TIME conflict

U.S. Kills 3 ISIS Leaders in Iraq Strikes, Officials Say

ISIS Jihadi
A member loyal to ISIS waves an ISIS flag in Raqqa June 29, 2014. Reuters

The three killed were mid- to high-level leaders of ISIS

Three leaders of ISIS have been killed by American air strikes in Iraq in the past month and a half, U.S. defense officials said Thursday.

They were identified as Haji Mutazz, a deputy to the ISIS leader; Abd al-Basit, the top military commander; and Radwin Talib, who is in control of ISIS in Iraq. They were described as mid- to high-level leaders.

One official called the deaths of Mutazz and al-Basit in particular a “serious blow to ISIS command and control.” The official said that the setback may be temporary because ISIS has plenty of willing replacements…

Read the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Nigeria

Boko Haram Suspected in Mass Kidnap in Northeast Nigeria

The leader of Nigeria's Islamic extremist group Boko Haram on Oct. 31, 2014.
The leader of Nigeria's Islamic extremist group Boko Haram on Oct. 31, 2014. AP

The latest in a string of abductions

Islamist militants of the group Boko Haram are suspected of abducting at least 100 women and children, and killing nearly three dozen others, from a remote village in northeastern Nigeria.

Gunmen in trucks raided Gumsuri last Friday and staged an attack that ended on Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reports, citing members of a local vigilante group. Gumsuri is located near Chibok, where 276 schoolgirls were abducted in April. The number of abductions in the new attack varies between news outlets, hovering between more than 100 and above 200.

Mike Omeri, a government spokesman, told TIME that the government is “outraged and deeply saddened by this deplorable act” and said the real number of those abducted isn’t known yet.

“It is impossible to verify the number of those missing at this early stage because it is presumed that many civilians fled during the attack,” he said in a statement. “As soon as government agencies and our local partners have together determined the credible number of missing civilians, we will provide that information to the public.”

The recent raid, the latest in a string of similar abductions in the restive region, comes about two months after the Nigerian government claimed it had reached a cease-fire with Boko Haram and that the group planned to release the schoolgirls. The group’s leader Abubakar Shekau later denied that a deal had been reached and said the girls had already been married off.

Read next: Girls Who Escaped Boko Haram Tell of Horrors in Captivity

TIME Cuba

White House Open to Raul Castro Visit

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro during the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium, Dec. 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa.
President Barack Obama shakes hands with Cuban President Raul Castro during the official memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela at FNB Stadium, Dec. 10, 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

President Barack Obama is not ruling out meeting Cuban President Raul Castro at the White House, as his administration works to restore ties to the communist country.

A day after the president announced the beginning of efforts to normalize relations with Cuba for the first time in more than 50 years, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Obama would be willing to host the Cuban leader, comparing it to visits from leaders from other countries with checkered human rights records.

“The president has had the leaders of both Burma and China to the United States, and for that reason, I wouldn’t rule out a visit from President Castro,” Earnest said Thursday.

The two leaders spoke on the phone for nearly an hour on Tuesday evening reviewing the agreement to release American subcontractor Alan Gross and to take steps scale back the longstanding American embargo and travel ban. The two met briefly in South Africa last year at a memorial for Nelson Mandela.

In an interview with ABC News Wednesday, Obama wouldn’t rule a trip himself to Cuba. “I don’t have any current plans, but let’s see how things evolve,” he told David Muir. In a statement Wednesday, Secretary of State John Kerry said he was planning to visit Cuba. “I look forward to being the first Secretary of State in 60 years to visit Cuba,” he said.

 

TIME Canada

Canadian Driver Who Stopped Car to Rescue Ducklings Gets Jail Time

Emma Czornobaj
Emma Czornobaj, shown here in this June 3, 2014, file photo at the Montreal Courthouse in Canada, was found guilty in the deaths of two motorcyclists who collided with her car after she stopped for ducks on a Montreal-area highway. On Thursday, a judge sentenced her to 90 days in jail. Graham Hughes—AP

Motorcyclist and his daughter died after crashing into Emma Czornobaj's stationary vehicle

A Canadian woman who stopped her car on the highway to rescue ducklings, inadvertently causing the deaths of a motorcyclist and his daughter, was sentenced to 90 days in jail and banned from driving for 10 years on Thursday.

