TIME viral

Here’s What Too Many Cooks Would Look Like If It Were About U.S. Politics

Washington is a sitcom

If you loved Too Many Cooks, you’ll love CNN’s version of the viral internet sensation.

With a cast including everyone from Barack Obama to Vladimir Putin to Sarah Palin to Kim Jung Un, the fake ad casts U.S. politics as a bad ’80s sitcom, complete with cheesy footage of hunky cowboys and glorious bald eagles.

There’s also a terrifying demon sheep at the end that will haunt your dreams more than the image of John McCain doing the robot dance.

 

TIME russia

Putin’s Confessions on Crimea Expose Kremlin Media

Round table discussion marks 1st anniversary of reunification of Crimea with Russia
Vyacheslav Prokofyev—Itar-Tass/Corbis Dmitri Kiselyov, who runs the Kremlin’s media conglomerate, Rossiya Segodnya, attends a round table discussion dedicated to the first anniversary of the reunification of Crimea with the Russian Federation at Moscow's President Hotel, March 19, 2015.

Even as the Russian President admits deploying troops in Crimea, his chief propagandists, speaking to TIME, continue to deny it

It was an awkward test for many Russian journalists. Last spring, their President tried to mislead them—and the rest of the world—by denying that he had sent troops to conquer Crimea. Even as they witnessed Russian forces sweeping that Ukrainian peninsula, reporters on the Kremlin’s payroll were obliged to go along with Vladimir Putin’s claims.

But a year later, the President came clean. In a documentary aired last weekend, he admitted ordering his troops to seize Crimea weeks before it was annexed into Russia on March 18, 2014.

“I told all my colleagues, there were four of them, that the situation in Ukraine has forced us to start working on returning Crimea to Russia,” Putin says in the film, recounting a late-night meeting with his security chiefs in late February 2014. “We can’t leave that territory and the people who live there at the mercy of fate.”

The confession didn’t leave any good options for Russian newsmen like Dmitri Kiselyov, who runs the Kremlin’s media conglomerate Rossiya Segodnya and hosts a prime-time news and analysis show on state TV. He could either admit to misleading viewers last year and, in effect, blame Putin for the deception, or he could deny that any deception had occurred.

 

Confronted this week with the dilemma, Kiselyov stuck to denials.

“Vladimir Putin never changed his position,” he told TIME on Wednesday at the headquarters of his media corporation in Moscow. “Look, he never said that our troops aren’t there, because we always had a base there,” Kiselyov said, referring to the Russian naval base in the Crimean city of Sevastopol. Pressed on the identity of the troops who had surrounded and in some cases besieged Ukrainian military bases in Crimea last March, Kiselyov said: “The troops surrounding them were local self-defense forces, but not Russian troops.”

It was an odd position to take. Although critics of the Kremlin have often accused Russian state media of distorting facts and misleading viewers, this is the first time that such a momentous distortion has been so clearly and demonstrably false, contradicting not only the version of events presented in most independent media but also out of sync with Putin’s own statements.

In early March 2014, Putin was asked during a press conference to identify the troops who were fanning out across Crimea, driving Russian military vehicles but wearing no identifying markers on their uniforms. “Why don’t you take a look at the post-Soviet states,” Putin answered, according to a transcript on the Kremlin website. “There are many uniforms there that are similar. You can go to a store and buy any kind of uniform.” The journalist persisted: Were they Russian soldiers or not? Those were local self-defense units,” Putin said.

Compare that line to his confession in the documentary—which was titled, Crimea: Homeward Bound—and it is clear that Putin did change his position. Not only does the President admit in the film to ordering his security forces to take control of Crimea last spring, but he also claims to have overseen the operation personally. “Our advantage was that I was personally dealing with it,” he says.

This came on top of Putin’s admission last April, a month after the annexation, that “Russian servicemen did back the Crimean self-defense forces,” and that in doing so, they acted in “a civil but a decisive and professional manner.” Moreover, the dramatic re-enactments of the seizure of Crimea shown in the documentary this month clearly depict the invading troops as Russian military, not local self-defense units.

Yet Kiselyov still continues to deny that Russian troops ever intervened in Crimea. “They were near by, at the base,” he tells TIME. “If there had been a conflict there, they would have intervened. But they did not intervene.”

