TIME russia

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Mocks Obama in Tweet

Tweet depicts Obama with puppy, Putin with cheetah

President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin have no problem trading criticism amid escalating Cold War-like tensions.

But while their exchanges have been sober, Putin’s deputy appears to have taken to Twitter with a more light-hearted jab.

A tweet from the account of Dmitry Rogozin, deputy prime minister of Russia, ridiculed Obama by juxtaposing an image of the Russian president with a cheetah and another of his American counterpart holding a puppy.

“We have different values and allies,” the tweet read.

 

TIME russia

U.S., E.U. Boost Sanctions on Russia

"It doesn't have to be this way"

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The U.S. is escalating sanctions on the Russian economy nearly two weeks after the shootdown of a civilian airliner over eastern Ukraine and amid growing violence along that country’s border with Russia. President Barack Obama announced the new sanctions Tuesday hours after the E.U. approved similar measures.

“Today the United States is imposing new sanctions on key sectors of the Russian economy: energy, arms, and finance,” Obama said from the White House.

The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned three Russian banks: Bank of Moscow, Russian Agricultural Bank and VTB Bank OAO, in an effort to increase “costs” on Russia, Obama announced, while the U.S. government is restricting exports of energy-related parts to Russia.

The new sanctions also apply to United Shipbuilding Corp., the largest such company in Russia. “We have hit five of the six largest state-owned banks in Russia,” a senior Obama Administration official said Tuesday.

The U.S. will also require export licenses for energy-related technology for new Russian deepwater, Arctic offshore and shale projects, according to that official. Additionally, the official said there would be no new Ex-Im Bank transactions with Russia.

“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Obama said, calling on Russia to rein in separatist forces and become a “good neighbor” to Ukraine. “This is a choice that Russia, and President Putin in particular, has made.”

Obama said that since the shootdown of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 that Russia and “its proxies in Ukraine” had in several ways impeded the crash investigation, including by tampering with evidence. The U.S. government believes that Russian-backed separatist forces deployed an SA-11 surface-to-air missile provided by Russia to shoot down the airliner, likely confusing it with a Ukrainian military aircraft.

Obama said the new sanctions would further weaken the Russian economy, which has suffered from capital flight amid the ongoing crisis, adding that still more sanctions could be imposed if Russia doesn’t reverse course. When asked if the rising diplomatic tensions between the U.S. and Russia represent a “new Cold War,” Obama balked. “No, this is not a new Cold War,” the President said.

TIME Ukraine

Kerry Says Not ‘a Shred’ of Evidence Russia Wants to Ease Ukraine Fighting

Kerry warned Russia would face stiffer sanctions if it continued to arm and support Ukraine's separatists

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry threatened to impose wider sanctions on Russia in a Tuesday press conference, arguing that Russian officials had “not shown a shred of evidence” that they want to de-escalate the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Kerry accused Russia of continuing to ship arms, funds and personnel into eastern Ukraine even after the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. If Russia failed to reign in its separatist allies, “we and our European partners will take additional measures and impose wider sanctions on key sections of the Russian economy,” Kerry said during a Washington, D.C. appearance alongside Ukraine Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.

The announcement echoed a warning from the White House on Monday that the United States and European Union were prepared to tighten sanctions over key sectors of the Russian economy.

Kerry also blasted separatists militias for blocking international investigators’ access to the MH17 crash site and failing to return victims’ remains and belongings to their families. Kerry urged Russia to intervene, calling the behavior “an appalling disregard for human decency.”

TIME Science

2 New Holes Mysteriously Appear in Siberia

More holes are discovered in Siberia, leaving scientist puzzled

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Two new mysterious holes have appeared in the Siberian permafrost, the Siberian Times reports—just two weeks after the first crater appeared in the northern Yamal peninsula.

The second hole, some 15 meters wide, was found a few hundred kilometers away from the first, also in the Yamal peninsula. Like the first, the second hole has piles of dirt surrounding the perimeter, indicating an excavation or explosion. However, scientists have yet to confirm what’s causing the strange phenomena. Some believe they’re a result of meteorite impacts, while others look towards natural gas explosions under earth’s surface.

Mikhail Lapsui, a deputy of the regional parliament, inspected the second hole, reports the Siberian Times, while also gathering information from locals.

“According to local residents, the hole formed on 27 September 2013,” Lapsui told the Times. “Observers give several versions. According to the first, initially at the place was smoking, and then there was a bright flash. In the second version, a celestial body fell there.”