Emma Czornobaj, a 26-year-old woman from the Montreal suburb of Chateauguay, was sentenced Thursday to serve three months of jail time on the weekends, CBC reports. She was convicted in July on two counts of criminal negligence in the deaths of Andre Roy, 50, and his 16-year-old daughter Jessie, and had faced a possible life sentence.

In June 2010, Czornobaj parked her Honda Civic in the left lane of a highway in a Montreal suburb after seeing seven ducklings in the road. She said she was trying to gather the ducks and take them home. As she left her parked car to round up the ducklings, Roy crashed his motorcycle into the back of the stationary vehicle.

The incident has been divisive in Canada. A petition on Change.org signed by thousands of people pushed for the country’s legal system to be lenient on a woman who they believe only had the best of intentions in saving the ducks. The victim’s family members, however, have expressed frustration with Czornobaj over the fact that she hasn’t reached out to them.

[CBC]

TIME Foreign Policy

Bush Commerce Secretary Says Obama Gave Cuba ‘a Major Political Win’

The 1st China Conference Of Quality
Former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez gives a speech during the opening session of the 1st China Conference of Quality at The Great Hall Of The People on Sept. 15, 2014 in Beijing. Feng Li—Getty Images

"The U.S. has given so many concessions and not received anything in return," Carlos Gutierrez tells TIME

Former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez told TIME Thursday that the U.S. “will have egg on our face” following President Barack Obama’s move to normalize diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time in half-a-century. Gutierrez, a Cuban-born former Kellogg CEO who worked in the administration of President George W. Bush, is now a consultant at the Albright Stonebridge Group.

Here’s his Q&A with TIME, lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

How much flexibility will businesses have if Congress doesn’t actually act to lift the embargo?

How much flexibility there will be for U.S. businesses will depend on how much flexibility the Cuban regime gives to U.S. businesses. That’s the aspect of this that has brought down these agreements. At the end of day, if the Cubans don’t change regulations to allow businesses to go in, invest, and make money [there is not much they can do]. There is talk about opening the Internet, but Cuba is one of most closed Internet countries in world. We have to see this with a certain amount of skepticism that they really are going to allow citizens to have Internet.

Read more: How Pope Francis helped broker the Cuba deal

There’s always been exception [in the embargo law] to be able to do commerce in the telecommunications industry because communications inside the island and communications outside island can only be a benefit. That’s the rationale. But the roaming rates are outrageously high. Who is able to buy a cell phone in Cuba is a matter of public policy, and there are very strict laws, so you know, what we haven’t seen is what the Cuban government is going to do.

This has been a very lopsided agreement, and I can tell you that the Cubans today feel that they have had a major victory. This is a major political win for Raúl Castro; the fact that we recognize them diplomatically is a major political win. They are going to go to Summit of the Americas [in Panama in April], and Raúl Castro will be the man of the hour. President Obama will be comfortable, with the Latinos cheering him on, but the real test really happens after the summit, and the standing of the U.S. in the hemisphere after the U.S. has given so many concessions and not received anything in return.

Which industries are likely to take advantage of loosened restrictions?

Theoretically, the telecommunications industry, to some extent the agriculture industry, to some extent the pharmaceutical industry. The extent to which they will take advantage of this will rely on the good will of the Cubans. Business will only succeed if the Cubans want business to succeed, and everything we have seen from the Cubans over the last 50 years is that they will not allow business to succeed. Why is it different this time? They need to demonstrate that it is different.

What impact will this have on the Cuban economy?

It has some benefit in that the amount of remittances has increased. What we need to remember is that the average Cuban gets paid $20 a month. A rationing card for 30 days only lasts 17 days. The Cuban government has total control. If they let U.S. businesses, let telecommunications, and let credit card companies set up shop freely, the government will lose control. You can use your credit card Cuba, but the banks have to set up inside Cuban banks, and there will probably be a fee that goes to the Cuban government. All of these things are designed to strengthen the government’s hold on the economy, and history suggests that they will not give up an ounce of control.

Will this have any impact on the U.S. economy?

Cuba is an extremely poor country. It is not as if a McDonalds is going to open in three weeks, or we are going to start exporting cars. It doesn’t work like that. People say, now in Cuba you can buy a car and that shows it has opened up, but a car costs $50,000 in Cuba, that’s a heck of a price if you make $20 a month. The big risk here is for President Obama. The Cubans know this agreement can be derailed easily in the U.S. because of politics and because of Congressional intervention. The moment that happens, it is an excuse to blame the U.S. In the meantime, the Cuban government has pocketed all of the concessions. They have been victorious, and they will move on to have the same type of regime they have today, and we will have egg on our face way that President Carter did and other presidents have. That’s the thing to watch, that’s thing to stay close to and not believe that somehow magically Cuba is changing.