He is not the only senior figure in the Kremlin’s media empire to take this peculiar stance. Last fall, TIME put a similar round of questions to Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of RT, the state-funded television network that broadcasts around the world in English, Spanish and Arabic. She also stuck to the claims that Putin made in March of last year about the Russian troops in Crimea being local self-defense forces. Asked about the apparent change in Putin’s story after that, she replied, “He never said that we fooled you… He did not admit that earlier statements were untrue.”

Since the annexation of Crimea, a similar debate has been raging over the role that Russian troops have played in the war in eastern Ukraine, where more than 6,000 people have been killed amid fighting between Ukrainian military forces and Russia’s proxy militias. Even as Russian and foreign journalists have documented the presence of Russian military hardware and servicemen on those battlefields, Putin has repeatedly denied sending any of his forces to fight alongside Ukrainian separatists, which the Kremlin has also referred to as local self-defense forces.

Asked on Wednesday whether Putin might be similarly deceiving the public on this question, just as he did last year with the invasion of Crimea, Kiselyov replied that he was “100% sure” that there are no Russian troops in eastern Ukraine. And what if a year from now the President admits in another documentary that he did send his forces to fight in those regions? “So far that hasn’t happened,” Kiselyov said. But if it does, Russians shouldn’t expect their fourth estate to admit to spreading falsehoods. It is apparently easier to stick to their denials.

TIME russia

Putin Puts Russia’s Northern Fleet on ‘Full Alert’ in Response to NATO Drills

Putin has finally re-emerged into the public eye after ten days

Russian President Vladimir Putin put the nation’s northern fleet on full alert in the Arctic Ocean this week, as animosity between the Kremlin and NATO continues to simmer.

The order, which was handed down early Monday, allows for the mobilization of 38,000 military personnel, 3,360 pieces of equipment, 41 ships, 15 submarines and 110 airplanes, according to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu.

“New challenges and threats of military security demand the further heightening of military capabilities of the armed forces and special attention will be paid to the state of the newly formed strategic merging [of forces] in the North,” said Shoigu, according to state media outlet Sputnik.

The mobilization of the Russian fleet appears to have been triggered by ongoing NATO-led military drills across northern and eastern European, including maritime exercises in the Black Sea.

On Monday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Alexey Meshkov accused NATO of conducting operations that were effectively undermining one of the world’s most stable regions.

“Such NATO actions lead to destabilization of the situation and increasing tensions in northeastern Europe,” Meshkov added, according to the Russia’s TASS news agency.

However, NATO has argued that Russia has continually stoked hostilities throughout the region by annexing the Crimea Peninsula in Ukraine and repeatedly violating European airspace.

NATO spokesperson Oana Lungescu tells TIME that Russian snap exercises were a “serious concern” and completely out of proportion with the bloc’s drills.

By comparison, NATO only had 1,200 sailors onboard six ships in the Black Sea, she says, while ally Norway is conduting parallel national drills involving 5,000 troops.

“Russia has conducted about a dozen snap exercises over the past two years,” adds Lungescu. “Russia’s takeover of Crimea was done under the guise of a snap exercise. Russia’s snap exercises run counter to the spirit of the Vienna Document on confidence and security-building measures.”

Earlier this week, Putin admitted during a documentary broadcasted on Sunday that he considered putting the nation’s nuclear capabilities on alert to prevent outside agents from interfering with the Kremlin’s forced annexation of the Crimea peninsula last March.

Read next: Vladimir Putin Admits to Weighing Nuclear Option During Crimea Conflict

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME russia

Vladimir Putin Admits to Weighing Nuclear Option During Crimea Conflict

RUSSIA-UKRAINE-CRISIS-CRIMEA-DOCUMENTARY
Dmitry Serebryakov —AFP/Getty Images A woman looks at Russian President Vladimir Putin speaking as she watches an internet broadcast of the documentary Homeward Bound, on March 15, 2015 in Moscow.

"We were ready to do it"

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he considered putting the country’s vast nuclear arsenal on alert to prevent outside agents from stopping the Kremlin’s forced annexation of the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine last year.

Putin’s admission was aired during a prerecorded documentary called Homeward Bound, which was broadcast on a state-backed television network Sunday in the run-up to the first anniversary of Crimea’s annexation later this week.

In the interview, Putin claimed he began hatching plans to seize the peninsula after Ukrainian President Viktor F. Yanukovych fled the country following months of protests. Putin also alleged he personally delivered direct orders to the country’s armed forces, as thousands of elite Russian soldiers fanned out across Crimea last March.

