TIME russia

Russia Says It Would Consider Financial Help for Greece

Russian Federation Council member Anton Siluanov delivers a speech as Russian Federation Council deputy chairman Ilyas Ukhmanov, Russian Federation Council chairperson Valentina Matviyenko, Russian Federation Council deputy chairmen Evgeny Bushmin and Yuri Vorobyov (L to R, background) look on at a plenary meeting of the Russian Federation Council on Jan. 28, 2015.
Russian Federation Council member Anton Siluanov delivers a speech as Russian Federation Council deputy chairman Ilyas Ukhmanov, Russian Federation Council chairperson Valentina Matviyenko, Russian Federation Council deputy chairmen Evgeny Bushmin and Yuri Vorobyov (L to R, background) look on at a plenary meeting of the Russian Federation Council on Jan. 28, 2015. Pitalev Ilya—ITAR-TASS Photo/Corbis

Finance minister says Russia hasn't yet received a request for assistance

Russia’s finance minister said his country would consider providing financial support to Greece, raising the stakes for the European Union as it confronts the new Euroskeptic reality in Athens.

Anton Siluanov told CNBC that Russia has not received a request from Greece for assistance, but his comments come days after the anti-E.U. party Syriza won parliamentary elections, vowing to renegotiate aid packages from the bloc that are tied to strict austerity measures.

“We can imagine any situation, so if such petition is submitted to the Russian government, we will definitely consider it,” he said, “but will take into account all the factors of our bilateral relationships between Russia and Greece, so that is all I can say.”

The Greek government’s clash with the E.U. over its debt risks cutting the country off from euro zone lenders and private investors. That could create an opening for Russia to expand its influence in Greece—an ugly prospect for the E.U. as it engages in a sanctions battle with Russia over the conflict in Ukraine.

E.U. foreign ministers agreed on Thursday to impose a new round of sanctions, according to the Associated Press, apparently overcoming for now concerns from the new Greek government about expanding the rift between the EU and Russia.

[CNBC]

TIME U.S.

Watch How the AK-47 Came to Be ‘Made In America’

In early 2015, a U.S.-based company got the green light to start producing what is perhaps the world's most recognizable assault rifle

TIME White House

White House Chief of Staff Reaffirms ‘Deep and Abiding’ U.S.-Israel Ties

Meet the Press - Season 68
Denis McDonough White House Chief of Staff appears on "Meet the Press" in Washington D.C. on Jan. 25, 2015. William B. Plowman—NBC/Getty Images

Amid reports of a rift with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough repudiated reports of a widening rift between the Obama administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday’s morning talk shows.

An unnamed administration official was quoted by Israeli newspaper Haaretz as saying Netanyahu “spat in our face publicly” when he agreed to accept an invitation to speak to the United States Congress in March without President Obama having been consulted first.

But McDonough said on NBC’s Meet the Press that the alliance between the U.S. and Israel remained strong. “Our relationship with Israel is many-faceted, deep and abiding,” he said. “It’s focused on a shared series of threats, but also, on a shared series of values that one particular instance is not going to inform overwhelmingly.”

The White House Chief of Staff said he could not “guarantee” that an administration official hadn’t made the remarks about Netanyahu, but said he had no idea who might have said them. “It’s not me. It’s not the President,” McDonough told interviewer Chuck Todd.

House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to deliver an address to a joint session of Congress when he visits the U.S. in March, without informing the White House first. The trip coincides with negotiations between the U.S. and others with Iran on their nuclear capabilities, which are strongly opposed by Israel and by some in Congress.

The White House said President Obama would not be meeting with Netanyahu during his visit, out of concerns that it might influence the Israeli elections due to take place two weeks after his trip.

The decision has been portrayed as a snub by the Israeli media, though McDonough said on Meet the Press that the principle would be the same for any other ally. “We think as a general matter we in the U.S. stay out of internal politics of our closest allies,” he said.

In a separate interview on ABC’s This Week Sunday, McDonough urged Congress not to pass new sanctions on Iran while the nuclear negotiations are ongoing.

“We’ve asked Congress for forbearance, for some time to allow us to run these negotiations so that it is we who are, united with our allies, maintaining Iran isolated, rather than going with some kind of premature action up there on the Hill that would risk really splintering the international community, making it we, not the Iranians, who are isolated,” he said.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: January 12

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

1. On the fifth anniversary of the Haiti earthquake, political strife is still the greatest obstacle to recovery.

By Jacqueline Charles in the Miami Herald

2. The U.S. uses economic sanctions because they don’t require a global coalition to work. But they may inflict damage beyond the intended target.

By Paul Richter in the Los Angeles Times

3. With deepening partisanship becoming the norm, don’t look to the states for new ideas.

By Aaron Chatterji in the New York Times

4. Juries could use virtual reality headsets to ‘visit’ crime scenes.

By Jessica Hamzelou in New Scientist

5. A new waterproof solar lantern is helping reduce deaths from burning fuel indoors for the world’s 1.2 billion living without electric light.