TIME 2016 Election

Rand Paul Breaks with Other 2016 Candidates on Cuba

Georgia Senate Candidate David Perdue Campaigns With Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY)
Rand Paul en. Rand Paul works a crowd during a campaign stop on October 24, 2014 in McDonough, Georgia. Jessica McGowan—Getty Images

The announcement from the White House Wednesday that the U.S. will move to re-establish full diplomatic ties with Cuba sparked a wave of condemnation from the likely Republican presidential candidates with one exception: Sen. Rand Paul.

The Kentucky Republican broke with the rest of the 2016 pack today when he said that President Obama’s decision was “a good idea.”

That fits with Paul’s broader effort to attract younger voters and expand the Republican Party, since younger Cuban-Americans are not as supportive of the trade and travel restrictions as their parents, though it could risk turning off some older Republican voters, especially in the crucial battleground of Florida.

It put him on the same side as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the leading contender on the Democratic side, who has argued that the trade embargo was counterproductive.

Here’s a look at what the major Republican contenders had to say about the change in U.S. policy toward Cuba.

Sen. Rand Paul: Supportive

What he said: “If the goal is regime change, it sure doesn’t seem to be working and probably it punishes the people more than the regime because the regime can blame the embargo for hardship. In the end, I think opening up Cuba is probably a good idea.” (WVHU)

What it meant: The libertarian-leaning son of former Rep. Ron Paul—a longtime critic of America’s Cuba policy—Paul is the rare Republican to come out in support of reestablishing diplomatic relations.

Sen. Marco Rubio: Opposed

What he said: “This entire policy shift announced today is based on an illusion. On a lie. The lie and the illusion that more access to goods will translate to political freedom for the Cuban people.” (C-SPAN)

What it meant: A longtime vocal critic of the Castro regime, it’s no surprise Rubio is hewing to his longstanding hardline position. As the son of Cuban immigrants, the likely 2016 presidential hopeful has ideological and personal motivations for his pro-embargo stance.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush: Opposed

What he said: “The beneficiaries of President Obama’s ill-advised move will be the heinous Castro brothers who have oppressed the Cuban people for decades.” (Facebook)

What it meant: A former Florida governor, Bush also has a long history of opposition to the Castro regime and he is sticking to his guns.

Sen. Ted Cruz: Opposed

What he said: “Fidel and Raul Castro have just received both international legitimacy and a badly-needed economic lifeline from President Obama. But they remain in control of a totalitarian police state modeled on their old state sponsor, the Soviet Union.” (Statement)

What it meant: Cruz is a Tea Party favorite who has staked out ideological territory on the far right of his party and been a consistent critic of the Obama administration’s foreign policy.

Gov. Scott Walker: Opposed

What he said: “I think it’s a bad idea. I don’t think there’s been any noticeable change towards making that a more free and prosperous country. There’s a reason why we had the policy in the first place.” (Capital Times)

What it meant: As the governor of Wisconsin, Walker hasn’t had much reason to talk about Cuban policy in the past and has little incentive to break with the party on such a hot-button topic now.

Gov. Chris Christie: No Comment

What he said: Nothing, so far, though he talked at length about his encounters with Philadelphia Eagles fans at a recent football game in a radio interview Thursday morning.

What it meant: With some exceptions, Christie has mostly avoided talking about foreign policy, reflective of his role as governor and head of a group promoting Republican governors.

TIME Cuba

How Venezuela’s Collapse Helped Thaw Cuban-American Relations

Cuba's President Raul Castro shakes hands with Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro during the opening session of the 10th ALBA alliance summit in Havana
From Left: Cuba's President Raul Castro shakes hands with Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro during the opening session of the 10th ALBA alliance summit in Havana on Dec. 14, 2014. © Enrique de la Osa / Reuters—REUTERS

The late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez helped keep the Cuban regime propped up, but that's not possible in an era of low oil prices

“We have two presidents: Fidel Castro and Hugo Chávez,” declared Cuba’s then Vice President Carlos Lage in a visit to Caracas just under a decade ago. A couple of years later, in Havana, then Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez added, “At heart, we are just one government.”

