TIME russia

Putin Wishes Obama a Happy Independence Day

Vladimir Putin
Sergei Karpukhin—AP In this May 28, 2015 file photo, Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a ceremony in the Kremlin in Moscow.

"Russian-American relations remain the most important factor of international stability and security"

Russian President Vladimir Putin has emphasized the importance of U.S.-Russian relations in a congratulatory July 4 message to President Barack Obama Saturday.

“In his message of congratulations, the Russian President noted that, despite the differences between the two countries, Russian-American relations remain the most important factor of international stability and security,” the Kremlin said, Reuters reports.

The message comes as diplomatic relations between the countries remain frayed, with Russia considering fresh sanctions against Western nations in the ongoing diplomatic feud over eastern Ukraine.

The head of Russia’s Security Council said Friday the country might target Finland over its refusal to issue a visa for the head of its lower house.

Nikolai Patrushev also singled out Washington for blame Friday for the protests in early 2014 that saw the pro-Moscow leadership driven from office. “The United States has initiated all those events in Ukraine. It has initiated a coup and put the current Ukrainian leadership in power,” he said, the AP reports.

Putin’s message, however, did not mention Ukraine or the Western sanctions imposed by the U.S. and others following the annexation of Crimea.

[Reuters]

TIME russia

Russian Supply Ship Launched to International Space Station

The Russian Progress-M spacecraft is set on its launch pad at Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan
Stringer Shanghai —REUTERS The Russian Progress-M spacecraft is set on its launch pad at Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, July 1, 2015

The previous Progress launch in April failed and then a SpaceX attempt exploded

(MOSCOW) — A Russian rocket has successfully launched an unmanned cargo ship to the International Space Station, whose crew is anxiously awaiting it after the successive failures of two previous supply missions.

A Soyuz-U rocket blasted off as scheduled from Russia-leased Baikonur launch pad in Kazakhstan, placing the Progress M-28M cargo ship into a designated orbit.

The previous Progress launch in April ended in failure, and on Sunday a U.S. supply mission failed too when SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket broke apart shortly after liftoff. The success of Friday’s launch is essential for the station program, which has relied on Russian spacecraft for ferrying crews after the grounding of the U.S. shuttle fleet.

The next station crew’s launch has been pushed back from late May to late July after April’s failure.

TIME portfolio

Documenting the Hard Life in Russia’s Frozen Arctic

“The Arctic is like a blank sheet on which you could see all the tensions of Russia played out."

The Soviet Union was known for its doublespeak, but when Moscow bureaucrats called the 7,000-km area of the Russian Arctic the “zone of absolute discomfort,” they were speaking the truth. Temperatures in the settlements of the far north, which spans from Alaska to Finland, can dip below –45°C in the winter. Living conditions are wretched, which is one reason Stalin used these towns as gulags. Descendants of some of the prisoners still live in these Arctic communities. Among the people who seem adapted to the conditions are the indigenous herders known as Nenets, who live in tents called chums.

Yet there are billions of tons of oil and natural gas locked beneath the permafrost—a fact that has drawn a new wave of workers to the Arctic, as the photographer Justin Jin documents. It’s not an easy place to work as a photographer—Jin once got frostbite from the cold metal of his camera pressed against his face—but the material is worth it. “The Arctic is like a blank sheet on which you could see all the tensions of Russia played out,” says Jin, who has worked in Russia for years. “You have the extreme expanse of space, the endless nature, the riches trapped in the tundra. It’s all the contradictions and juxtapositions of Russia.”

Justin Jin is a documentary photographer based in Belgium.

Bryan Walsh is TIME’s Foreign Editor.

TIME russia

Officials in Central Russia Have Banned Yoga Because They Think It’s an Evil Cult

They fear it could "spread new religious cults and movements"

Officials in the central Russian city of Nizhnevartovsk have called off all yoga classes held in both private and municipal facilities as part of a crackdown on “religious cults.”

According to the Moscow Times, which cited a report in the Russian Kommersant daily, the owners of two of the city’s main hatha-yoga studios received letters from government officials telling them to immediately cease their classes because the practice of yoga could “spread new religious cults and movements.”

Yoga classes have also been taking place at a stadium and public meeting hall in Nizhnevartovsk. However, the heads of the local departments for physical culture and education received letters as well, the Moscow Times says, describing yoga as “inextricably linked to religious practices” and having a distinct “occult character.”

Hatha yoga is based in Hindu tradition, but is mostly practiced as a physical exercise that promotes flexibility and deep breathing.

Suspicion of yoga is not shared among all Russian apparatchiks, however. Last year, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Interfax news agency that Americans upset about the annexation of Crimea should “spend more time in the open,” and “practice yoga.”