Reindeer herders stumbled upon the third crater alongside a pasture trail in the Taymyr peninsula to the east of Yamal. Scientists estimate that hole to be 60 to 100 meters deep with a diameter of 4 meters.

The two new holes will undergo investigations. The first hole—70 meters deep—revealed an ice-covered lake at the bottom.

[Siberian Times]

TIME russia

St. Petersburg, Russia, Airport Briefly Evacuated

(ST. PETERSBURG, Russia) — The Pulkovo airport in Russia’s St. Petersburg was briefly evacuated on Tuesday because of a bomb threat.

Transit police of the north-west region said the airport received an anonymous telephone bomb threat at 1.30 p.m. and that a bomb squad was searching the terminal.

Anna Fedoseyeva, spokeswoman for the airport in Russia’s second-largest city, said the evacuation of passengers and staff began at 3 p.m. local time. An hour later, normal operations resumed after the call was judged to be a false alarm, Fedoseyeva said.

Bomb threats are common in Russia, mostly the work of teenage pranksters, but evacuations of airports or railway stations are rare.

The Pulkovo airport, about 14 miles (20 kms) south of St. Petersburg, handled nearly 13 million passengers last year.

TIME russia

Amid Threat of New Sanctions, U.S. Says Russia Is Flouting Key Arms Treaty

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, center, use binoculars to watch a parade marking the country's Navy Day in Severomorsk, Russia, In this Sunday, on July 27, 2014 Mikhail Klimentyev—RIA Novosti Kremlin/AP

Noncompliance with 1987 treaty against medium-range cruise missiles "a very serious matter," says Administration official

Russia is violating a treaty that bans medium-range missiles, the U.S. has stated, adding further tension to a relationship already strained by Moscow’s backing of separatists in Ukraine.

“This is a very serious matter which we have attempted to address with Russia for some time now,” an Administration official tells TIME. “We encourage Russia to return to compliance with its obligations under the treaty and to eliminate any prohibited items in a verifiable manner.”

The revelation comes as U.S. and European leaders agreed Monday to impose wider sanctions on Russia’s financial, energy and defense sectors following the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 by suspected pro-Kremlin separatists in Ukraine.

The 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty prohibits the possession, production or flight test of ground-launched cruise missiles with a range capability of 500 to 5,500 km. The Obama Administration raised concerns with its NATO allies in January that Russia had tested a new ground-launched cruise missile. However, the State Department’s upcoming annual report on international compliance with arms control agreements will be the first time these allegations will be made public.

“This treaty contributes to the security of our allies and to regional security in Europe and in the Far East,” added the official.

The official said that Russia had been notified of Washington’s determination to bring them back into compliance with the treaty obligations, and that the U.S. is prepared to immediately discuss the matter in a senior-level bilateral dialogue.

“The United States will, of course, consult with allies on this matter to take into account the impact of this Russian violation on our collective security if Russia does not return to compliance.”

TIME Foreign Policy

White House: EU, US to Impose New Russia Sanctions

(WASHINGTON) — The United States and European Union plan to impose new sanctions against Russia this week, including penalties targeting key sectors of the Russian economy, the White House said Monday.

The show of Western solidarity comes as the U.S. accuses Russia of ramping up its troop presence on its border with Ukraine and shipping more heavy weaponry to pro-Moscow separatists in eastern Ukrainian cities.

President Barack Obama and the leaders of Britain, Germany, France and Italy discussed the crisis during a rare joint video teleconference on Monday. The discussion follows days of bilateral talks on how to implement tougher sanctions after the downing of a passenger jet in eastern Ukraine, an attack the U.S. says was carried out by the separatists.

The U.S. and European sanctions are likely to target Russia’s energy, arms and financial sectors. The EU is also weighing the prospect of levying penalties on individuals close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who appears to only be deepening Russia’s role in destabilizing Ukraine.

“It’s precisely because we’ve not yet seen a strategic turn from Putin that we believe it’s absolutely essential to take additional measures, and that’s what the Europeans and the United States intend to do this week,” said Tony Blinken, Obama’s deputy national security adviser.

Europe, which has a stronger trade relationship with Russia than the U.S., has lagged behind Washington with its earlier sanctions package, in part out of concern from leaders that the penalties could have a negative impact on their own economies. But a spokesman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said following Monday’s call that the West agreed that the EU should move a “strong package of sectoral sanctions as swiftly as possible.”

French President Francois Hollande said in a statement that the Western leaders “regretted Russia has not effectively pressured separatists to bring them to negotiate nor taken expected concrete measures to assure control of the Russian-Ukrainian border.”

