TIME russia

These 5 Facts Explain Russia’s Economic Decline

Russian President Vladimir Putin Delivers State Of The Nation Address To Parliament
Sasha Mordovets—Getty Images Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers his annual state of the nation address to the National Assembly in Grand Kremlin Palace on in Moscow on Dec. 4, 2014.

Corruption, cheap oil and unproductive workers all hold Russia back—though Russians don't seem to care

For the first time since 2009—low point of the global economic slowdown—Russia is in recession. Its economy will contract 3 percent this year, though Moscow’s $360 billion in cash reserves will cushion the immediate blow. Still, as President Vladimir Putin continues to try to assert Russian power on the international stage, it has become clear that he is now ruling a “submerging market.” Unless something changes, Russia is in for a slow and steady economic decline. These five sets of stats explain why.

(TIME, International Monetary Fund)

1. Lack of Diversification

It’s not simply the size of your economy, but its diversity and resilience that counts. For years, the Kremlin has supported and protected large state-owned companies at the expense of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). But those smaller firms are the foundation of any strong and well-diversified economy. SMEs spur innovation and respond effectively to changing times, technologies, and consumer tastes. In the EU, SMEs contribute an average of 40 percent to their respective countries’ GDP; in Russia, SMEs contribute just 15 percent. Those are daunting figures for anyone looking to start a business in Russia.

Things aren’t getting better—between 2008 and 2012, Russia’s private sector lost 300,000 jobs while the state added 1.1 million workers to its payroll. Rather than diversifying, Moscow is doubling down on its state-centered approach to economic development.

(JYSkebank, The Economist)

2. At the Mercy of Oil Markets

The price of oil has now fallen below $45 a barrel—welcome to the new normal. OPEC continues to pump oil at historic rates as it tries to price out competitors, and Iran expects to bring over a million new barrels a day to world markets after the lifting of international sanctions. These are deeply troubling developments for Moscow, which relies on oil and gas sales for nearly 50 percent of its government revenues. In 1999, oil and gas accounted for less than half of Russia’s export proceeds; today they account for 68 percent. Moscow has grown so reliant on energy sales that for each dollar the price of oil drops, Russia loses about $2 billion in potential sales. For Russia to balance its budget, oil will need to surge back to $100 a barrel. That’s going to take a while.

(CNBC, CNN, Wall Street Journal , World Affairs, EIA, BBC, Financial Times)

3. At the Mercy of Sanctions

Moscow’s over-reliance on crude oil—which makes up 40 percent of Russia’s state budget—has also left the country particularly vulnerable to international sanctions. Given the age of many existing fields, Russia will increasingly depend on cutting-edge technology from Western firms to pump oil from difficult-to-reach shale and deep-water reserves. These sources could account for more than 15% of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30% of the gas. Some argue that Russia can turn for help to China—but while China wants more Russian oil and gas, it doesn’t have the technology Russia needs to draw those resources from the ground. The IMF believes sanctions could eventually cost Russia 9 percent of its GDP.

(EIA, Forbes, Reuters)

4. Russia’s Other Problems

Russians aren’t nearly as productive as they could be. For each hour worked, the average Russian worker contributes $25.90 to Russia’s GDP. The average Greek worker adds $36.20 per hour of work. And Greece is not a country you want to trail in productivity. The average for U.S. workers? $67.40.

In addition, endemic corruption costs the Russian economy between $300 and $500 billion each year, or roughly the cost of three Greek bailout packages combined. This year, Freedom House gave the country a 6.75 on its corruption scale; 7 is “most corrupt.”

It’s no surprise then that well-educated Russians are leaving their country in droves. Between 2012 and 2013, more than 300,000 people left Russia in search of greener economic pastures, and experts believe that number has only risen since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea last year.

(Bloomberg, OECD, PBS, Telegraph, Wall Street Journal, Freedom House, Washington Post)

5. No Incentive to Change

Russia’s biggest problem may be denial. Typically, a stumbling economy brings about change in political leadership. Some countries, like Greece, take this to an extreme—Athens has seen five different governments in five years. But Russians have gone the other way—as their economy has slowed, Putin has grown more popular; he now holds an approval rating of 86 percent. More surprising is that while 73 percent of Russians are unhappy with their economy, 7 in 10 approve of the way Putin is handling it.

