By Lidia Kelly MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia risks slipping into recession because the government is not investing enough in the economy to weather Western sanctions, former finance minister Alexei Kudrin said on Tuesday, criticizing the strategy so far. A strong advocate of liberal reforms, Kudrin has become almost the only voice in the Russian elite to question economic policy since the Ukraine crisis, counting on his long-term close ties to President Vladimir Putin to protect him from censure. Taking aim at the generous spending pledges Putin made when he returned to the presidency in 2012, Kudrin said Moscow did not have the funds to invest in an economy, which was flagging before the West imposed sanctions over Russia's role in Ukraine. "In a difficult moment like this, it would be useful to increase government investments. This is exactly what the market needs now. To cut government investment now and increase pay is inappropriate," he told a foreign business conference. "The government's support is limited, bound by continued large social spending," said Kudrin, who has long been a critic of Putin's pledges to tackle the gap between Russia's rich and poor by increasing wages. Kudrin, often summoned by Putin to discuss economic matters against more statist economists and a useful tool for the Russian president to keep his government on its toes, said he expected the economy to stagnate this year or weaken further, and that growth could be negative in 2015, well below government forecasts for 0.5 percent in 2014 and 1 percent next year. "The sanctions that have been imposed are going to have an impact over one, or two years, because they have cut investment opportunities," Kudrin say, warning that if more punitive measures are imposed, the economy may fall by 3-4 percent. While Russian officials criticize sanctions over Kremlin policy in Ukraine for bringing back the Cold War, they argue measures to cut off companies from Western markets, investment and technology will spur Russia's homegrown industries and develop ties with partners in the East. "Turning to the East brings good prospects, especially for Russia's far east," Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich told the same conference. "When it comes to sanctions we consider them meaningless, counterproductive ... measures that do not solve political problems." SUPPORT FOR CHAMPIONS They are also banking on using 'rainy day' funds, including those reserved for Russia's 40 million pensioners, to support what Putin calls Russia's 'national champions', pillars of the economy in sectors such as energy and defense. Kudrin said it was clear that some state companies under sanctions needed support, but he counseled the government to consider what kind of support they needed before channeling money to them, especially in the case of state oil producer Rosneft which has asked for $40 billion. "I think that to provide Rosneft with a government loan or investing in its bonds, shows explicitly that Rosneft cannot on its own refinance its debt. This lowers the quality, the status of Rosneft as a borrower – it significantly affects its capitalization, its perspectives," he said. "It is possible that Rosneft should divide its share in some projects with others and as such lower the burden on the government. Support is necessary, but it should be well thought-through." Several state and private companies have suggested they would need to turn to the government for funds to weather the sanctions. The government is considering supporting whole sectors such as agriculture by reducing tariffs. But Kudrin said state support should be extended only to companies that are under sanctions. Asked whether his voice was heard by the authorities, Kudrin, who first met Putin in St Petersburg while both worked for its liberal mayor in the 1990s, said he believed he was. But he underlined that with more than half Russia's population willing to make sacrifices for Putin's patriotic push against Ukraine, politics may trump economics for the time being. Putin enjoys approval ratings of above 80 percent. "We understand that today that the logic of taking decisions lies to a large extent in the political sphere and the economic consequences – well, they are the forced consequences of political decisions," he said. "Now, at this stage, the government, the president of Russia enjoy substantial support of the population – this is not a trivial factor." (writing by Elizabeth Piper, editing by Anna Willard)
- NBC News
First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
- Associated Press
A federal judge on Sunday blocked the release of a Tennessee man who authorities say carried flexible plastic handcuffs during the riot at the U.S. Capitol earlier this month. U.S. District Judge Beryl A. Howell for the District of Columbia set aside an order by a judge in Tennessee concerning the release of Eric Munchel of Nashville. After testimony at a detention hearing, U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Frensley for the Middle District of Tennessee determined Friday that Munchel wasn’t a flight risk and didn’t pose harm to the public.