By Michael Zelenko in the Verge

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

3 Things to Know About New U.S. Sanctions on North Korea

The Week That Was In Asia Photo Gallery
A magazine with caricatures of U.S. President Barack Obama, left, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is displayed at a book store in Seoul on Jan. 3, 2015 Ahn Young-joon—AP

The new measures are unlikely to make much of a difference in the isolated Asian state

(SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA) — Here are three things to know about new U.S. sanctions against North Korea over a cyberattack on Sony Pictures, whose movie depicting the fictional assassination of North Korea’s leader has infuriated Pyongyang, which denies responsibility for the cyberattack:

——-

Pyongyang’s rhetoric over the weekend, which included a vow that the new sanctions and America’s “inveterate repugnancy and hostility” would not weaken the North’s 1.2-million-strong military, is probably directed as much at a domestic audience as it is at Washington.

Some North Korea watchers believe that sanctions help to insulate Pyongyang from taking responsibility for its failures, and allow Kim Jong Un, the 30-something leader who took power in late 2011 after his father’s death, to better solidify his power and bolster his domestic image as a strong leader.

Pyongyang, the argument goes, uses tension with the outside world, in general, and sanctions, in particular, to whip up always high anti-U.S. sentiment. This, in turn, allows the leadership to justify its inability to feed many of its people and the continuing push to develop nuclear bombs it says are needed to defend against Washington.

—–

The new measures are unlikely to make much of a difference in North Korea, which has been bombarded by sanctions for decades and which has woven an obsession with self-reliance into its national psyche.

Some analysts say Washington and others have the ability, should they choose, to apply more severe financial measures to hurt the North’s leadership. But many others point out that a raft of multilateral penalties from the United Nations, as well as national sanctions from Washington, Tokyo and others meant to punish the government and sidetrack its nuclear ambitions, have done nothing to derail Pyongyang’s pursuit of a nuclear tipped missile that could reach America’s mainland.

The most recent sanctions, which target 10 North Korean government officials and three organizations, including Pyongyang’s primary intelligence agency and state-run arms dealer, will have a limited impact because North Korea will likely assign other people or organizations to take over the work of those targeted, analysts say.

—–

The measures probably won’t hurt recent efforts to improve ties between the rival Koreas.

North and South Korea have been at each other’s throats, both figuratively and literally, since the Korean Peninsula was divided at the end of World War II into a U.S. backed capitalist south and a Soviet-backed communist north.

In the decades since they were founded in 1948, the Koreas have established elaborate patterns of communicating their intentions toward each other, even as they trade bombastic rhetoric and threats.

The North’s comments over the weekend have been largely viewed in Seoul as leaving the door open for warming ties as they didn’t specifically criticize South Korea.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 18

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

1. By breaking with the Cuba lobby, President Obama could massively disrupt American interest group politics.

By Noah Feldman in the Salt Lake Tribune

2. Sony can take a stand against the hackers whose threats have forced them to pull “The Interview” by giving the movie away online.

By Bryan Bishop in the Verge

3. Could the West help save the ruble without throwing Putin a lifeline?

By Juliet Johnson in the Globe and Mail

4. By tracking rising global temperatures, satellites can predict cholera risk.

By Dr. Kiki Sanford in BoingBoing

5. After the Taliban’s shocking attack on a school in Pakistan, the military there understands “the Frankenstein that it helped to create must now be killed.”

By Peter Bergen at CNN

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

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 Fast Food

McDonald’s Says Russian Health Inspectors Target 200 Restaurants

Inside Burger King And Subway As McDonald's Faces Growing Challenge From Rivals
A logo hangs on display outside a McDonald's food restaurant in Moscow, Russia, on Sunday, April 7, 2013. Andrey Rudakov—Bloomberg / Getty Images

Russian courts also ordered 9 to close

More than 200 McDonald’s restaurants in Russia are being audited by health inspectors, the company said in a public statement over the weekend.

McDonald’s vowed to challenge a court-ordered closure of nine restaurants, according to a Russian-language statement released by the Illinois-based company, Bloomberg reports.

Health inspections of the Russian branches — there were at least 440 as of August — began shortly after countries in the West imposed sanctions against Russia during the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Regulators argue the searches are part of a widening investigation of sanitary violations, but critics in August dismissed the probes as an exercise in political retaliation.

[Bloomberg]

TIME Ukraine

Ukraine’s Prime Minister Tells U.N. That Moscow Must Stop Arming Rebels

"We are the country that needs peace and it's difficult to hammer out any kind of peace deal at the barrel of a gun, made in Russia"

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk on Wednesday demanded that Russia pull its forces out of Ukraine and stops the supply of arms to pro-Kremlin rebels.

Speaking at the U.N. General Assembly in New York City, Yatsenyuk said Moscow must start real peace talks with Ukraine.

“We urge Russia to pull back its forces, to pull back its artillery, to stop the supply of Russian-led terrorists, to restore the control over Ukrainian-Russian border and to start real talks — peace talks,” he said.

Yatsenyuk also urged Western nations not to lift sanctions against Russia until Ukraine regained control of all of its territory, the BBC reports.

In March, Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern peninsular of Crimea, sparking clashes between the Kiev-aligned military and pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country.

Yatsenyuk insisted that he intended to reclaim all lost territory. “Crimea was, is and will be a part of Ukraine,” he said.

Russia denies equipping the rebels or sending forces into Ukraine.

On Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama said he would consider lifting sanctions on Russia if the government abides by a cease-fire signed on Sept. 5. Despite the agreement, fighting has continued in the rebel-held eastern city of Donetsk.

The U.N. says the number of people killed in Ukraine since the conflict began in April has topped 3,000.

“We are the country that needs peace and it’s difficult to hammer out any kind of peace deal at the barrel of a gun, made in Russia,” Yatsenyuk said.

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