TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 26

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. A Baltimore all-girls high school robotics team is bucking the trend for women in STEM education.

By Andrew Zaleski in the Baltimore Sun

2. The first Thanksgiving wasn’t a celebration of bounty, but “a refusal to be defeated by what so gravely threatened.” Today, we need the same.

By James Carroll in the Boston Globe

3. Congress — yes, that Congress — is about to pass a vital update to the Freedom of Information Act.

By Jason Leopold at Vice News

4. Discrimination against LGBT people isn’t just a civil rights violation, it’s bad economic policy.

By M. V. Lee Badgett at the New America Foundation

5. The truth is out about Russia. The EU must focus on the Balkans and think about the future.

By Judy Dempsey in RealClearWorld

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME europe

German Chancellor Says Russia’s Actions Are Unjustifiable

Chancellor Angela Merkel in the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Nov. 26, 2014.
Chancellor Angela Merkel in the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Nov. 26, 2014. Stefanie Loos—Reuters

Angela Merkel appears to be taking a tougher stance against Vladimir Putin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel Wednesday suggested she is prepared for a drawn-out confrontation with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the Ukraine crisis

“We need patience and staying power to overcome the crisis,” Merkel told German lawmakers in a speech to Berlin’s parliament. She added that economic sanctions on Russia “remain unavoidable” as long as government forces continue to battle pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine, Bloomberg reports.

Merkel continued that while the crisis may have been triggered by Russia’s concerns over the impact of Ukraine’s free trade agreement with the European Union, “none of this justifies or excuses Russia’s annexation of Crimea.”

Russia’s actions, she said, interrupt “the peaceful international order and breach international law.”

MORE: Russia wants a “100% guarantee” that Ukraine won’t join NATO

The German chancellor’s speech to parliament follows an address Merkel made in Australia Monday, during which more openly critical of Putin than in the past, suggesting her patience with Putin is running out after months of negotiations. Merkel and Putin met during the G20 conference, but that reportedly did not go well for either leader.

[Bloomberg]

TIME russia

Russian Official Says Oil Slump and Sanctions Cost $140 Billion a Year

Anton Siluanov Russia Finance Minister
Anton Siluanov, Russia's finance minister, listens to a question during a television interview following a (G-20) finance ministers and central bank governors ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank Group Spring Meetings in Washington on April 11, 2014. Andrew Harrer—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Moscow is no longer pretending that sanctions aren’t hurting

Russia’s Finance Minister said the combined cost of western sanctions and the recent fall in world oil prices to Russia’s economy this year would be a massive $140 billion.

“We will lose around $40 billion a year because of sanctions, and around $90-100 billion a year, if we assume a 30% drop in the price of oil,” Anton Siluanov told a conference in Moscow Monday, according to news agency reports.

Siluanov’s comments go against the grain of bravado from President Vladimir Putin and foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, both of whom have repeatedly tried to play down the impact of U.S. and E.U. sanctions in the wake of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its sponsoring of an armed rebellion in the eastern provinces of Ukraine.

They are, however, consistent with Siluanov’s own earlier warnings about the need for Russia to tighten its belt and make big cutbacks in the light of the new economic reality. Siluanov has already warned that the big increase in defense spending earmarked for the next three years is unaffordable.

“If you’re talking about the consequences of geopolitics, they are, of course, substantial,” Siluanov said. “But it’s not as critical for the exchange rate and even for the budget as the oil price.”

Siluanov’s comments come on the eve of a crucial meeting of oil ministers from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in Vienna, which will focus on the alarming slide in oil prices since the summer. In a weekend interview with ITAR-TASS, Putin insinuated that the U.S. and Saudi Arabia had conspired to drive up global supply well beyond actual levels of demand, in order to weaken the Russian economy. Somewhat confusingly, he later added that “maybe the Saudis want to ‘kill off’ their competitors” in the U.S. shale oil sector.”

Russia isn’t a member of OPEC, but depends on taxes from oil and gas companies for some two-thirds of its budget revenue. A draft for next year’s budget, approved in September, assumes an average oil price of $100 a barrel, while banks such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase & Co. think it will be nearer $80.

Barred from western financial markets, the government will either have to cut spending or raise taxes to keep the deficit down to its projected 0.6% of gross domestic product, or borrow at increasingly expensive rates from domestic savers and institutions. The yield on the government’s 10-year bonds has risen to 10.12% as of Monday from 7.71% at the start of the year, as the ruble has depreciated by 30% against the dollar.