- The Independent
First family orders sesame bagels with cream cheese
- The Telegraph
Israel will ban passenger flights in and out of the country from Monday for a week as it seeks to stop the spread of new coronavirus variants. "Other than rare exceptions, we are closing the sky hermetically to prevent the entry of the virus variants and also to ensure that we progress quickly with our vaccination campaign," said Benjamin Netanuahu, the Israeli prime minister. It came as a study in Israel reported a 60 per cent drop in over-60s being hospitalised with coronavirus three weeks after being vaccinated, in the latest sign that the jabs are effective. According to Maccabi, an Israeli healthcare provider, there was a significant decrease in hospitalisations from day 23 onwards, which was two days after patients received their second jab. Also on Sunday, Israel expanded its rapid vaccination drive to include 16-18 year-olds in an effort to get them back in schools to take their winter examinations. The winter matriculation certificate is a significant part of university and military admissions. At least one dose has been administered to around a quarter of Israel’s 9 million-strong population. The vaccine is generally available to over 40s or, with parental permission, those aged between 16 and 18. Israel struck a deal with Pfizer at the beginning of January that allowed them to expedite delivery of the vaccine, in return for sharing extensive data on their vaccination campaign with the rest of the world. Yuli Edelstein, the Israeli health minister, told The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the data from their vaccination programme suggests a first dose offered around 30 per cent protection from coronavirus.
A prominent U.S. Senate Republican warned on Saturday that former President Donald Trump's second impeachment trial could lead to the prosecution of former Democratic presidents if Republicans retake the chamber in two years. Trump this month became the first U.S. president to be impeached twice after the Democratic-controlled House, with the support of 10 Republicans, voted to charge him with incitement of insurrection for a fiery Jan. 6 speech to his followers before they launched a deadly assault on the Capitol.
Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) announced Monday he will not run for a third term in the U.S. Senate in 2022, citing "partisan gridlock."Why it matters: It's a surprise retirement from a prominent Senate Republican who easily won re-election in 2016 and was expected to do so again in 2022, creating an open Senate seat in a red-leaning swing state.Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.Between the lines: Portman was one of the Republican senators who said that former President Trump "bears some responsibility" for the Jan. 6 Capitol riots. His decision not to seek re-election will free him from the political constraints of voting to convict Trump in his upcoming impeachment trial, though it's not yet clear whether he will choose to do so.What they're saying: "I don’t think any Senate office has been more successful in getting things done, but honestly, it has gotten harder and harder to break through the partisan gridlock and make progress on substantive policy, and that has contributed to my decision," Portman said in a statement. * “We live in an increasingly polarized country where members of both parties are being pushed further to the right and further to the left, and that means too few people who are actively looking to find common ground." * "This is not a new phenomenon, of course, but a problem that has gotten worse over the past few decades."Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- Associated Press
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said Israel will be closing its international airport to nearly all flights, while Israeli police clashed with ultra-Orthodox protesters in several major cities and the government raced to bring a raging coronavirus outbreak under control. The entry of highly contagious variants of the virus, coupled with poor enforcement of safety rules in ultra-Orthodox communities, has contributed to one of the world's highest rates of infections. It also has threatened to undercut Israel's highly successful campaign to vaccinate its population against the virus.
- The Telegraph
Italy’s interior minister has intervened in a row in Naples over the painting of giant murals that pay tribute to the blighted lives and violent exploits of teenage criminals. Italians have adopted a curious English phrase, “baby bosses”, to describe the young gangsters, who frequently lose their lives in confrontations with police on the streets of the southern city. Such “bosses” are said to be members of “baby gangs” – another curious Italo-English invention that denotes groups of delinquents and drifters. Authorities in Naples want to scrub out or paint over two large murals which adorn the sides of buildings. They depict two young men, Ugo Russo and Luigi Caiafa, who were shot dead in separate incidents last year by police officers during robbery attempts. A mural dedicated to Russo depicts his face and the words Verità e Giustizia – Truth and Justice. He was killed when he tried to rob an off-duty police officer last year.
