp criticism in 2007 when still in opposition by departing on a planned aid trip to Rwanda instead of visiting his own constituents in Witney, West Oxfordshire, amid heavy flooding there. In past days some political insiders have questioned whether the current floods, Biblical in scale, might prove his Hurricane Katrina. Others see this as an opportunity for Cameron to demonstrate his calm head in a crisis. For the people on the sharp end of nature, none of this looks like an opportunity.

TIME France

So Much for Freedom Fries: America’s New BFF Is France

First Lady Michelle Obama, French President Francois Hollande and President Barack Obama pose in front of the Grand Staircase for an official photo before a State Dinner at the White House February 11, 2014 in Washington.
First Lady Michelle Obama, French President Francois Hollande and President Barack Obama pose in front of the Grand Staircase for an official photo before a State Dinner at the White House February 11, 2014 in Washington. Brendan Smialowski—AFP/Getty Images

What freedom fries? France and the U.S. have rarely looked closer as the Francois Hollande and the Obamas cozied up at an official State Dinner to toast the French president's arrival in Washington

This was only the seventh time President Obama had treated a visiting foreign leader to a full-on State Dinner and mon dieu but it was a flashy affair. French President François Hollande got the full works on Tuesday night: a menu of American Osetra caviar, dry-aged rib eye beef, Hawaiian chocolate-malted ganache and 300 guests summoned to the White House in his honor, including luminaries such as Bradley Cooper, Mindy Kaling, JJ Abrams, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Stephen Colbert.

You could see the logic. Louis-Dreyfus is half-French, Colbert’s name sounds French, and the wines, though American, were produced using French methods. The choice of Mary J. Blige as the evening’s headline act is a little harder to explain, but Daft Punk, France’s most successful band du jour, may have had trouble navigating White House security in their helmets. No matter: with both Obama and Hollande delivering effusive toasts to their very cordial entente, it was clear that the evening had successfully conveyed a message that suited both men: the U.S. and France heart each other. “We Americans have grown to love all things French — the films, the food, the wine. Especially the wine. But most of all, we love our French friends because we’ve stood together for our freedom for more than 200 years,” said Obama.

His warm words cloaked a dig at America’s erstwhile favorite chum, at least in the eyes of British mass-market newspaper, the Daily Mail. “OBAMA SNUBS BRITAIN AND COSIES UP THE FRENCH,” it declared in a headline above a piece describing Hollande’s first day in the U.S., a pleasant whirl of activity including a trip with Obama to Monticello, historic home of American founding father and supporter of the French Revolution Thomas Jefferson. Britons set great store by their Special Relationship™ with the U.S. and are apt to react like an official First Lady learning of a possible rival to her affections if America gets too close to another European country.

And in this case, they may be right to worry. Since France, not Britain, stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the U.S. in joining potential air strikes against the Syrian regime and sent troops to Mali and the Central African Republic with U.S. support, there has been a distinct shift in transatlantic relations. Gone are the days when the U.S. dismissed the French as cheese-eating surrender monkeys for their refusal to get involved in the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Hollande looks like Obama’s most reliable ally, especially as the French leader has signalled his magnanimity on the issue that could have thrown cold water on the burgeoning bromance: the NSA’s spying on French citizens. As Hollande told TIME in an exclusive Jan. 24 interview, he intends to forgive if not to forget, looking instead for “a new cooperation in the field of intelligence.”

So intoxicating were the love vibes in the White House that even the French press corps, usually a buttoned-up bunch, got into the mood, snapping selfies as Hollande and Obama chatted oblivious to all but each other, in the background:

TIME

Exclusive: President François Hollande Talks Syria, Spies and Secrets With TIME

TIME's Catherine Mayer and Vivienne Walt talk to Francois Hollande in the ƒlysŽe Palace, Paris. Marco Grob for TIME
Marco Grob for TIME

In an exclusive interview with TIME before his U.S. visit, the French president says the international community should've gone after Bashar Assad's regime back in the summer of 2012 before a series of massacres killed thousands

François Hollande has been known to spend nights elsewhere, but his official residence is the Elysée Palace. Here, in its 18th century splendor, he sat down with TIME on Jan. 25 in a discussion that ranged widely, from the malaise of the French economy to more personal travails. His approval ratings had dipped to record lows. Later the same day, Hollande would confirm his split from his official First Lady Valérie Trierweiler.

Next week Hollande arrives in Washington solo, kicking off an official state visit without the baggage many expected him to bring. French leaders have frequently tussled with their U.S. counterparts, and Hollande arrives in the wake of Edward Snowden’s game-changing revelations about America’s habit of snooping on her friends including France. Hollande calls this “a difficult moment, not just between France and the United States but also between Europe and the United States.” And, he adds, it has been uncomfortable for Americans, forced to confront “practices that should never have existed.” But, he says, there is no residue of bitterness between him and President Obama. Indeed he sees an opportunity “to build a new cooperation in the field of intelligence…We need intelligence services to fight against terrorism but they have to respect the principles of good relationships between allies and protect personal, confidential data.”