Russia’s central bank earlier this month cut its forecast for growth next year to zero, after having to raise interest rates sharply to stop the ruble’s fall. GDP rose by only 0.8% on the year in the third quarter, although that was above economists’ expectations.

The ruble has rebounded sharply against the dollar in recent days as the central bank’s actions have started to gain traction and stem a wave of speculation. By mid-day in Moscow, the ruble was at its highest in more than two weeks against the dollar as oil and gas companies converted their export earnings back into rubles ahead of a routine tax payment deadline.

This article originally appeared on Fortune.com

 

TIME Ukraine

U.N. Says Nearly 1,000 Killed in Ukraine Since September Truce

A man of the Don battalion Lugansk People's Republic militia on the firing line on the Seversky Donets River on Nov. 18, 2014.
A man of the Don battalion Lugansk People's Republic militia on the firing line on the Seversky Donets River on Nov. 18, 2014. Krasilnikov Stanislav—Corbis

An average of 13 people every day since Sept. 5

Almost 1,000 people have been killed in Ukraine since a truce was signed in September between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists controlling parts of the restive eastern region, according to a United Nations report.

An average of 13 people have been killed every day since the Sept. 5 cease-fire was brokered between Ukraine and the rebels, equating to at least 957 deaths up to Tuesday, the U.N. human rights group found in the report. At least 4,317 people have been killed in the conflict since April, including the 298 who died when Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 was shot down in July, and thousands of others have been injured. Some 466,000 people have been registered as displaced.

MORE: Cease-Fire in Ukraine Fails and Preparations for War Begin

“Respect for the cease-fire has been sporadic at best,” said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the U.N.’s top human rights official, in a statement. “All parties need to make a far more whole-hearted effort to resolve this protracted crisis peacefully and in line with international human rights laws and standards.”

[AFP]

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 20

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Hacking out of prison: San Quentin inmates are learning to code.

By Charley Locke in EdSurge

2. Your breath could reveal a fake: How a beetle’s camouflage trick might make money harder to counterfeit.

By James Urquhart in Chemistry World

3. Russia has learned there’s a great deal it can get away with in Ukraine.

By Amy Knight in the New York Review of Books

4. Protected areas like wetlands and coral reefs are at highest risk from climate change but can also be part of the solution.

By Adam Markham at the Union of Concerned Scientists

5. A U.S. deal with Iran could reset the Mideast balance of power.

By Patrick Smith in the Fiscal Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME North Korea

Russia Says North Korea Is Ready to Resume Nuclear Talks

(MOSCOW) — North Korea says it’s ready to resume international talks on its nuclear program, Russia’s foreign minister said Thursday as Moscow sought to raise its profile in the international standoff over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke after meeting with Choe Ryong Hae, a special envoy for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who earlier this week gave Russian President Vladimir Putin a letter from Kim.

North Korea has wanted to resume talks for a long time, but the U.S. Japan and South Korea say it needs to honor its previous commitments first to shut down its nuclear programs.

Lavrov said Kim’s letter confirmed a desire to expand bilateral ties and “cooperate on settling the problems that still remain on the Korean Peninsula.”

He said Pyongyang is ready to restart the six-way nuclear talks involving both Koreas, as well as the United States, China, Japan and Russia. The negotiations on dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear program have broken up over Pyongyang holding nuclear and missile tests.

“Pyongyang is ready for the resumption of the six-party talks without any preconditions,” Lavrov said.

Without naming any country, Lavrov also warned against a military buildup in the region “along the bloc lines,” an apparent hint at military cooperation between Washington and Seoul.

Russia’s ties with the communist North soured after the 1991 Soviet collapse, but have improved under Putin’s watch. Moscow has previously sought to help mediate the nuclear standoff, but its diplomatic efforts have had little visible effect.

Lavrov also said Pyongyang is considering a Russian project to build a gas pipeline and a power line to South Korea via its territory.

State-controlled Russian Railways has modernized a North Korean cargo terminal and conducted a pilot project shipping Russian coal to South Korea, Lavrov said. Russia is also considering linking its Trans-Siberian railway with the Trans-Korean railway, he added.