How is that possible? About 90 percent of all Russians get their news from Russian television channels directly controlled by the Kremlin. By framing sanctions and the invasion of Ukraine as “Russia vs. the West”, Putin has succeeded in stoking the country’s nationalism. Today, 63 percent of Russians have a very favorable view of their country, up from 29 percent in 2013 and 51 percent in 2014. It’s easier under those circumstances to blame bad economic circumstances on outsiders. Credit where credit’s due—Putin knows what his people want to hear. It’s just not clear if he knows how to fix his flailing economy.

(TIME, Pew Research Center, Washington Post, Pew Research Center)

TIME Donald Trump

Donald Trump Thinks He and Vladimir Putin Would Get Along Just Great

"I think I would get along very well with Vladimir Putin. I just think so."

Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump said he is confident he would “get along very well with Vladimir Putin,” despite the contentious relationship the Russian president has had with the United States in recent years.

“I think I would get along very well with Vladimir Putin. I just think so. People say, ‘What do you mean?’ I think I would get along well with him,” Trump told reporters in Glasgow, Scotland, where he is attending the women’s British Open being played at a golf course he owns.

“He hates Obama, Obama hates him. We have unbelievably bad relationships. Hillary Clinton was…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME russia

Putin Says FIFA President Sepp Blatter Worthy of Winning Nobel Prize

Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia
Laurence Griffiths/FIFA&mdashGetty Images FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter shakes hands with Vladimir Putin, President of Russia ahead of the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The Russian president does not believe Sepp Blatter is involved in corruption

Vladimir Putin said that FIFA President Sepp Blatter “deserves the Nobel Prize.”

The Russian president spoke favorably of Blatter in an interview with a Swiss broadcaster on Monday, invoking the indictments of other FIFA officials on bribery and fraud charges and saying, “I don’t want to go into details but I don’t believe a word about him being involved in corruption personally,” Reuters reports.

Putin added that Blatter’s fellow “heads of big international sporting federations, or the Olympic Games, deserve special recognition. If there is anyone who deserves the Nobel Prize, it’s those people.”

Russia will host the FIFA World Cup in 2018; by then, Blatter will no longer be president, as he has announced that he will resign when a FIFA Congress elects his successor on Feb. 26, 2016.

 

TIME Military

Russian Bombers Buzzing U.S. Unlikely to Carry Nukes

RUSSIA-HISTORY-VICTORY-DAY-WWII
VASILY MAXIMOV / AFP / Getty Images A trio of Tu-95 bombers flies over the Kremlin in May.

But Moscow’s growing assertiveness concerns U.S. military

The bad news for Americans old enough to remember Cold War shivers is that Soviet-era Tu-95 Bear bombers recently showed up off the U.S. coast. The good news, for Americans, is that the 1950s-era Russian air force turboprop airplanes keep crashing.

And that combination, a former Air Force general says, makes it unlikely that the Russian bombers are carrying any nuclear weapons close to U.S. shores (the bomber would carry such weapons inside its fuselage, making it impossible for outsiders to tell if there any are aboard, Air Force officials say).

“Risking the loss of a long-range bomber like a Tu-95 with a nuclear weapon on board is a pretty big risk,” says David Deptula, a retired three-star officer who spent 3,000 hours in fighter planes, including 400 in combat. “It would be very imprudent to be carrying a nuclear weapons on board a flight like that.” A pair of Russian pilots died July 14 when their Tu-95 crashed in Russia’s Far East; a second Tu-95 ran off a Russian runway June 8 following an engine fire, injuring several crew members.

Russia has been averaging about five such flights annually over the past five years, the North American Aerospace Defense Command reports (although it spiked to 10 last year). “This is nothing new,” NORAD’s Michael Kucharek says. Each time the Russian bombers approach, the joint U.S.-Canadian force dispatches interceptors to eyeball them. “We go up and visually identify the aircraft, and let them know that we are there,’ Kucharek says. “They see us and we see them.”

“I don’t know what to make of it,” Merrill “Tony” McPeak, retired general and Air Force chief of staff, says of the Russian fly-bys. “The training value—polishing skills in navigation, aerial refueling, et cetera—can be achieved flying over Russian territory.”

Deptula says the flights are Russian President Vladimir Putin’s way of asserting Russian might. “He’s showing they still have a way to project power when and where they want to,” Deptula says. “It reinforces the fact that they do have a capability to project power that not many nations do.”

