• eyes on russia    3:32pm ET 
Hannah Peters/Getty Images
Hannah Peters/Getty Images

Russian President Vladimir Putin said new sanctions from the European Union and United States were put in place, "just for the mere fact that we exist."

"Obviously, no one will succeed in intimidating us, to deter, to isolate Russia," he added in remarks reported by Reuters.

The U.S. and EU both instated tighter sanctions against Crimean investments this week, and Canada has redoubled its own sanctions against Moscow. Russia's economy is on tenuous ground; plummeting global oil prices, combined with the sanctions, have caused the ruble to lose more than 40 percent of its year-to-date value. Experts anticipate a recession to grip the country by early 2015.

But the Kremlin did not back down in its most recent statements.

"It is sad that the countries which call themselves democratic resort to such methods in the 21st century," a ministry statement read on Saturday. "Meanwhile, we will work on retaliatory measures."

  • Changing it up    3:10pm ET World 2014 World 2014

Saying that the Miss World pageant should be focused more on "outreach, and what a woman could do with a title like Miss World," the organization announced that future pageants will not include a swimsuit round.

"It isn't the path they're trying to take," Chris Wilmer, the national director of Miss World America, told ABC News. "It's not just a beauty contest, it's 'beauty with a purpose.' There didn't seem to be a purpose to have the swimsuit."

The pageant plans to replace the bikini round with a "beachwear round," instead, which Wilmer described as "more of a fashion competition." The 64th Miss World pageant was held on Dec. 14 in London, so it now marks the final competition that included swimsuits.

  • Really? Really.    2:48pm ET 

That's cold, Siberia.

Tax collectors in Russia have apparently discovered a good way to get people to pay off their debts — by threatening to seize their cats, BBC News reports. Local news sources have reported on several instances in which the felines were eyed as collateral when their owners refused to pay up.

In Novosibirsk, a student reportedly owed about $200 in unpaid taxes, and bailiffs arrived to seize anything of value. They couldn't find anything, except for the man's British Shorthair cat and its kittens.

"Because the animals are pedigree and expensive, the representative of the law decided to place the cat brood under arrest," a statement from the region's court marshal's service read.

The man paid up, his cats were returned, and the bailiffs headed out, off to search for the next collateral kitty.

  • Discoveries    2:28pm ET 

Just in time for the holidays!

Israeli archeologists have excavated a grand, arched entryway that led to Herod the Great's Jerusalem palace, NBC News reports. King Herod, who appears in the Bible's story of Jesus' birth, apparently did not use the unearthed corridor much; archeologists think the entryway was back-filled when the palace was turned into a burial monument to the late king.

( Herodium Expedition at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

( Herodium Expedition at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem)

In addition to the corridor, archeologists also discovered a fresco-decorated vestibule, along with secret tunnels. The Israeli government says it hopes to turn the newly unearthed site into a tourist destination, where visitors can enter the palace, "in the same way that Herod entered it 2,000 years ago."

  • it's just business    1:53pm ET 
Adam Berry/Getty Images
Adam Berry/Getty Images

Calling it "dynamically adjusting prices for service" is how ride-sharing company Uber hopes to sell the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on its "surge pricing" system, Bloomberg reports.

The company's method of raising prices when demand for Uber drivers increases — what some call price gouging, Bloomberg notes — will probably not qualify for patent approval. Uber hasn't had much luck with the process so far; the company has filed at least 13 U.S. patent applications, 10 of which have been rejected for reasons such as "obviousness."

While patent examiners have yet to address the surge pricing application, experts said if the system essentially computerizes a normal business practice, it most likely won't qualify for a patent.

  • Watch this    1:30pm ET 

’Tis the season…for thermonuclear conflict?

Such was the concern of one 8-year-old Michelle Rochon in 1961; she wrote a letter to President John F. Kennedy asking if Soviet nuclear tests at the North Pole would disrupt Santa Claus' schedule for Christmas deliveries.

Fear not, JFK responded, saying that while he was concerned, too, he had talked to Santa only a day before, and the jolly fat man would be making his usual rounds. You can "watch" the letter in this neat reproduction by the Kennedy Presidential Library, below. --Sarah Eberspacher

  • Not the penguins!    1:18pm ET 

Sure, traveling to Antarctica sounds cool, but visitors may be leaving behind a tough time for the region's adorable inhabitants, The Atlantic reports.

A paper published in the journal Polar Biology notes that penguins are highly susceptible to infectious agents such as salmonella and E. coli. And previous studies have found that tourist boots may leave behind dozens of dangerous pathogens. As tourism to Antarctica increases — more than 10,000 people now visit each year — so may the dangers for wildlife.

However, ecologist Norman Ratcliffe said tourism companies are very careful not to pollute the region, and that there is likely some other reason behind Antarctica's sickly penguins.

Fine, Norman, but I think I'll stick with a closer-to-home trip, just in case.

  • This just in    12:52pm ET 
AP Photo/Lady Rene Perez, Cubadebate
AP Photo/Lady Rene Perez, Cubadebate

Cuban President Raul Castro spoke at the end of his country's legislative session on Saturday, cheering "a new chapter" between the United States and Cuba, The New York Times reports.

Castro promised that his country will push forward on economic reform, but he noted that any changes must be gradual, in the name of "sustainable communism."

In that vein, Cuba's president warned the U.S. that a new, diplomatic chapter does not give America license to meddle.

"Every country has inalienable rights to choose its own political system," Castro said. "No one should believe that improving relations with the United States means Cuba renouncing its ideas."

  • scotus    12:34pm ET 
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a request on Friday from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to extend a stay preventing gay marriages in the state, The Miami Herald reports.

Florida can thus begin recognizing same-sex marriages on Jan. 6, after the current stay expires on Jan. 5. The court's two-sentence denial noted that Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Clarence Thomas, to whom the request was originally presented, would have granted the extension.

What remains unclear is whether Florida's county clerks will actually issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples; Bondi has appealed the case to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, but it has not been heard yet.

  • This just in    11:25am ET 
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. flew four Afghans home to Kabul early Saturday morning, after they had spent more than a decade imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Reuters reports.

Identified as Shawali Khan, Khi Ali Gul, Abdul Ghani and Mohammed Zahir, the men were reportedly originally detained for alleged involvement with the Taliban or similar terror groups. But a U.S. official told Reuters that "most if not all of these accusations have been discarded and each of these individuals at worst could be described as low-level, if even that."

The releases are part of President Barack Obama's long-running push to close the prison, which still holds 132 detainees.

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