- Associated Press
President Joe Biden has brought back Dr. Kevin O'Connor as his physician, replacing President Donald Trump's doctor with the one who oversaw his care when he was vice president. The White House confirmed that Dr. Sean Conley, the Navy commander who served as the head of the White House Medical Unit under Trump and oversaw his treatment when he was hospitalized with COVID-19, will assume a teaching role at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. O'Connor, a retired Army colonel, was Biden's doctor during his entire tenure as vice president, having remained in the role at Biden's request.
- The Week
Senate Democrats are drawing a line at Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) demand that a power-sharing agreement in the 50-50 Senate include a pledge to retain the legislative filibuster. "If we gave him that, then the filibuster would be on everything, every day," Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) told NBC's Chuck Todd on Sunday's Meet the Press. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) offered McConnell "word for word" the same power-sharing agreement used in the first half of 2001, and McConnell's insistence on adding the filibuster pledge is "a non-starter."But until Schumer and McConnell reach agreement on the Senate's operating rules, Republicans still retain much of the majority they lost last Wednesday."Without an organizing accord, Republicans remain in the majority of most Senate committees," and "veteran Democrats eager to seize the gavels and advance their long dormant agendas can only wait and wonder," The Washington Post explains. "Newly sworn-in Democratic senators cannot get committee assignments until an organizational deal is struck," leaving the old GOP-majority structures in place, and "Democrats can't unilaterally impose an organizing agreement because they would need Republican support to block a filibuster."The filibuster has evolved into a sclerotic de facto requirement for a 60-senator supermajority on all legislation. Frustration with obstruction by the minority led Senate Democrats to end the filibuster for some presidential appointees and lower-court judges in 2013, and McConnell continued eroding the filibuster as majority leader, killing it for Supreme Court nominees and further easing the confirmation of presidential appointees.A handful of Democratic centrists would prefer to keep the filibuster — for now. But there is mounting pressure from inside and outside the chamber. "There is absolutely no reason to give Sen. McConnell months and months to prove what we absolutely know — that he is going to continue his gridlock and dysfunction from the minority," said Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for the anti-filibuster liberal coalition Fix Our Senate.More stories from theweek.com Trump must be prosecuted Moderna working on booster shot to increase protection against South African coronavirus variant Josh Hawley knows exactly what he's doing
California Governor Gavin Newsom's office has decided to lift the orders as ICU availability in the regions that remained under the stay-at-home order, including the Bay area and Southern California are projected to rise above the 15% threshold that triggered the lockdown measures, according https://bit.ly/3sSPOfp to San Francisco Chronicle. California has reported over 3.1 million cases and 36,745 deaths so far, a Reuters tally showed. Strict stay-at-home orders were renewed for much of California in December to avert a crisis in hospitals.
- The Independent
Biden news: Experts find major ‘gaps’ in Trump pardons as White House scrambles to rollout vaccine plan
Latest developments from Washington DC and beyond
- Associated Press
Indianapolis police arrested a 17-year-old boy Monday in the killings of five people, including a pregnant woman, who were shot to death inside a home in what the city's mayor called a “devastating act of violence.” The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said in a statement that the name of the suspect in Sunday's killings was “not being released at this time since the suspect is a juvenile." As officers were investigating, police received information about 4:40 a.m. that led them to a nearby home, where they found multiple adults dead inside from apparent gunshot wounds, Sgt. Shane Foley said Sunday.
Tacoma Police spokeswoman Wendy Haddow said police were alerted to the street racers and a 100-person crowd blocking area streets, according to the News Tribune. When the patrol car responded, the crowd began pounding on the vehicle's windows, she told local media. “He was afraid they would break his glass,” Haddow told the News Tribune, saying the officer sped away from the scene for his own safety.