It is likely not a coincidence that talks between the United States and Cuba—which culminated yesterday in an announcement that the two countries would begin to resume full diplomatic relations—began just after the death the former Venezuelan president who had bankrolled Cuba’s Revolution.

Today a beleaguered Venezuela no longer has the spare cash to fund the island’s beleaguered economy. The Castros likely realized this as Chávez’s presidency was coming to an end and were not keen for a return to the scarcity of the euphemistically titled Special Period of the 1990s, after the collapse of Cuba’s first patron, the Soviet Union. “We had nothing, no food and no money,” one elderly man told me in Havana not long ago. The Cuban economy contracted 35 percent between 1989 and 1993, and oil imports decreased 90 percent. Cuba was in desperate need of money.

Chávez, then a nascent politician on the make in Venezuela, saw Castro as a political mentor, a simpatico ally against the elites and imperialists who he blamed for the world’s ills. Chávez also oversaw some of the world’s largest oil reserves. Venezuela currently sends almost 100,000 barrels per day of oil to the island—more than half of Cuba’s consumption—as well as aid thought to be worth in total between $5 billion and $15 billion a year, or some 15% of Cuba’s GDP. (More precise figures are hard to come by given the opacity of both governments.)

But Chávez is dead, and today Venezuela’s economy is in tatters, exacerbated by a fall in the price of oil, which provides 96% of Venezuela’s foreign revenue. The country’s local currency on the black market has fallen 35% in the last month; annual inflation is at more than 60% and there is serious talk of default on Wall Street. Many economists are talking of a “perfect storm” brewing for current Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whose approval ratings have fallen to the mid-twenties.

The lack of guaranteed support from Caracas would have made Cuban President Raúl Castro “much more eager to negotiate and given the U.S. leverage,” said Ted Henken, President of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy and author of several books on Cuba.

As Havana makes peace with Washington, Venezuelan authorities are left increasingly isolated. While Cuba and Venezuela held onto leftist principles, other countries in the region have in recent years taken more pragmatic policy decisions. “Obama has pulled the rug out from under Maduro,” said Christopher Sabatini, Senior Director of Policy at the Council of the Americas. “It’s going to be a lot easier for other U.S. allies in the region to swing away from Venezuela.”

In the last couple of weeks, in response to sanctions by Washington on top Venezuelan officials for alleged human rights abuses, Maduro has rallied against the U.S. “It shows a lack of respect!” boomed the mustachioed president to a few thousand supporters in Caracas on Dec. 15. “They can shove their US visas.” On Wednesday, though, Maduro praised Obama’s “gesture” towards Cuba. “How sad it is to have a government who 72 hours ago launched an anti-imperialist diatribe against Obama and now describes him as ‘courageous,’” said Jesús Torrealba, head of Venezuela’s opposition coalition.

Cuba learned its lessons from the Special Period and in recent years began to diversify. On the ground, rules have been loosened on private restaurants, guesthouses and the buying and selling of property. Cubans are even allowed Internet access, though only about 5 percent of the country can reach the Web. On a more global scale, international investors have come in; the Scarabeo 9 oil rig sailed into the Florida Straits in January 2012. It was Chinese-built, Italian-owned, and was to be used by Spanish, Norwegian and Indian firms, among others.

Cuba was likely well aware those small reforms would not be enough in the long run. There are a mixture of elements that have come together to allow this historic moment: from Obama and Cuban President Raúl Castro themselves to mediators in the Vatican and Canada. Yet, the unwitting spur for the restoration of relations between the U.S. and Cuba may be Hugo Chávez himself, and the inability of his successors to manage Venezuela’s economy.

TIME politics

Cuba’s Unanswered Questions

Obama Makes Statement On U.S.-Cuba Policy
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to the nation about normalizing diplomatic relations with Cuba, at the White House on Dec. 17, 2014 Pool / Getty Images

In 2013, TIME took a look at a changing Cuba

When President Barack Obama announced Wednesday that the United States would work toward normalizing long-severed diplomatic relations with Cuba, it came as a surprise to many.

But as TIME observed in a feature story last July, change has long been underway for an Island nation that, in the past, has had a reputation for seeming frozen in time. Rules about commerce and private business had been relaxed, citizens were encouraged to find non-state jobs, tourism was opening up and the possibility of a non-Castro leader suddenly seemed less distant. However, that didn’t mean that Cuba’s future was clear.