The U.S. penalties are expected to be imposed after Europe finalizes its next moves. Neither set of penalties is expected to fully cut off Russian economic sectors from the West, an options U.S. officials have said they’re holding in reserve in case Russia launches a full-on military incursion in Ukraine or takes a similarly provocative step.

As the West presses ahead with new sanctions, U.S. officials say Russia is getting more directly involved in the clash between separatists and the Ukrainian government. Blinken said Russia appeared to be using the international attention focused on the downed Malaysia Airlines plane as “cover and distraction” while it moves more heavy weaponry over its border and into Ukraine.

“We’ve seen a significant re-buildup of Russian forces along the border, potentially positioning Russia for a so-called humanitarian or peace-keeping intervention in Ukraine,” Blinken said. “So there’s urgency to arresting this.”

Nearly 300 people were killed when the Malaysian plane was shot down by a missile on July 17. The West blames the separatists for the missile attack and Russia for supplying the rebels with equipment that can take down a plane.

Other leaders participating in Monday’s call were German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. The White House said the leaders also discussed the stalled efforts to achieve a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the need for Iraq to form a more inclusive government and the uptick in security threats in Libya.

TIME Ukraine

This Man Thinks He’s In Charge of Pro-Russian Rebels in Ukraine

Meet Alexander Borodai, the self-proclaimed Prime Minister of the Donetsk People's Republic

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Eastern Ukraine rebel leader Alexander Borodai, a former PR consultant in Russia, is now at the helm of a group of pro-Russian rebels controlling the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash site and other territories around the Ukrainian city of Donetsk.

But what kind of authority does Borodai have? A kind he decided for himself. In April, a gang led by Borodai and another rebel, Igor Girkin, declared the eastern province of Donetsk a republic.

But while Borodai has become the face of the rebels on the international stage, it is unclear how much influence he wields among the ranks of rebels fighting on the ground in Ukraine.

In the video above, TIME’s Simon Shuster talks about Borodai’s power—or lack thereof—and what that means for the future of the region.

 

TIME Ukraine

Death Toll Mounts as Clashes Intensify in Ukraine

People leave their home after pro-Russian militants and Ukrainian forces battled for control of several towns around the crash site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine on July 28, 2014 in Donetsk.
People leave their home after pro-Russian militants and Ukrainian forces battled for control of several towns around the crash site of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine on July 28, 2014 in Donetsk. Bulent Kilic—AFP/Getty Images

Authorities in Luhansk said five people were killed and 15 injured by overnight artillery strikes

(KIEV, Ukraine) — At least eight civilians have been killed by fighting and shelling in two Ukrainian cities held by separatist militants, officials in the rebellion-wracked east said Monday.

Authorities in Luhansk said five people were killed and 15 injured by overnight artillery strikes. Three were killed in Donetsk as a result of clashes, the city’s government said.

Territory between the cities has seen intensified fighting as government troops try to gain control over the area where a Malaysia Airlines plane was downed earlier this month.

Dutch and Australian police set off for the crash site Monday morning in a convoy of 20 cars, aiming to secure the area so that investigations can continue and any remaining bodies can be recovered.

Both sides in the conflict have traded accusations over the mounting civilian death toll. The armed conflict that has been raging for more than three months has displaced more than 200,000 people.

Rebels accuse government troops of deploying artillery against residential areas. Authorities deny that charge, but also complain of insurgents using apartment blocks as firing positions.

The U.S. State Department on Sunday released satellite images that it says back up its claims that rockets have been fired from Russia into eastern Ukraine and heavy artillery for separatists has also crossed the border.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed the claims Monday during a televised press conference, asking “why it took ten days” before the U.S. released the images.

A four-page document released by the State Department appears to show blast marks from where rockets were launched and craters where they landed. Officials said the images, sourced from the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, show heavy weapons fired between July 21 and July 26 — after the July 17 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

The images could not be independently verified by The Associated Press.

Lavrov said he is expecting OSCE observers to arrive at the Russian-Ukrainian border “in the coming days.” He said they would see that accusations rebels are traveling freely into Ukraine from Russia are false.

Ukrainian officials have said the mission is largely pointless because it involves only about two dozen observers monitoring the 2,000 kilometer (1,240-mile) border between the two countries.

___

Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow and Mstyslav Chernov in Donetsk contributed to this report

TIME foreign affairs

Why the Broadcasting Board of Governors Is Nothing Like RT

Russia Today Putin
An internal view of the former Russian RIA Novosti news agency headquarters, which is now Rossia Segodnya (Russia Today) global news agency since President Vladimir Putin signed a decree liquidating the former news agency, in the capital Moscow, on Dec, 12, 2013. Sefa Karacan—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Media supported by the U.S. government may serve the nation's interests — but they still adhere to the highest standards of journalism.