He even goes so far as to hold up the U.S. as an example to his own compatriots as he attempts to persuade the French people to accept his new-minted economic reform program that will mean some pain before the gains. “The first time that I went to the United States was in 1974,” he says. “I was 20 years old. America was in crisis. The dollar was at a low. The Watergate scandal had already erupted. And I still remember this vision I had of New York, which was a huge, fascinating city, dirty and violent. And I’ve been to the U.S. regularly but what impresses me most in this large nation is its capacity to overcome hardship and return to the heights.” He hopes to emulate that example but recognizes he’ll need to achieve results fast. “It’s the time scale that we have to shrink,” he says, using a familiar English slogan to make his point: “Plus que ‘yes we can,’ ce devrait être ‘yes we can faster’.”

The new issue of TIME carries an in-depth profile of Hollande and his plans for France and its worldwide role, based on that exclusive interview. The President’s priority at home is to revitalize the country’s torpid economy by reducing the cost of employment to businesses and trimming the bloated French state, a sharp change of direction for a politician elected on a Socialist ticket and one broadly welcomed by anyone with an interest in French prosperity—and that’s a large part of the interconnected world. Yet Hollande has no desire to trim the global role he sees for France. Syrian strikes may be on the back burner but French troops have been active in Mali and the Central African Republic. The U.S. and U.K., scarred by their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, are battle-weary. France, or at least its President, seems less so. “Even during this very difficult period, I wanted to demonstrate that France could assume its full responsibility on a global scale, no matter the area: human, financial, political,” says Hollande.

Of his aspirations on Syria, he says: “Our only goal is to strengthen the opposition and to avoid the dilemma whereby we only have the choice between Bashar Assad and al-Qaeda.” He says that the failures of the West led to this dilemma. “In August 2012, the international community should have been far more determined in dealing with the Bashar Assad regime,” he says. “He was weakened in political, military and personal terms. He had been abandoned by part of his general staff. The massacres had not reached the horrific level that we are now seeing.” The delay undermined the opposition and allowed al-Qaeda to gain purchase. Hollande had been poised to unleash air strikes on Syria last September aimed at weakening the Assad regime, when a last-minute swerve by President Obama led instead to a fresh bout of diplomacy. In a deal brokered in part by Russia, Syria began dismantling its chemical weapons capacity and Hollande stood down his strike force. “Everything was ready for the day that we’d chosen,” he tells TIME. “President Obama decided to go to Congress. But our threat to strike convinced the Russians and the Syrian regime to agree to surrender their chemical weapons. So it was a success for us. It was not as has been reported a victory for the Syrian regime.”

History is often made by accident. Hollande’s own route to the Presidency was full of surprising twists. His first two years in office has yielded quite a few shocks, not least his emergence as a figure of interest to the tabloid press. He is loath to answer questions about his private life, saying simply that it is “always at some moments a challenge, and that must be respected. In my own personal situation I can’t show anything.” And he tries not to show anything, apparently impassive as he answers the question, but flushing visibly. He wants to wrest the conversation back to important things like fixing France and shoring up the country’s global influence. His U.S. visit will be a good place to start.

TIME France

Exclusive: President François Hollande Talks Syria, Spies and Secrets With TIME

TIME's Catherine Mayer, left, and Vivienne Walt talk to François Hollande in the Élysée Palace, Paris.
TIME's Catherine Mayer, left, and Vivienne Walt talk to François Hollande in the Élysée Palace, Paris. Marco Grob for TIME

In an exclusive interview with TIME, the French President skirted issues surrounding his personal life but talked tough on Syria and his vision of France's place in the world

François Hollande has been known to spend nights elsewhere, but his official residence is the Élysée Palace. Here, in its 18th century splendor, he sat down with TIME on Jan. 25 in a discussion that ranged widely, from the malaise of the French economy to more personal travails. His approval ratings had dipped to record lows. Later the same day, Hollande would confirm his split from his official First Lady Valérie Trierweiler.

Next week Hollande arrives in Washington solo, kicking off an official state visit without the baggage many expected him to bring. French leaders have frequently tussled with their U.S. counterparts, and Hollande arrives in the wake of Edward Snowden’s game-changing revelations about America’s habit of snooping on her friends, including France. Hollande calls this “a difficult moment, not just between France and the United States but also between Europe and the United States.” And, he adds, it has been uncomfortable for Americans forced to confront “practices that should never have existed.” But, he says, there is no residue of bitterness between him and President Obama. Indeed he sees an opportunity “to build a new cooperation in the field of intelligence … We need intelligence services to fight against terrorism, but they have to respect the principles of good relationships between allies and protect personal, confidential data.”