When asked whether Moscow’s nuclear capabilities were also on standby, Putin answered bluntly: “We were ready to do it.”

The airing of Putin’s nuclear comments comes as the Russian strongman has seemingly vanished from the public sphere only days after a prominent opposition leader was assassinated within earshot of the Kremlin.

The President was reportedly last seen on March 5, fueling rumors that the 62-year-old had fallen ill or was caught up in an internal power struggle.

TIME Economy

5 Stats That Explain the Super Wealthy

The Davos World Economic Forum 2015
Jason Alden—Bloomberg/Getty Images Aliko Dangote, billionaire and chief executive officer of Dangote Group, pauses during a session on day two of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 22, 2015.

From Nigerian billionaires to Russian oligarchs, numbers that explain how wealth works in politics

The world will always be divided into “the haves and the have nots,” but lately seems the ‘haves’ are capturing more and more of the world’s wealth. Yet, even the super wealthy are feeling the impact of political turmoil. Here are five stats that explore the plight—and flight—of the world’s richest.

1. Nigeria’s super rich

For a country that relies on oil for almost 70% of state revenue, crashing prices spell trouble. The stock index dropped 40% in 2014, while the currency has lost a fifth of its value over the last six months. But the person who has been hit hardest is the person who can most afford it. Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, earned Forbes’ “Biggest Loser” title—his wealth has fallen the most of anyone on earth in dollar terms. Yet he still has a $14.7 billion fortune and his companies account for a quarter of the market capitalization of the Lagos stock market. Even as youth unemployment and corruption remain staggeringly pervasive, economic growth has enriched the country’s elites. Nigeria’s population of high net worth individuals grew 44% between 2007 and 2013.

(Forbes, Forbes, Financial Times, New World Wealth)

2. Oil prices and sanctions hit Russia

Russia has also been battered by tanking oil prices, and sanctions have had an outsized impact on Russia’s wealthiest and those closest to Vladimir Putin (who are often one and the same). The country lost the most billionaires in 2014, down to 88 from 111. Between February and December of 2014, the combined wealth of the country’s 20 richest people shrank by 30%. In other words, .0000001% of Russia’s population lost $73 billion—a sum on par with the annual GDP of neighboring Belarus. It’s no wonder India overtook Russia for third place on the billionaires list last year.

(Forbes, Forbes, CNBC, Wall Street Journal, World Bank)

3. The millionaire exodus

Millionaires have been voting with their feet. Between 2003 and 2013, 76,200 Chinese millionaires emigrated, representing 15% of China’s total and the largest exodus of millionaires of any country. Over the same span, 27% of Indian millionaires, some 43,400 people, left as well. In third place, France saw 13% of its millionaire population leave, perhaps due to what they viewed as excessive taxation on the wealthiest. Russia came fifth in sheer number of departing millionaires; they accounted for 17% of Russia’s millionaire population. Where are they all heading? Mainly the UK, the U.S., Australia and Singapore. The number of UK fast-track or Tier 1 visas (which require a $3 million investment in British assets) provided to Russians increased nearly 70% last year.

(CNBC, Business Insider, Bloomberg)

4. Billionaire cities

A few years ago, New York surpassed Moscow as the top city by billionaire population. Hong Kong, London, and Beijing round out the rest of the top five. Yet, unlike Moscow, where 80% of Russia’s billionaires reside, New York has less than a sixth of America’s. The United States spreads the wealth: 11 U.S. cities have 11 or more billionaires. California itself has 131—if it were a country, it would have more billionaires than any country except the U.S. and China.

(Forbes, Knight Frank, Forbes)

5. Big money in Chinese politics

While many of China’s wealthiest may have left the country, there are plenty who still fill the highest ranks of government. More than one in seven of the 1,271 richest Chinese are serving in Parliament or its advisory body. These 203 delegates are collectively worth over $460 billion. For some perspective, the richest representative in the U.S. government would be the 166th richest member of China’s government. Even as Chinese leader Xi Jinping clamps down on corruption and pressures elites to rein in their extravagance, China’s wealthy are still spending. Chinese now represent nearly a third of the world’s luxury sales, although roughly two-thirds of these sales take place outside the country.