TIME russia

Russia’s Lackluster Economy Means Putin Simply Can’t Afford a New Cold War

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin prepares to toast with ambassadors in the Alexander Hall after a ceremony of presentation of credentials by foreign ambassadors in the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2014. Alexander Zemlianichenko—AP

Moscow needs the West

One of the axioms of global geopolitics is that a country can project power only as far as its economic might allows. There is good reason why the United States, by far the world’s largest economy, has been the dominant force in all things political and military for the past 60 years. And we can see China now rising to superpower status on the back of its spectacular economic ascent.

Vladimir Putin should take note. As Russia’s president attempts to reassert his nation’s clout in Europe, he is doing so on an ever shakier economic foundation. The question for Putin going forward is whether his stumbling economy can support his geopolitical ambitions. The answer is anything but clear.

Russia’s economy was struggling even before Putin’s adventurous foray into Ukraine. The country had been one of the high-fliers of the developing world, so much so that Goldman Sachs included Russia in its BRICs — the emerging economies that would shape the economic future — along with Brazil, India and China. But a feeble investment climate, endemic corruption and excessive dependence on natural resource exports eventually laid Russia low. Growth last year sunk to only 1.3%, down from the 7% to 8% rates experienced a decade ago.

Since Putin’s intervention in Ukraine, Russia’s economic situation has worsened severely. GDP inched upwards only 0.7% in the third quarter from a year earlier, and the International Monetary Fund is forecasting mere 0.2% growth for all of 2014. Sanctions imposed by the U.S. and European Union in the wake of Putin’s intervention in Ukraine have blocked some major Russian banks and companies from accessing financing in the West, starving them of much-needed foreign capital. As a result, the value of the Russian currency, the ruble, has deteriorated by 30% against the dollar so far this year, routinely hitting new record lows along the way.

In a recently released study, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development predicted that Western sanctions would help push Russia into a mild recession in 2015. Sanctions, the bank noted, “negatively affected business confidence, limited the ability of companies and banks to access international debt markets and contributed to an increase in private capital outflow.”

Meanwhile, Putin’s countermeasures have made matters worse. His decision to ban the import of some foodstuffs from the West has caused prices for fresh produce and other necessities to rise. Combined with the weakening ruble, that’s pushing up inflation, which bites into the pocketbook of the average Russian family. Moscow’s economy minister recently said that he expects inflation to exceed 9% by early 2015. The nasty mixture of a depreciating currency and escalating prices have forced the central bank to hike interest rates, which will act as a further drag on growth.

Headwinds from the global economy are making matters even worse. Tumbling oil prices spell bad news, both for overall growth and the financial position of the government, which is reliant on tax revenues from its energy industry to fund the budget. In 2013, oil and gas accounted for 68% of Russia’s total exports, while duties on those exports, combined with taxes on mining, accounted for 50% of the federal government’s revenue.

Putin so far hasn’t flinched. Instead, he has been scrambling to evade Western sanctions and find new sources of exports and investment in Asia. On the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, held in Beijing this month, Russia agreed to a deal to supply even more natural gas to China, on top of a $400 billion pact inked earlier this year.

That “pivot” to Asia will take time to bear fruit, however. Right now, none of the negative factors damaging Russia’s economic prospects look likely to turn positive any time soon. “We expect the stagnation trend to continue and potentially accelerate next year, exacerbated by lower oil prices, tighter monetary policy and continued uncertainty on the geopolitical front,” noted Barclays economist Eldar Vakhitov in a recent report.

Still, Putin’s economic woes haven’t yet translated into political problems. The Russian public appears to be patriotically rallying around Putin’s aggressive foreign policy and setting aside concerns about the economic fallout. In the latest poll conducted by the Levada Center, a Moscow-based independent research organization, an amazing 60% of the respondents said they believed that Russia was heading in the right direction, up significantly from 40% a year earlier. Putin’s approval rating stands at an even more astronomical 88%.

What the future may hold is another issue. A good part of Putin’s political success has been based on his record of improving people’s welfare, but with no relief in sight for Russia’s economic troubles, it may only be a matter a time before the general populace begins to feel the pinch more sharply. Nor can Putin ignore his economy’s need for foreign investment and technology to upgrade industry and create jobs. He may eventually find himself facing a critical choice — maintaining his foreign policy goals or softening his stance towards the West out of economic necessity.