He even goes so far as to hold up the U.S. as an example to his own compatriots as he attempts to persuade the French people to accept his new-minted economic-reform program that will mean some pain before the gains. “The first time that I went to the United States was in 1974,” he says. “I was 20 years old. America was in crisis. The dollar was at a low. The Watergate scandal had already erupted. And I still remember this vision I had of New York, which was a huge, fascinating city, dirty and violent. And I’ve been to the U.S. regularly, but what impresses me most in this large nation is its capacity to overcome hardship and return to the heights.” He hopes to emulate that example but recognizes he’ll need to achieve results fast. “It’s the timescale that we have to shrink,” he says, using a familiar English slogan to make his point: “Plus que ‘yes we can,’ ce devrait être ‘yes we can faster.’”

French President François Hollande TIME cover
Photograph by Marco Grob for TIME

The new issue of TIME carries an in-depth profile of Hollande and his plans for France and its worldwide role, based on that exclusive interview. The President’s priority at home is to revitalize the country’s torpid economy by reducing the cost of employment to businesses and trimming the bloated French state, a sharp change of direction for a politician elected on a Socialist ticket and one broadly welcomed by anyone with an interest in French prosperity — and that’s a large part of the interconnected world. Yet Hollande has no desire to trim the global role he sees for France. Syrian strikes may be on the back burner, but French troops have been active in Mali and the Central African Republic. The U.S. and U.K., scarred by their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, are battle-weary. France, or at least its President, seems less so. “Even during this very difficult period, I wanted to demonstrate that France could assume its full responsibility on a global scale, no matter the area: human, financial, political,” says Hollande.

Of his aspirations on Syria, he says: “Our only goal is to strengthen the opposition and to avoid the dilemma whereby we only have the choice between Bashar Assad and al-Qaeda.” He says the failures of the West led to this dilemma. “In August 2012, the international community should have been far more determined in dealing with the Bashar Assad regime,” he says. “He was weakened in political, military and personal terms. He had been abandoned by part of his general staff. The massacres had not reached the horrific level that we are now seeing.” The delay undermined the opposition and allowed al-Qaeda to gain purchase. Hollande had been poised to unleash air strikes on Syria aimed at weakening the Assad regime in September, when a last-minute swerve by President Obama led instead to a fresh bout of diplomacy. In a deal brokered in part by Russia, Syria began dismantling its chemical-weapons capacity and Hollande stood down his strike force. “Everything was ready for the day that we’d chosen,” he tells TIME. “President Obama decided to go to Congress. But our threat to strike convinced the Russians and the Syrian regime to agree to surrender their chemical weapons. So it was a success for us. It was not as has been reported a victory for the Syrian regime.”

History is often made by accident. Hollande’s own route to the presidency was full of surprising twists. His first two years in office has yielded quite a few shocks, not least his emergence as a figure of interest to the tabloid press. He is loath to answer questions about his private life, saying simply that it is “always at some moments a challenge, and that must be respected. In my own personal situation I can’t show anything.” And he tries not to show anything, apparently impassive as he answers the question, but flushing visibly. He wants to wrest the conversation back to important things like fixing France and shoring up the country’s global influence. His U.S. visit will be a good place to start.

TIME remembrance

A Preview of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Last, Enthralling Role

"A Most Wanted Man" Portraits - 2014 Sundance Film Festival
Actor Willem Dafoe, director Anton Corbijn, and actors Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rachel McAdams pose for a portrait during the 2014 Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2014 in Park City, Utah. Jeff Vespa / WireImage / Getty Images

It’s not always easy to define the elements that combine to make a great performance, but when you see one, you know. On Valentine’s Day, just under a year ago, I sat in a small screening room in London’s Soho enthralled, amazed and disturbed by such a performance. A longtime friend, Anton Corbijn, had invited a few of us to watch a roughcut of the movie he had directed and was now editing, A Most Wanted Man, based on John le Carré’s novel of the same name.

Anton’s presence was a little distracting. You knew when the lights went up, you’d have to be ready with a judgment. The quality of his first two films, Control and The American, suggested this wouldn’t pose any serious problems of diplomacy. Even so, I was unprepared for the power of A Most Wanted Man or of its central performance, by Philip Seymour Hoffman.

He plays a man so battered by the world that he should have retreated into cynicism, yet somehow he cannot retreat. He is hardbitten, yet exposed; street-savvy, but horribly vulnerable. As a thrilling spy yarn, the plot keeps you on edge through every twist and turn. Yet it was the human story, Hoffman’s story, that proved most compelling.

When the lights came up, I told Anton that he’d made a fantastic movie. But I also begged him to change a moment of screen time, something I can’t describe without being guilty of a spoiler. I had so completely bought into Hoffman’s character, in all his shambling, flawed humanity, that I wanted to play god, play Anton, and protect him. I wish someone could have done that today.

A short scene from A Most Wanted Man, due for release later in 2014:

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