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from Breakingviews:

Obama’s new sanctions aim to expose crony Putinism

By Kevin Allison
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

 

Barack Obama is hitting Vladimir Putin where it hurts – his inner circle. New U.S. sanctions against a Russian bank and a host of tycoons are ostensibly just an escalated response to the annexation of Crimea. But they also allege a link between the Kremlin boss and Gunvor, a secretive Swiss oil trader. Washington seems determined to reveal how Putin and his comrades have amassed immense personal wealth at public expense.

Rumors of the Russian president’s hidden fortune have swirled for years, including in classified U.S. diplomatic cables published by Wikileaks. But the Obama administration’s public statement that Putin “has investments in Gunvor and may have access to Gunvor funds,” means it’s now official U.S. policy that Putin has secretly gained enormous riches.

Gunvor, whose marketing documents state that it earned $433 million on $93 billion of turnover in 2012, said the Kremlin leader “has not and never has had any ownership, beneficial or otherwise” in the company and “any understanding otherwise is fundamentally misinformed and outrageous.” The firm added on Thursday that its founder, Gennady Timchenko, one of a handful of people that Treasury called a member of Putin’s “inner circle,” had sold his shares in the firm to a fellow co-founder on Wednesday in anticipation of U.S. sanctions.

from The Great Debate:

Ukraine: U.S. hawks regain their voice

Russian President Vladimir Putin's aggression is having an unintended effect on U.S. politics. It is generating a backlash against America’s retreat from world leadership.

That retreat was itself a backlash against President George W. Bush's overextension of U.S. military power in Iraq and Afghanistan. Putin's actions spotlight the consequences of America's world wariness. Internationalists in both parties are expressing alarm about the shrinking U.S. role around the globe.

from MacroScope:

Obama twists, EU sticks

Washington has seriously upped the ante on Vladimir Putin by slapping sanctions on some of his most powerful allies.

Now on the U.S. blacklist are Kremlin banker Yuri Kovalchuk and his Bank Rossiya, major oil and commodities trader Gennady Timchenko and the brothers Arkady and Boris Rotenberg, linked to big contracts on gas pipelines and at the Sochi Olympics, as well as Putin's chief of staff and his deputy, the head of military intelligence and a railways chief. Most have deep ties with Putin and have grown rich during his time in power.

from The Great Debate:

Executive orders: Part of the framers’ grand plan

President Barack Obama has used his executive authority to stop deporting undocumented immigrants who had been brought to the United States as children. The administration has also announced that it will stop requesting mandatory minimum sentences for low-level, non-violent drug offenders.

Obama is now using executive orders and other unilateral exercises of executive power to advance his agenda rather than wait on Republicans in Congress.

from Global Investing:

And best central banking twitter of the year goes to…

Congratulations to Bank of Spain, which won the best central bank website of the year award given by Central Banking Publications, as the specialist news provider for central bankers hosted its inaugural central banking awards  last night in London. (The flagship Central Banker of the Year award was won by ECB's Draghi, no surprise there)

Central banks around the world are looking for ways to improve their communication strategies and the website is one area they are focusing on (Quantity is not everything, yet the Bank of Spain's website features 7,000 pages of information and 24,700 separate files).

from The Great Debate:

Cold War warmed over

Can we have a new Cold War without a communist threat?  Some important political players seem to think so.

One of them is Russian President Vladimir Putin. At his surreal press conference, Putin depicted the protest that overthrew the pro-Russian government in Ukraine as a plot by the West to undermine Russia. He even accused the United States of training the Kiev protesters: “I have a feeling that they sit somewhere in a lab in America . . . and conduct experiments, as if with rats, without understanding the consequences of what they are doing.”

from MacroScope:

Putin unmoved by carrots or sticks

Vladimir Putin said this morning Russia and the United States are still far apart over Ukraine. Moscow, he said, could not ignore “illegitimate decisions” imposed on the east and south of the country and calls for help by ethnic Russians there but the two powers should not sacrifice relations over it.

In an hour-long telephone call last night Barack Obama urged Putin to accept the terms of a potential diplomatic solution to the crisis whereby Moscow would keep its military bases in Crimea while respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty. But he also ordered sanctions – including travel bans and freezing of assets in the U.S. - on people responsible for Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine though Putin himself is not on the list.

from MacroScope:

Jaw jaw not war war, hopefully

The end of Russian military exercises near the Ukrainian border and Vladimir Putin’s statement that force would only be used as a very last resort seemed to have taken some of the tension out of this crisis but the situation remains on a knife edge.

Moscow chose to test fire an intercontinental ballistic missile though Washington said it had been notified of plans to do so before the standoff in Crimea blew up. And there is always the possibility of conflict being triggered inadvertently.

from The Great Debate:

The first woman president is not about the past

Want to know the latest meme in U.S. politics? Here it is: Hillary Clinton is a candidate of the past.

It's been spreading through the political press. Now Republicans are beginning to echo it.

from The Great Debate:

FDR set the terms for labor executive orders

Many critics have called President Barack Obama’s executive order raising the minimum wage for federally contracted workers an unprecedented bold action. The president bypassed a gridlocked Congress to increase pay to $10.10 an hour -- and raise labor standards for the only federal workers directly within his authority.

This move is a significant step in combating income inequality. The federal government is the largest low-wage job creator -- with more than 2 million low-wage workers. That’s more than Wal-Mart and McDonald’s combined.

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