Many of the questions raised by writer Pico Iyer are, even in this new phase of Cuban history, still unanswered:

Cubans today are free–at last–to enjoy their own version of Craigslist, to take holidays in fancy local tourist hotels, to savor seafood-and-papaya lasagna with citrus compote, washed down by a $200 bottle of wine, in one of the country’s more than 1,700 paladares, or privately run restaurants. They’re free to speak out against just about everything–except the two brothers at the top–and they strut around their capital in T-shirts featuring the $1 bill or Barack Obama in his “Yes we can” pose, even (in the case of one woman leaning against the gratings in Fraternity Park) in very skimpy briefs decorated with the Stars and Stripes.

Yet as what was long underground is now aboveboard, and as capitalist all-against-all has become official communist policy, no one seems quite sure whether the island is turning right or left. Next to the signs saying EVERYTHING FOR THE REVOLUTION, there’s an Adidas store; and the neglected houses of Old Havana sit among rooftop swimming pools and life-size stuffed bears being sold for $870. “Nobody knows where we’re going,” says a trained economist whose specialty was market research, “and people don’t know what they want. We’re sailing in the dark.”

Read the rest of the story, free of charge, here in TIME’s archives: Cuban Evolution

TIME North Korea

The Interview May be Funny; North Korea and Kim Jong Un Are Not

North Korean leader Kim inspects the Artillery Company under the KPA Unit 963, in this undated photo released by North Korea's KCNA in Pyongyang
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the Artillery Company under the Korean People's Army Unit 963 in Pyongyang on Dec. 2, 2014. KCNA/Reuters

The Sony Pictures movie has been shelved because of alleged threats by North Korea—a country that should be taken seriously

If you were hoping to spend Dec. 25 at a movie theater watching a comedy about the violent death of a dictator, you are out of luck.

Sony Pictures on Wednesday announced it is pulling The Interview, the Seth Rogen and James Franco film linked to a massive hack and threats of violence on U.S. soil. The decision came as authorities investigate whether or not the threats are credible, and in advance of solid evidence about who is responsible for the attacks. U.S. intelligence officials believe it was North Korea; others (including the smart folks at Wired) say the links are tenuous at best.

I’ll leave the cyber-forensics to the pros and steer clear of questions about the film itself. I have not seen it, (though TIME’s esteemed critic, Richard Corliss, has), and though I suspect scholars will have a field day dissecting The Interview’s handling gender and race, I defend the studio’s right to make movies about whatever they choose. The Interview may be, as Corliss writes, a “parade of ribald gags,” but Americans, unlike North Koreans, are free to watch such fare. Ribald is nothing.

As a Beijing-based correspondent who often writes about North Korea, the interesting bit is how the fury surrounding the film casts light on how we think about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), as the country is officially known. Despite its axis of evil pedigree, its truly egregious human rights record, and a nuclear weapons program, North Korea is more of a punch-line than a policy priority or topic for serious, sustained discussion. And that, I reckon, is what’s really dangerous.

It is not the jokes, exactly, but the fact that they play into a narrative that wildly underestimates, or willfully ignores, North Korea. Asked by the New York Times about the fallout from the film, Rogen, said the backlash was “surreal, “not something that we expected at all.” Few expected a hack of this magnitude, sure. And Kim Jong Un’s regime may not be directly responsible for this particular attack. But his country is indeed experienced in cyber-espionage. And yet, Rogen could not fathom that they’d lash out?

In a roundabout way, Rogen’s quote reminded me of comments by Merrill Newman, the 85-year old veteran who spent two months as a detainee in Pyongyang before being released in December 2013. During the 1950-53 Korean War, Newman led South Korean fighters operating behind enemy lines. North Korea hated the unit. Yet, according to The Last P.O.W. a new Kindle Single written by longtime foreign correspondent Mike Chinoy, Newman entered as a tourist unconcerned that he could run into trouble with the regime, let alone be arrested and detained for war crimes.

Some DPRK basics: For North Korea, the Korean War, also known as the Fatherland Liberation War, never ended. There was an armistice agreement, but it was meant to be temporary; a peace treaty was not signed. North Koreans are taught that the country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, was a masterful general who repelled two waves of foreign invaders, the Japanese, and then the Americans and South Koreans. His son, the late dictator Kim Jong Il, and his grandson, current leader Kim Jong Un, stayed in power in part because they’ve convinced their people that the U.S. military and its South Korean allies could return at any moment, and only a strong leader—a veritable God among men—can keep them safe.