[Moscow Times]

TIME russia

Former Oil Tycoon Named Murder Suspect in Russia

Mikhail Khodorkovsky at the Polytechnic University in Kiev on March 10, 2014.
David Azia—AP Mikhail Khodorkovsky at the Polytechnic University in Kiev on March 10, 2014.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky also is a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin's government

(MOSCOW) — Russian investigators announced Tuesday they are reopening the case of the 1998 killing of a Siberian mayor and consider former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky a prime suspect.

At the time when Nefteyugansk Mayor Vladimir Petukhov was shot dead, he was involved in a conflict with Khodorkovsky’s oil company, Yukos, over the payment of taxes to the town. Khodorkovsky and his associates have denied any involvement and no one has been convicted in the killing.

The announcement that investigators were considering whether to charge Khodorkovsky with ordering the killing came as he is becoming an increasingly strong voice in Russian opposition politics.

Khodorkovsky has lived in exile in Switzerland since his 2013 release from prison, where he spent 10 years on charges of tax evasion, embezzlement and money laundering that were seen as punishment for challenging President Vladimir Putin’s power. He funds a Russian civil society organization called Open Russia.

Investigators now have information implicating Khodorkovsky directly in the killing of the mayor and other crimes, Vladimir Markin, the spokesman for the federal Investigative Committee, said in a statement. He said they intended to question Khodorkovsky, and “his absence from Russian territory would not be an insurmountable obstacle.”

Khodorkovsky’s spokeswoman Olga Pispanen said there would be no comment, the Tass news agency reported.

The Kremlin is suspicious of non-governmental organizations, especially those funded from abroad, seeing them as aimed at undermining Putin’s rule. The Russian government also is fighting a ruling made last year by an arbitration court in The Hague, Netherlands, that it must pay $50 billion to compensate the former shareholders of Yukos, which was bankrupted in the same legal onslaught that sent Khodorkovsky to prison.

TIME LGBT

Americans Are Using a U.S. Flag Photo Filter to Protest the Gay Marriage Ruling

The posts come in direct response to Facebook's "Celebrate Pride" rainbow filter

Some Americans are using a web service by Rightwingnews.com to add an American flag filter to their Facebook profile photos as part of the backlash against the legalization of gay marriage in the U.S.

The move is a direct response to Facebook’s “Celebrate Pride” rainbow filter, which allows users to show their support of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to legalize gay marriage on June 26. Over 26 million people implemented Facebook’s filter in the days after the ruling.

However, one Twitter user, featured in the Independent, pointed out that the Rainbow flag and the American flag are not mutually exclusive symbols.

TIME White House

Watch a Mashup of President Obama Getting Heckled

"As a general rule, I am just fine with a few hecklers—but not when I’m up in the house"

President Obama is no stranger to hecklers.

But, every man has his limits. Watch the video above to see how the Commander-in-Chief has responded to various interruptions throughout his two terms in office.

One key takeaway: You can heckle him all you want, but when you’re an invited guest to the White House, too much heckling can get you thrown out.

As Obama said after being heckled at a recent event at 1600 Pennsylvania: “I am just fine with a few hecklers—but not when I’m up in the house. You know what I mean? You know, my attitude is if you’re eating the hors d’oeuvres—you know what I’m saying?”

 

TIME Innovation

Fight Prison Gangs by Breaking Up Big Prisons

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

These are today's best ideas

1. America’s biggest prisons are factories exporting prison gangs. Break them up.

By David Skarbek and Courtney Michaluk in Politico

2. Find out why demographics and a charismatic leader still aren’t enough to make a majority party.

By Suzy Khimm in the New Republic

3. Denied a seat at the table of global power, the BRICS nations are building their own table.

By Shashi Tharoor in Project Syndicate

4. With an implanted treatment that blocks a narcotic high, one doctor wants to end addiction.

By Sujata Gupta in Mosaic Science

5. Your next insurance inspector could be a drone.

By Cameron Graham in Technology Advice

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 russia

Russian Preparations for 2018 World Cup Stumble Amid Sanctions

Alisher Usmanov russia
Andrey Rudakov—Bloomberg/Getty Images Alisher Usmanov, Russian billionaire and owner of USM Holdings Ltd., left, attends a meeting of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (RSPP) during Russia Business Week in Moscow, March 19, 2015.

Billionaire stumps up $5.5 million to pay national coach’s wage arrears, while the government is slashing the budget for organizing the tournament

It’s getting harder to tell whether Russia’s preparations for hosting the soccer World Cup in 2018 are in bigger trouble on the field or off it.

On Monday, the government slashed the equivalent of over half a billion dollars from its budget for the tournament, trying to make sure that the ruble’s devaluation doesn’t end up driving the final bill higher. Russia’s budget is under severe pressure from the sharp fall in oil prices and western sanctions over its behavior toward neighboring Ukraine. The European Union renewed its sanctions for another six months Monday.