Russia’s actions in the skies, along with those in Ukraine and Crimea, have the U.S. military brass increasingly concerned. On Thursday, Lieut. General Robert Neller, tapped to be the next commandant of the Marine Corps, said he views Russia as the nation that poses the biggest threat to the U.S. “Their actions, and the fact that they have strategic forces, make them the greatest potential threat,” Neller said.

He was echoing the views of General Mark Milley, soon to be the Army chief of staff, and Marine General Joseph Dunford, soon to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs. “If you want to talk about a nation that could pose an existential threat to the United States, I’d have to point to Russia,” Dunford said at his confirmation hearing July 9. “If you look at their behavior, it’s nothing short of alarming.”

The latest Russian flight took place July 4 off the central Californian coast, and a pair of U.S. F-15s were dispatched to check out the intruders. “Good morning American pilots, we are here to greet you on your Fourth of July Independence Day,” a Russian crew member aboard one of the Tu-95s radioed the Americans. The Russians conducted similar flights in 2012 and 2014.

NORAD is pretty mellow about the flights, none of which has come inside the 12-mile territorial limits claimed by both the U.S. and Canada. The latest flight came within about 40 miles of the California coast. “We’ve seen these flight profiles before,”Kucharek says. “If a country has a military, they have to exercise their capabilities.”

That attitude is a far cry from the Pentagon’s view of the Tu-95 during the 1980s, when the lumbering bomber was featured regularly in its annual Soviet Military Power guide, a glossy publication designed to bolster support for President Ronald Reagan’s military buildup.

Engels-2 Aircraft Military Base
Wojtek Laski / Getty ImagesThe Tu-95 is the backbone of Russia’s bomber fleet

“The Tu-95/Bear is the primary intercontinental air threat to the United States,” the 1983 version said. “Capable of delivering free-fall bombs or air-to-surface missiles, under optimum conditions this aircraft can cover virtually all U.S. targets on a two-way mission.”

But Marine Lieut. General Neller apparently isn’t losing any sleep over the Tu-95 flights. “I don’t think they want to fight us,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday. “Right now I don’t think they want to kill Americans.”

TIME russia

Vladimir Putin, Master of the Manly Arts, Will Even Try Yoga to Woo India’s Narendra Modi

BRICS 2015 Summit
Sasha Mordovets—Getty Images Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, greets Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, left, during their bilateral meeting at the BRICS 2015 Summit on July 8, 2015 in Ufa, Russia

“I have tried many things, but never yoga, but it cannot fail to attract”

He’s mastered judo, swimming, hunting and even bare-chested horseback riding. Now, for the sake of his friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin says he’s willing to give yoga a shot.

“I have tried many things, but never yoga, but it cannot fail to attract,” Putin told Modi at a meeting in the Russian city of Ufa, according to the New York Times.

Modi has been promoting yoga aggressively in recent months, including leading over 35,000 people in a yoga routine on June 21, the world’s first International Yoga Day, which he helped establish.

Putin is currently hosting a series of summit meetings in Ufa with BRICS and Shanghai Cooperation Organization countries, the Times reports.

Through the meetings, Putin is trying to prove to the world that, despite the ongoing civil war in Ukraine, Russia does still have friends.

However, not everyone in Russia is as open to the idea of yoga as its strongman President. Earlier this month, a central Russian city banned yoga classes, fearing that they promote “religious cults.”

TIME celebrities

Pamela Anderson Wants Vladimir Putin to Save the Whales

Pamela Anderson
Paul A. Hebert—Invision/AP Pamela Anderson in June 2015.

"Your decision could put an end to the needless slaughter of endangered whales by Iceland," she writes

What do Pamela Anderson and Vladimir Putin have in common? Try a love of the outdoors: The Canadian-American actress and longtime animal rights activist is calling on the Russian president and fellow animal-lover to take action against the whale meat trade.

Over the weekend Anderson wrote an open letter to Putin asking him to block passage of the Winter Bay, a ship reportedly containing 1,700 tons of fin whale that’s meat en route to Japan from Iceland—two of three countries in the world where whaling is still legal, Quartz reports.

The ship is in violation of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which has already prevented Winter Bay from passing through the Panama or Suez canals, according to the Sea Shepard Conservation Society. The Russian Federation is a CITES signatory, which means Putin has the power to block the Winter Bay from going through Russian territory via the Bearing Strait should he hear Anderson’s plea.