(CNBC, New York Times, NBC News)

TIME russia

Putin Says He’ll Rid Russia of ‘Shame and Tragedies’ of Political Killings

President Putin attends Russian Interior Ministry Collegium meeting
Mikhail Metzel—Corbis Russian president Vladimir Putin addresses a meeting of the Russian Interior Ministry's Collegium on March4, 2015 in Moscow.

The Russian President's remarks come days after the murder of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov

Russian President Vladimir Putin says it is “necessary to finally rid Russia of the shame and tragedies” of political killings following the murder of former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov.

Putin’s televised remarks to the interior ministry come several days after Nemtsov was fatally shot on Friday, the BBC reports. Nemtsov had been a vocal opponent of Russia’s role in the in eastern Ukraine conflict and said he worried the president would have him killed because of his criticism. Putin’s aides have denied the Kremlin’s involvement.

“It is necessary to finally rid Russia of the shame and tragedies like the one that we lived through and saw quite recently,” Putin said. “I mean the murder, the brazen murder of Boris Nemtsov right in the center of the capital.”

The Russian President had previously called Nemtsov’s murder a “provocation,” a word that, as TIME’s Europe correspondent Simon Shuster has reported, carries more than one meaning:

To the average viewer of state-TV, Putin’s use of the term “provocation” would be enough to evoke the invisible hand of Russia’s enemies, while also hinting that the Kremlin, once provoked, could be justified in responding in unpredictable ways. Back in 1983, for instance, the Soviet Union claimed that its downing of a Korean airliner full of passengers was in fact the result of a blatant American provocation.

Putin has said he will work to bring Nemtsov’s assassins to justice. Meanwhile, Alexander Bortnikov, the head of Russia’s federal security service, told reporters curious about possible suspects Tuesday that “there are always suspects.”

[BBC]

TIME russia

Kremlin Critic Gunned Down in Moscow Ahead of Anti-Putin March

Russia Opposition Leader Killed
Pavel Golovkin—AP People lay flowers at the place where Boris Nemtsov, a charismatic Russian opposition leader and sharp critic of President Vladimir Putin, was gunned down, at Red Square in Moscow, Russia, Feb. 28, 2015.

The Russian President has pledged to oversee the investigation

The Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was gunned down in Moscow around midnight on Friday as he walked within view of the Kremlin walls.

Soon after the gunshots rang out in the heart of the Russian capital, President Vladimir Putin was informed of the murder, which he characterized as a “provocation.” Through his spokesman, Putin told Russian news agencies early on Saturday morning that, “This cruel killing has all the signs of a hired hit and bears the distinctive character of a provocation.”

Though numerous Kremlin critics have been assassinated during Putin’s tenure, none have been as prominent as the 55-year-old Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister in the administration of Putin’s predecessor, Boris Yeltsin. His killing will likely galvanize the opposition movement and once again test the ability and willingness of Russian authorities to investigate acts of violence against Putin’s opponents. Such crimes have tended to go unsolved since Putin took power 15 years ago.

According to police and investigators in Moscow, Nemtsov was shot several times as he crossed the bridge that leads to the southern gates of the Kremlin fortress. Police said they have launched a citywide manhunt for the assailants, who escaped the scene of the crime in a white car.

Nemtsov’s murder took place two days before he and his allies in the opposition were due to lead a massive march in Moscow on Sunday against the Putin regime. The demonstration, as well as parallel protests in more than a dozen cities across the country, is meant to condemn Putin’s handling of the ongoing conflict with the West over Ukraine and the damage it has done to Russia’s economy.

Outrage poured in from the ranks of Russia’s opposition movement as news of the murder spread. “I’m certain that this scum will pay a high price,” said Nemtsov’s close friend and ally Mikhail Kasyanov, a former Russian Prime Minister. “Right now every member of the opposition needs society’s protection,” he told the state news agency Tass.

TIME Ukraine

Putin Says Ukrainian Forces Should Surrender to Rebels as Violence Escalates

Fighters with separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic army sit on top of a moving armoured personnel carrier heading to the front line in the village of Nikishine, south east of Debaltseve Feb.17, 2015.
Baz Ratnee—Reuters Fighters with separatist self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic army sit on top of a moving armoured personnel carrier heading to the front line in the village of Nikishine, south east of Debaltseve Feb.17, 2015.

Pro-Russian rebels have reportedly surrounded over 5,000 Ukrainian troops

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Ukraine Tuesday to allow its troops to surrender to rebel forces, as fighting escalated sharply in the country’s eastern region.