This week, a stirring new documentary from the Voice of America called “AIDS: Living in the Shadows” made its world premiere at the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, Australia. The 30-minute report — introduced by the British music legend and longtime AIDS activist Elton John — takes a global look at one of the most daunting side effects of AIDS: the stigma that makes its victims outcasts even within their own families.

The documentary takes audiences on a journey to Nigeria, Cambodia, Haiti, Uganda, Canada, and the United States to meet those living with HIV and AIDS. This is the most recent example of the excellent work done by VOA as it serves its audiences around the world while promoting the interests of the United States — in this case, helping halt a global pandemic.

Also this week, Time.com published an article regarding RT, an English-language propaganda outlet for the Kremlin. This article explored the many ways in which RT spreads distortions in support of the Russian government’s geopolitical aims, including outright lies that have prompted some of its top journalists to quit.

Amid all that, the article noted: “RT is neither the first nor the only outlet that exists to serve the state rather than its citizens. Nearly every major country has a thriving state-sponsored media. (The U.S. funds media organizations like Voice of America and Radio Free Asia that target foreign populations through the Broadcasting Board of Governors.)”

While it’s true that these media are, indeed, funded by the U.S. government, the arrangement differs in just about every other way from RT.

The Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) is an independent federal agency that oversees civilian U.S. international media (USIM), including the Voice of America (VOA), Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), the Office of Cuba Broadcasting, Radio Free Asia (RFA), and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks. The BBG is one of the world’s largest news-gathering and reporting enterprises, with 61 language services, 50 overseas news bureaus, 3,500 employees, and 1,500 stringers among the five media entities.

These networks are founded on the belief that it is in the interest of the United States to communicate directly with the people of the world and for the people of the world to have access to accurate information about local, regional, and global events, including in the United States. The VOA Charter asserts, “To be effective, the Voice of America must win the attention and respect of listeners.” Our international audiences turn to VOA and the other BBG-supported media because they count on their accuracy and reliability. If these media were to engage in propaganda or false reporting, our audiences would simply tune us out and we would not be able to accomplish our mission. This is why we work to meet the highest standards of reporting and journalistic integrity.

These standards are at the very heart of USIM. VOA’s journalistic code states, “VOA reporters and broadcasters must strive for accuracy and objectivity in all their work. They do not speak for the U.S. government. …Furthermore, VOA professionals, careful to preserve the integrity of their organization, strive for excellence and avoid imbalance or bias in their broadcasts … Accuracy and balance are paramount, and together, they are VOA’s highest priority. …Though funded by the U.S. government, VOA airs all relevant facts and opinions on important news events and issues.”

The professional journalists around the world who work for our networks are tasked with presenting accurate and objective news and information for audiences in many countries where it is difficult or impossible to receive locally-produced, uncensored or unbiased programs. Our networks provide responsible discussion and open debate in places where this is rare in the media. And our reporters sometimes do so at great personal cost: One of our reporters in Pakistan was killed by the Taliban for doing his job in January 2012. Another reporter went missing in Syria in August 2012. One has stood up to harassment, slander and blackmail for her reporting on corruption in Azerbaijan, for which she was recently honored by the International Women’s Media Foundation’s “Courage in Journalism” award.

The credibility of USIM outlets is underscored by the many acclaimed, popular, private sector, and well-respected media that frequently cite our reporting. A few recent examples include a citation in the Wall Street Journal of a VOA story about corruption in Vietnam, a post in the New York Times China blog citing RFA’s reporting, a Washington Post article citing a Radio Liberty reporter, and the inclusion in this New York Times blog post of interviews of Russian citizens done by RFE/RL following the downing of MH17.

Our founding legislation mandates that our programs be conducted in accordance with the highest professional standards of broadcast journalism, and it provides guarantees against government interference in our journalists’ work; it also insists that our agency’s broadcasting standards be consistent with broad U.S. foreign policy objectives. The BBG’s mission is to inform, engage and connect people around the world in support of freedom and democracy. In the sense that informing international audiences with news that is consistently reliable and authoritative, accurate, objective, and comprehensive is beneficial to U.S. interests, yes — the BBG and its media do serve the state. However, by doing so through credible and balanced reporting, we serve both the state and the citizens of the world.

Shell is the Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors. If you are interested in learning more about the BBG and USIM, visit www.bbg.gov.

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