As much as he’s revered at home, Kim Jong Un is infantalized by outsiders. When he came on the scene in late 2011, biographical details were scarce. We knew that he was probably in his late 20s, that he spent part of his adolescence at a boarding school in Switzerland, and that he might like basketball. From these clues were cobbled a narrative that felt credible: he was young, malleable, and maybe more open to the West. TIME put him on the cover under the tagline ‘Lil Kim.’

It’s worth considering how wrong we were to dismiss him. There is no question that Kim Jong Un is younger than your average autocrat. But he did not emerge, baby-faced and bumbling, from nowhere. He was raised by dictator Dad in a family where shooting is the preferred pastime. At some point after his stint in Switzerland, he attended his country’s most prestigious university, the Kim Il Sung Military Academy. After purging his uncle, touring sad-looking factories, or disappearing for while, people were quick to count him out. Each time, he proved us wrong. His long-suffering country is still in a tenuous position: the economy is weak, and thanks to the porous border with China, ordinary people have more access than ever to foreign goods and ideas. Hunger persists, health care and education are rudimentary or absent, especially in rural areas, and people have almost no political or civil rights. These are serious and enduring problems. But from a North Korean perspective, the leader is strong.

If you need to crack a Kim Jong Un joke this holiday season, I get it. We tend to joke about things that are strange, things scare us, and things that we don’t quite understand. But do so with an eye to what’s really going on north of the 38th parallel. The Interview may be funny. North Korea definitely is not.

Read next: Everything We Know About Sony, ‘The Interview’ and North Korea

TIME russia

Putin Shows Stick to West, Carrot to Oligarchs, and Heart to ‘Someone’

Kremlin leader deflects criticism for crisis away from government, central bank and, most of all, himself–and on to his favorite enemy.

Russian President Vladimir Putin defended his officials, appeased local oligarchs and, of course, railed at the West Thursday as he faced journalists for the first time since the ruble went into free-fall last week.

Russia’s most eligible divorcee also managed to break hearts from Vladivostok to Kaliningrad by saying he’s in love again, although he was coy about the identity of the lucky lady.

In a statement that sent sighs of relief around the corridors of power in Moscow, Putin shielded his government and central bank from criticism, saying that the crisis “has of course been caused by external factors first and foremost.”

“The central bank and government are acting adequately and correctly,” Putin said, although he added that “some decisions could have been taken more quickly.”

He acknowledged that it could take “up to two years” for the Russian economy to return to growth as a result of the crisis.

After doing a passable imitation of a deer stuck in the headlights for most of the last week, the Russian central bank yesterday announced a suite of measures to prop up the banking sector and allow its large stash of foreign reserves to be used, indirectly, to help companies repay their foreign debts. At the same time, local reports suggest the government pressured biggest businesses into bringing more of their export earnings back to Russia.

As a result, the ruble is now up nearly 25% from its low on “Black Tuesday” when the dollar briefly bought 80 rubles for the first time ever. But it’s still down 50% this year, and it weakened again after Putin spurned a number of opportunities to sound a conciliatory note on Ukraine, the issue that caused the U.S. and E.U. to impose sanctions on Russia’s largest banks and oil companies.

Putin said that “25%-30%” of the problems currently facing Russia were due to the sanctions, which he again attacked in a characteristically defiant and bitter tone. In one vivid extended metaphor, he said the West wanted “to chain the Bear,” de-claw it and saw off its teeth, unless it sat quietly eating berries in the forest.

But beyond the usual rhetoric, there was little hard news in a three-hour press conference that was, as usual, more a series of well-rehearsed lectures than a genuine question-and-answer session.

The most dramatic development was Putin’s announcement that the tycoon Vladimir Evtushenkov, head of the conglomerate AFK Sistema, would be invited along with other businessmen to a meeting to discuss further measures on overcoming the crisis.

Evtushenkov has been under house arrest for over a month since a court seized Sistema’s oil company, OAO Bashneft, on allegations that it had been privatized corruptly. The incident had sent shock waves through Russian business circles, and Putin stressed Thursday that there were no plans to take back any other businesses.

Sistema’s depositary receipts shares doubled by lunchtime in London to $4.61–but they’re still down 80% since last August.

This post originally appeared on Fortune.com

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