Recall that the Soviet Union collapsed, after all, because its economy could not sustain its international policies. Putin has to watch that history doesn’t repeat itself.

TIME Ukraine

Russia Wants a ‘100% Guarantee’ That Ukraine Won’t Join NATO

Vladimir Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting with members of the All-Russia Popular Front in Moscow on Nov. 18, 2014 Alexei Druzhinin—AP

Comment's come as NATO's secretary-general accuses Kremlin of "destabilizing" Ukraine

A top adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that the Kremlin wants “a 100% guarantee” that Ukraine will be prevented from joining NATO.

Dmitri Peskov told the BBC that NATO’s eastward expansion continued to make Russia “nervous.” His comments echoed similar tough talk coming from President Putin, who promised a crowd attending a forum in Moscow on Tuesday that Russia would never be subdued by Washington.

“Throughout history no one has ever managed to do so toward Russia — and no one ever will,” RT quoted Putin as saying.

Putin’s remarks came as NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg accused the Russian leadership of “destabilizing” Ukraine and breaking a two-month-old truce by continuing to support separatist forces fighting in the country’s southeast.

“We see the movement of troops, of equipment, of tanks, of artillery, of advance air-defense systems, and this is in violation of the cease-fire agreements,” said Stoltenberg, after arriving at the European Union headquarters in Brussels. “We call on Russia to pull back its forces from eastern Ukraine and to respect the Minsk Agreements.”

The alliance, along with independent monitors, has issued numerous reports during the past two weeks claiming that the Russian military is moving armored columns across the border into Ukraine, where rebel militias have been shelling strategic locations in the war-torn Donbass region on a daily basis.

In Moscow on Tuesday, Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned during a press conference that there was no end in sight to the conflict in Ukraine unless all parties to the Minsk accord stuck to the cease-fire.

“There are no grounds for optimism in the current situation,” Steinmeier told reporters, according to Agence France-Presse.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel struck an even harsher tone — labeling Russia’s incursions into Ukraine as “dangerous and irresponsible.”

“The violations of sovereignty and international law that the Russians have perpetuated continue to require responses,” said Hagel, adding that the U.S. has begun working with NATO “in shifting our entire rotational rapid deployment focus.”

But as politicians verbally spar over Russia’s actions in Ukraine, the humanitarian disaster inside the country continues unabated. Last week, the U.N.’s refugee agency, UNHCR, warned that Europe was facing its largest displacement crisis in more than two decades as winter arrives.

“By October, UNHCR estimated that more than 800,000 people have been displaced, representing the largest displacement of people in Europe since the Balkan wars,” read a statement released by the U.N. “It is the latest refugee crisis in a year that has seen several, and is stretching resources thin.”

Read next: Putin’s Loss of German Trust Seals the West’s Isolation of Russia

TIME Soccer

FIFA Alleges Misconduct in World Cup Selection

The organization has faced allegations of bribery in previous years

FIFA filed a criminal complaint in Switzerland Tuesday against unnamed individuals, alleging “international transfers of assets” that “merit examination” in connection with the selection process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

The international soccer organization, now in the accuser seat, has in the past faced accusations of a lack of transparency and corrupt practices in choosing World Cup venues.

“There are indications of potential illegal or irregular conduct in certain areas, which must now be followed up both internally by FIFA and by the relevant national criminal prosecution authorities,” said Hans-Joachim Eckert, co-chair of FIFA’s ethics committee, in a question and answer.

The complaint follows the completion of an internal investigation into the selection processes. While the report has not been released in its entirety, Eckert admitted that it contained some evidence of wrongdoing.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 18

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. The worst ceasefire: Russia and Ukraine are both preparing for war as their uneasy peace slips away.

By Jamie Dettmer in the Daily Beast

2. With the rise of legal cannabis, the small-holders running the industry may soon be run off by the “Marlboro of Marijuana”

By Schumpeter in the Economist

3. From taking India to Mars on the cheap to pulling potable water from thin air: Meet the top global innovators of 2014.

By the writers and editors of Foreign Policy

4. Some charter schools promote aggressive policies of strict discipline, and that strategy may be backfiring.

By Sarah Carr in the Hechinger Report

5. As local police forces become intelligence agencies, we need sensible policies to balance privacy and public safety.

By Jim Newton in the Los Angeles Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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