“I hope that the responsible figures in the Ukrainian leadership will not hinder soldiers in the Ukrainian army from putting down their weapons,” said Putin, according to Reuters.

The pro-Russian rebels have been rapidly advancing in the southeastern town of Debaltseve, and have reportedly surrounded over 5,000 Ukrainian troops.

The fighting in Debaltseve, a railroad hub to the east of Donetsk, broke out despite a cease-fire agreement reached in Belarusian capital, Minsk, just days before.

The rebels claim the cease-fire does not apply to Debaltseve and say they have already taken control of the town and captured “hundreds” of Ukrainian soldiers. “Eighty percent of Debaltseve is already ours,” rebel leader Eduard Basurin said. “A cleanup of the town is under way.”

The Ukrainian army has refuted these statements, saying they are holding their positions and contesting the number of prisoners claimed by the rebels.

Although the U.S. has considered sending defensive weapons to aid Ukrainian forces in the conflict, State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said on Tuesday that “getting into a proxy war with Russia is not anything that’s in the interest of Ukraine or in the interest of the international community.”

TIME Ukraine

China Is the Big Winner in the Conflict Between Russia and the West

President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during their joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Feb. 9, 2015.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais—AP U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during their joint news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington on Feb. 9, 2015

A split between the U.S. and the E. U. underscores why the response to Ukraine will be so challenging

On Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held a joint press conference to declare solidarity in their approach to the conflict in Ukraine. “Russian aggression has only reinforced the unity between the United States, Germany and other European allies,” intoned Obama.

Would it were so. Russian aggression in Ukraine and the ongoing debate on how to respond have put serious strain on the transatlantic alliance, a problem that’s becoming harder to hide.

At the recent Munich Security Conference, the two sides tried to downplay their divisions. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry insisted that America and Europe differ over “tactics,” not strategy. But that’s not saying much. The two sides agree that Russia is the principal aggressor in a conflict that has killed more than 5,000 people and displaced 1.5 million more. They agree that Russia should give back Crimea and stop sending soldiers and weapons into the Donbass war zone. They agree that Russia must respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and its right to join European clubs.

But Russia has no intention of accepting any of those things, which makes “tactics” the whole ballgame. How to back Vladimir Putin down? That’s the fundamental impasse between the U.S. and Europe.

The question of the moment is whether to provide weapons to Ukraine. The Obama Administration, Britain and Canada are considering it. Some in Washington, like Arizona Senator John McCain, are pushing hard for it. Germany, now the strongest voice in European foreign policy, flatly opposes the idea.

This disagreement exposes a deeper conflict. The focal point of the U.S. approach is not to defend Ukraine, but to punish Russia. Washington can shrug off the economic impact of cratering relations with Moscow: in 2013, Russia was America’s 23rd largest trading partner, accounting for just 1% of America’s total trade. But Russia accounted for nearly 10% of the E.U.’s total trade that year, making it the E.U.’s third largest trading partner. With many European countries economically dependent on Russian energy and its support for certain sectors — banking, finance, agriculture and others — to punish Russia is to punish Europe too.

Obama appears reluctant to send weapons into Ukraine, but he does want to increase pressure on Putin. He fears that negotiations alone give the Russian leader time to further destabilize and bankrupt Ukraine’s government, and that sanctions should be intensified. Europe has so far maintained existing sanctions, but there are too many European governments deeply reluctant to impose new ones. Why accept damage to their own economies when they don’t believe Putin will change course?

In reality, neither negotiations nor sanctions will back Putin down, at least not soon enough to save Kiev enormous cost and pain. But as the assault on Ukraine intensifies and demand to do something boils over, America and Europe will likely begin to pursue separate plans. That’s bad news for both.

As U.S.-E.U. solidarity on Russia tactics splinters, who is the big winner? It’s not Putin. His prize for unwavering aggression is a broken Ukraine, a broken relationship with the West and a broken economy. Instead, it’s China that stands to gain. China disagrees with the broadest Western assumption — the need for a strong international response to Russian aggression in the first place. As Russia turns East, China will drive a harder bargain in their commercial relations while taking care to ensure that relations with America and Europe continue to expand. The tactics of playing both sides will work very well for China.

And given the growing transatlantic divide, better relations with China might be more important than ever.

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

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