Here’s her full letter from July 5, via Quartz:

Dear Vladimir Vladimirovich,

I believe that we both share a mutual love for animals and a deep respect for nature and for this reason I would like to make a personal request to you, on behalf of endangered fin whales. At this moment there is a ship in Tromsø, Norway, called the Winter Bay. It is carrying a cargo of 1,700 tons of fin whale meat. These whales were killed illegally in violation of the International Whaling Commission’s moratorium on commercial whaling. It is also illegal to kill fin whales and to engage in the trade of endangered species. The Winter Bay was unable to transit the Suez Canal or the Panama Canal or to transit via Europe or Africa for fear of being stopped by the appropriate authorities. The Winter Bay intends to transit through Russian waters with assistance of Russian icebreakers to deliver this illegal cargo to Japan. President Putin, you can stop this illegal transit by forbidding this vessel from carrying a cargo of endangered fin whale meat through Russian waters to Japan. I would like to respectfully ask you to consider investigating this shipment and to do what you can to prevent it from transiting to Japan an illegal cargo. Your decision could put an end to the needless slaughter of endangered whales by Iceland. Thank you Mr. President for your consideration of my request.

Yours Sincerely,
Pamela Anderson

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Yuri Kozyrev: Photographing 15 Years of Chechnya’s Troubled History

The photographer has witnessed Chechnya's dramatic evolution

Yuri Kozyrev recalls the winter of 1999 as one of the most trying and tragic of his career as a photographer. It was the eve of Vladimir Putin’s ascent to the Russian presidency, and the height of the Russian bombardment of Chechnya, when entire towns in that breakaway republic were, as the Russians often put it, “made level with the earth.”

Kozyrev, a native of Moscow, documented both of Chechnya’s wars against Russia in the 1990s. The first one, fought between 1994 and 1996, had resulted in a humiliating defeat for Russia. But the carnage was far worse when the conflict resumed under Putin in 1999.

Arriving in Chechnya that fall, Kozyrev’s plan was to find and photograph two men amid the chaos of the Russian invasion. The first was Major General Alexander Ivanovich Otrakovsky, who was then commanding the Russian marines from his encampment near the town of Tsentaroy, a key stronghold of the Chechen separatists. The second was the general’s son, Captain Ivan Otrakovsky, who was serving on the front lines not far from the base, in one of the most hotly contested patches of territory.

The aim, says Kozyrev, was to document the two generations of Russian servicemen involved in the conflict – the elder brought up at the height of Soviet power during the Cold War, the younger in the dying years of Moscow’s empire. After weeks of negotiations, he finally managed to embed with the marines and to track down their general, a stocky man with a sly smile and a distinctive mole on the right side of his nose.

At the time, his command center was in an abandoned storage facility for crude oil, Chechnya’s most plentiful and lucrative commodity – and one of the main reasons why Russia refused to allow the region to secede. “It was incredible,” Kozyrev says of his first encounter with the general. “Here were these commanders living inside of a giant oil bunker.”

He recalls Otrakovsky as a kindly intellectual, nothing like the Russian cutthroats who would later be accused of committing atrocities in Chechnya. The general, whose troops referred to him affectionately as Dyed, or Grandpa, was willing to help Kozyrev. But he explained that reaching his son on the front lines would be extremely dangerous, as it would require passing through enemy territory around Tsentaroy.

That town was well known in Chechnya as the home of the Kadyrov clan, an extended family of rebel fighters whose patriarch, the mufti Akhmad Kadyrov, had served as the religious leader of the rebellion. During the first war for independence in the 1990s, he had even declared a state of jihad against Russia, instructing all Chechens that it was their duty to “kill as many Russians as they could.”

At the start of the second war, however, Kadyrov switched sides and agreed to help the Russians, causing a fateful split within the rebel ranks. While the more recalcitrant insurgents had turned to the tactics of terrorism and the ideology of radical Islam, Akhmad Kadyrov abandoned his previous calls for jihad and agreed to serve as Putin’s proxy leader in Chechnya in the fall of 1999.

That did not stop the fighting around his home village, as various insurgent groups continued attacking Russian and loyalist forces positioned around Tsentaroy. So none of the Russian marines were especially keen to move around the area unless they had good reason, and it took Kozyrev days to convince the Russian commander to allow him to reach the front lines. Eventually Gen. Otrakovsky consented, providing the photographer with an escort of about ten marines and two armored personnel carriers.

They set out on what Kozyrev recalls as an especially cold day, rumbling through fog or mist that made it difficult to see the surrounding terrain. As the general had feared, the group was ambushed. From multiple directions, Chechen fighters opened fire with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, forcing the convoy to retreat from Tsentaroy. One of the marines was killed in the firefight; three others were wounded.