But at least today the country has solved one problem: the humungous wage bill of its Italian coach, Fabio Capello. Capello said last week he hadn’t been paid for eight months – a reflection of the troubles that the Russian Football Union (RFS) has had in trying to deliver the 2018 tournament.

The situation was rescued Tuesday by billionaire businessman Alisher Usmanov, who owns a minority stake in the London-based club Arsenal FC. Sky Sports reported his press service as saying that Usmanov had donated 300 million rubles ($5.5 million) to pay off the arrears. The heavily-indebted RFS’s own boss Nikolay Tolstykh was sacked three weeks ago.

Whether saving Capello will get Usmanov any plaudits at home is another question. The veteran coach, who has led AC Milan and the Italian and English national teams, is presiding over a wretched run of results since crashing out of last year’s World Cup in Brazil in the group stages, behind Algeria.

The team’s latest embarrassment, a 1-0 loss at the hands of little Austria, left Russia on the verge of missing out entirely on the European Championships next year and caused fans to launch a nationwide crowd-funding campaign to get rid of him.

But if the Capello problem (or at least its financial aspects) is now solved, the off-field issues remain a headache. Russia’s bid for the rights to host the 2018 World Cup is the subject of two criminal investigations in the U.S. and Switzerland that focus on allegations that bribes were paid to win the rights to host the tournaments.

President Vladimir Putin, who personally backed the campaign to host the 2018 tournament, stressed at the weekend that: “We won in a free fight and we are going to host the World Cup.”

Initially, the 2018 campaign was an echo of the “money-no-object” approach that went into preparing the Sochi Winter Olympics. Those games ended up being the most expensive games in history, costing over $51 billion and drawing allegations of widespread corruption and cronyism.

In the new economic reality, Russia is now scaling back its designs, trimming the capacity of the planned new stadia and, with yesterday’s plans, striking some hotels entirely. The campaign originally promised six new stadiums and new training grounds and health facilities to cater for the players, as well as major upgrades to air and rail links for the fans.

The government initially estimated a total cost of around 664 billion rubles for the tournament–around $22 billion at the exchange rates that prevailed then. The latest revision brings it to 631 billion, but the dollar budget is much lower, because the ruble lost over a third of its value against the dollar since then.

The new costings suggest the World Cup will cost less than a quarter of the final bill for Sochi. But cost overruns are again everywhere, not least due to higher bills for imported materials.

Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov said recently the federal government will only cover 355 billion rubles of the total, meaning that Usmanov and others (particularly the oligarchs that own the clubs who will play at the new stadiums) may well end up dipping into their pockets again before the finals.

But what if you built it and they still didn’t come? Other national soccer associations have already started to murmur that they will force a new vote on hosting the 2018/2022 tournaments if the allegations of corruption are proved. Meanwhile, the contractor for one of the new stadiums, in Kaliningrad, has already gone bust.

And, as ever, the PR risks rival the business ones. Even if the tournament goes ahead, it will come hot on the heels of presidential elections in March that already looked pre-programmed to cause further trouble between Russia and the West. Putin is widely expected to run for a fourth term. His re-election in 2012 triggered large-scale demonstrations in Moscow after widespread allegations of ballot-rigging.

A repeat of that would hardly be the desired backdrop for his next prestige project. But at least the country will finally have the soccer infrastructure that a country with its rich sporting heritage deserves.

This article originally appeared on fortune.com

TIME Poland

See NATO’s Massive Training Exercises in Eastern Europe

“The big buzz word was interoperability."

Thousands of NATO troops took part in a two-week exercise in Poland and the Baltic states, practicing sea landings, airlifts and assaults, the Associated Press reports.

The series of massive maneuvers, each with its own code name, took place on NATO’s eastern flank and in the Baltic Sea, where 5,000 troops from 17 NATO and partner nations took part in the maritime BALTOPS exercises. This year, the naval maneuvers took place without Russia.

Freelance photographer Amanda Rivkin was embedded with multi-national troops in Drawsko Pomorskie, a northwestern Polish town. “The big buzz word was interoperability,” she said, referring to NATO’s goal to show that its members can cooperate in the face of a potential crisis. “This is clearly being done as a show of force against Russia’s show of force in Crimea and in the Baltic,” she added.

Polish and Baltic state leaders have made it clear that they want to host large numbers of U.S. and NATO forces as a deterrent in the face of a resurgent Russia, the AP reports. “We must know how to defend ourselves. It is our goal to assure a stable order,” said Polish Foreign Minister Grzegorz Schetyna.

Read next: New NATO Force Trains in Poland to Assure Eastern Flank

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