The will-he-or-won't-he speculation surrounding a possible gubernatorial run by MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell is destined to continue at least a bit longer.What he's saying: Lindell told Axios that his focus is currently on proving his (baseless) claims of election fraud. He won't make a decision until that fight is resolved.Get smarter, faster with the news CEOs, entrepreneurs and top politicians read. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here. * "Why would anybody want to run if they had the same machines with the election fraud?" Lindell said Friday. * "It will all get out there, and when it does, we'll see what elections are going to have to be done with paper ballots and no machines. Otherwise, it doesn't make sense to put in everybody's resources and time."Between the lines: While he's leaving the door open, Lindell's comments create a path for bowing out.Why it matters: If Lindell runs, name recognition and his ties to Trump could give him an edge among GOP voters. * Many top Republican officials and consultants think having the unpredictable pillow salesman at the top of the ticket would spell disaster for their efforts to win statewide in 2022.How we got here: Lindell has been flirting with a bid for months, but his commitment to promoting conspiracy theories about the 2020 election — including a much-covered White House visit — has triggered legal backlash and trouble for his business. * Last fall, Lindell said he'd run if Trump won another term. Then, in early January, he told the Star Tribune he was "90-95%" sure he'd jump in and would decide "once we know Donald Trump is our president."Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.
- Associated Press
President Joe Biden is confronting the political risk that comes with grand ambition. As one of his first acts, Biden offered a sweeping immigration overhaul last week that would provide a path to U.S. citizenship for the estimated 11 million people who are in the United States illegally. It would also codify provisions wiping out some of President Donald Trump's signature hard-line policies, including trying to end existing, protected legal status for many immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and crackdowns on asylum rules.
- The Telegraph
Britain faces a three-month lockdown "halfway house" after Easter, with a full reopening delayed until all over-50s have had their second dose of the vaccine, The Telegraph understands. Ministers are considering proposals to begin reopening swathes of the economy in April under similar restrictions to those in place over the summer, with "rule of six" and social distancing measures in force in pubs and restaurants. A return to full normality will be delayed for at least 12 to 14 weeks to allow all over-50s to have their second dose of the vaccine, according to a source familiar with the discussions. Ministers are keen to reopen hospitality venues in some capacity before the G7 summit in the second week of June, when the UK will host world leaders at Carbis Bay, Cornwall. National measures will be eased in advance of the summit, allowing pubs, restaurants and tourism to begin to trade again. Boris Johnson has previously suggested England will return to the geographical tiers system after the lockdown ends, but sources suggested the tiers may apply to the whole country rather than to specific areas. "The appetite for regional tiers will only come if you have large swathes of the country that are significantly lower in case numbers and new variant case numbers and hospitalisations," a source said.
- Yahoo News Video
Israeli authorities on Monday extradited a former teacher accused of sexually abusing her former students in Australia, capping a six-year legal battle that had strained relations between the two governments and antagonized Australia's Jewish community.
Drugmaker Merck & Co said on Monday it would stop development of its two COVID-19 vaccines and focus pandemic research on treatments, with initial data on an experimental oral antiviral expected by the end of March. Merck was late to join the race to develop a vaccine to protect against the coronavirus, which has so far killed more than 2 million people and continues to surge in many parts of the world including the United States. The company will record a pre-tax discontinuation charge in the fourth quarter for vaccine candidate V591, which it acquired with the purchase of Austrian vaccine maker Themis Bioscience, and V590, developed with nonprofit research organization IAVI, Merck said in a statement.
- Associated Press
As the House prepares to bring the impeachment charge against Donald Trump to the Senate for trial, a growing number of Republican senators say they are opposed to the proceeding, dimming the chances that former president will be convicted on the charge that he incited a siege of the U.S. Capitol. House Democrats will carry the sole impeachment charge of “incitement of insurrection” across the Capitol Monday evening, a rare, ceremonial walk to the Senate by the prosecutors who will argue the case. Chief Justice John Roberts is not expected to preside at the trial, as he did during Trump’s first impeachment.