When they returned to the base, it was clear from the glares of the troops that they all blamed Kozyrev for the fiasco, he says, and Gen. Otrakovsky advised the photographer to leave in the morning. “He said it may not be safe anymore for me to stay among his men,” Kozyrev remembers.

The trauma of that incident has lingered, weighing heaviest during his later assignments in Chechnya. Today, the region is ruled by Kadyrov’s son Ramzan, who took over after his father was assassinated in 2004. His native village of Tsentaroy has since enjoyed a generous stream of aid for redevelopment, including the construction of a beautiful mosque dedicated to Ramzan Kadyrov’s mother.

The rest of Chechnya has been rebuilt with similar largesse from Moscow, which has poured billions of dollars into the reconstruction of the cities and towns it had destroyed. When Kozyrev returned to Chechnya in 2009, nearly a decade after the end of the war, he says, “It blew my mind. The place is unrecognizable.”

The Chechen capital of Grozny – which the U.N. deemed “the most destroyed city on earth” in 2003 – is now a gleaming metropolis. Its center is packed with skyscrapers, sporting arenas, shopping plazas and an enormous mosque, the largest in Europe, dedicated to the memory of Akhmad Kadyrov.

His clan now rules the region unchallenged, having sidelined all of its local rivals with Moscow’s unflinching support. Throughout the region, portraits of Putin and the Kadyrovs are now plastered on the facades of buildings and along highways. Among the more ostentatious is a gigantic picture of Akhmad Kadyrov astride a rearing stallion, which adorns a building at the end of the city’s main drag – the Avenue of V.V. Putin.

The strangeness of the transformation, and of its architects, still seems astounding to Kozyrev, who last went on assignment to Chechnya for TIME in April. The trips always remind him of Gen. Otrakovsy, who died of a heart attack while commanding the marines in southern Chechnya, about four months after the young photographer had shown up to ask for his help. The general’s son, whom Kozyrev never did manage to find, went on to become a right-wing politician in Russia with close ties to Orthodox Christian conservative groups.

These were the men who executed the war that helped bring Putin to power. “But it was all the decision of one man to bring Chechnya back under control in ‘99. Putin decided to do that,” Kozyrev says. “And it’s incredible, when you think about it. But the men of Tsentaroy turned out to be his most loyal helpers.”

Yuri Kozyrev is a photojournalist and a TIME contract photographer. He is represented by Noor. In 2000, he received two World Press Photo photojournalism awards for his coverage of the second Chechen war in 1999.

Alice Gabriner, who edited this photo essay, is TIME’s International Photo Editor.

Simon Shuster is a reporter for TIME based in Moscow.

TIME Foreign Policy

Vladimir Putin Tests the Limits of Pope Francis’ Powers

The two are scheduled to meet Wednesday

Vladimir Putin is no longer welcome at the G7, thanks to his government’s continued incursions into Ukraine’s territory. But two days after the meeting of Western powers in Germany, the Russian leader has a meeting with another world leader: Pope Francis.

The Bishop of Rome may not represent the United States or Germany, but he is increasingly a superpower in his own right, and the Wednesday meeting is a diplomatic test of how Francis will use his influence.

The meeting is the second between Putin and the pontiff. When Francis first met Putin in November 2013, Russia was still five months away from annexing Crimea. Since the conflict began, some 1.2 million Ukrainians have been internally displaced, according to the United Nations humanitarian office. Russia continues to deny that it is sending troops across the border or arming Russian-backed separatists, and international pressure mounts to address the crisis. “Russian aggression” against Ukraine, Obama said this week, topped the G7’s recent agenda, and Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet with the Ukrainian prime minister Wednesday as well. “[Putin’s] got to make a decision: Does he continue to wreck his country’s economy and continue Russia’s isolation in pursuit of a wrong-headed desire to re-create the glories of the Soviet empire?” Obama said this week.

The Holy See, meanwhile, is working to build diplomatic relations with Russia. The two have only had full diplomatic relations for six years, and those relations took years to build after half a century during which the Soviet Union was an officially atheist state. No pope has ever visited Russia, and even when Putin first met Francis in November 2013, he did not invite Francis to become the first to do so.

