Putin Defends Annexation of Crimea
Russian President Vladimir Putin has defended his country's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and accused the West of using the Ukraine crisis as a pretext to impose sanctions on Moscow.
Delivering his annual state of the union speech Thursday, Mr. Putin referred to Crimea as Russia's spiritual ground. On the subject of Western sanctions, he said "when anyone thinks Russia has become strong, independent, such instruments are applied immediately."
Russia's economic situation has unraveled since the United States and the European Union imposed a series of increasingly harsh economic sanctions on Moscow over its annexation of Crimea and what they see as support for separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.
Those sanctions, coupled with a sharp decline in oil exports and the freefall of the Russian ruble, prompted Moscow on Tuesday to predict the Russian economy will further contract in 2015.
In his speech, Mr. Putin said the country's National Weath Fund should be used for supporting domestic banks. He said as of November 1, the fund, which aims to cover future pension shortages, stood at $81.7 billion.
Protests in New York After Police Officer Not Indicted in Chokehold Death
Protests erupted throughout New York City Wednesday in reaction to a grand jury's decision not to indict a while police officer in the chokehold death of an unarmed black man in July.
Scores of people marched through the city's iconic Times Square hours after the decision was announced. The large crowds prompted police to block access to nearby Rockefeller Plaza, where a traditional Christmas tree lighting ceremony was scheduled to take place. Dozens of protesters lay on the floor of Grand Central Terminal and staged a silent so-called "die-in" demonstration.
In an incident captured by a pedestrian on his smartphone video recorder, 43-year-old Eric Garner was arguing with several New York city police officers who were arresting him for allegedly selling loose cigarettes. After several minutes, Officer Daniel Pantaleo grabbed Garner from behind in a chokehold and forced him to the sidewalk.
The heavyset Garner, who had asthma, was heard repeatedly gasping, "I can't breathe!'' The medical examiner ruled Garner's death a homicide as a result of the chokehold, a procedure which was banned by the New York Police Department in 1993.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced late Wednesday that he is opening a federal civil rights investigation into Garner’s death, a move that Garner’s family and activists have called for in recent months.
The decision not to indict Daniel Pantaleo comes less than two weeks after a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri, declined to indict a white officer who fatally shot an unarmed black teenager during a street confrontation.
President Barack Obama reacted swiftly to the grand jury decision, saying it underscores the frustrations many African-Americans feel "that law enforcement is not working with them and dealing with them in a fair way."
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio called this a “deeply emotional day” for the Garner family and all New Yorkers, acknowledging that many people do not agree with the grand jury’s decision.