Pope Francis has been working to carefully move the relationship forward, especially to advance some of the Vatican’s other diplomatic interests. He wrote to Putin when he was hosting the G-20 summit in 2013 and urged world leaders there to oppose military intervention in Syria. The Vatican has been strengthening ties with Orthodox Christian leaders via ecumenical efforts and Pope Francis’ friendship with Patriarch Bartholomew, the leader of the Orthodox Christian Church, whose leadership is at times at odds with the Russian Orthodox Church closely tied to Putin’s government. Russia has also been a partner for Francis’ efforts to protect Middle East Christians, especially because of the shared Orthodox Christian experience in Russia and much of the Middle East. In March, the Holy See issued a joint statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council with Russia and Lebanon, “Supporting the Human Rights of Christians and Other Communities, particularly in the Middle East.”

Francis also has interests of his flock in Ukraine to consider. Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk, the leader of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, has urged Pope Francis to take a tougher stance against Putin. “As sons, we always expect more from the Holy Father … we respect his freedom to use the words that will help him mediate in the peace process.” Shevchuk said in February, according to the Catholic news site Crux.

Shevchuk has previously touted Francis’ own familiarity with the church in Ukraine—as a student in Buenos Aires, then-Jorge Bergoglio would go to Divine Liturgy with Ukrainian Father Stepan Chmil, Shevchuk has said, and as an archbishop, Bergoglio served as the ordinary for Eastern Christians without their own priests.

So far Pope Francis has expressed concern over the Ukraine issue, but only up to a point. When Shevchuk and other Ukranian bishops met with him in February, Francis called on all parties to “apply the agreements reached by mutual accord” and “to be respectful to the principle of international legality.” He also called the Ukranian bishops “full citizens” and assured them that “the Holy See is at your side, even in international forums, to ensure your rights, your concerns, and the just evangelical values that animate you are understood.”

What that protection looks like in practical terms is still an open question, and they and the world will be watching the Wednesday face-off. In recent months, Pope Francis has earned praise for helping broker a new relationship between the United States and Cuba, but that was a situation where both sides wanted to pursue peace.

The Russian conflict is very different. Even if Francis chooses to take a tougher line with Putin, there are limits to his influence. Putin has not been persuaded by the actions of the G7, after all, and the Vatican’s primary superpower is a moral one.

TIME TIME 100

Vladimir Putin Wins TIME 100 Reader’s Poll

He beat out pop star CL of the girl group 2NE1

Russian President Vladimir Putin is the winner of this year’s TIME 100 reader’s poll.

Putin edged out rapper-singer CL (of the South Korean girl-group 2NE1) to claim the number one spot with 6.95% of the votes in the final tally. Pop stars Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Taylor Swift rounded out the top five with 2.6%, 1.9% and 1.8% of the votes, respectively.

The TIME 100 is an annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world, spanning politics, entertainment, business, technology, science, religion and other fields. Chosen by the editors of TIME, this year’s list will be unveiled April 16. Voting for the reader’s poll closed April 10.

Besides Putin, the only non-entertainers to crack the top 10 were the Dalai Lama (1.7%), Malala Yousafzai (1.6%) and Pope Francis. (1.5%). Barack and Michelle Obama sat just outside the top 10 with 1.4% and 1.2% of the votes, respectively.

More than half of the votes — 57.38% — were cast within the United States. Canada and the United Kingdom followed with 5.54% and 4.55% respectively.

Read next: Meet the Pro-Russian ‘Partisans’ Waging a Bombing Campaign in Ukraine

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A World Leader and a Pop Star Are Neck-and-Neck in the TIME 100 Reader’s Poll

Voting closes April 10 at 11:59 p.m. ET

Russian President Vladimir Putin and South Korean pop star Lee Chae-rin are tied for first place in the TIME 100 reader’s poll.

Lee Chae-rin—better known as CL—is a member of the South Korean pop group 2NE1. The group has gained popularity worldwide and is considered one of the most successful K-pop groups. CL currently has a higher percentage of votes in the poll than Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga and Rihanna.

Putin has been one of the world’s most controversial leaders of the past year for, among other things, Russia’s backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine. He’s ranked above other leaders like Pope Francis and President Obama. (Both Putin and Obama appeared on the 2014 list.)

The duo were within .2% of one another as of Wednesday evening, with Putin just ahead of CL, at 6%. (Click here to see who is currently winning.)

Voting in the reader’s poll closes April 10 at 11:59 p.m. ET—cast your ballot below—and the poll’s winner will be announced April 13. This year’s official TIME 100 list will be announced April 16.

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