Many analysts — including me — have suggested that Vladimir Putin's Russian regime should pay an economic cost for the ongoing invasion of Crimea, not least to discourage further Russian expansionism into Eastern Europe. Yesterday's "referendum," in which 97 percent of those who took part voted to join Russia, does nothing to change that. After all, having Russian soldiers on the streets and pro-Russian mobs intimidating non-Russians hardly makes for a free and fair vote.
Yet already, the economic consequences of Russia's invasion of Crimea may be coming back to haunt Putin. Reuters reports that Russia's deputy economy minister Sergei Belyakov warned on Monday that the country's economy is in crisis. The Russian economy was already in a perilous state, having shrunk for two consecutive quarters. And now Russia's currency, the ruble, is weakening, causing expectations of growth in inflation. Russia's stock market has fallen significantly during the Ukraine crisis, down over 20 percent already this year.
Will continued economic weakness stop Russian expansionism? Perhaps. The threat to Russian business interests may motivate Russia's oligarchy to rein in Putin. But maybe the opposite happens. Viewed through an economic lens, Putin's takeover of Crimea seems like a diversionary tactic to bolster Putin's support with nationalist fervor while the previously strong Russian economy weakens. If the Russian economy continues to weaken, it's possible that Putin may become more desperate and reckless to maintain his regime's grasp on power.
The first touchdown of the Super Bowl belongs to the New England Patriots: Watch the video below to see quarterback Tom Brady connect with wide receiver Brandon LaFell to score. —Catherine Garcia
Idina Menzel started Super Bowl XLIX on the right note, with a stirring rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Watch her impressive performance in the video below. —Catherine Garcia
President Obama's forthcoming budget proposal will include a request for $478 billion for vast infrastructure improvements, to be funded with a 14 percent tax on $2 trillion in corporate earnings held abroad. The six-year plan is a more robust version of a policy Obama has proposed in the past. Obama is to unveil his budget on Monday.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Sunday stood by his harsh criticism of protesters who last week interrupted a Senate hearing with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
"I was outraged and I'm still outraged," McCain said on CNN, arguing that the protesters were physically threatening Kissinger. "I think they're terrible people that would do that to a 91-year-old man with a broken shoulder," he added.
Last week, McCain called protesters from the anti-war group Code Pink "low-life scum" after they brandished banners and handcuffs during the hearing. —Jon Terbush
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee on Sunday said homosexuality is a "lifestyle" choice, adding that while he disagreed with it personally, he was accepting of people with different beliefs.
"I don't drink alcohol, but gosh, a lot of my friends, maybe most of them, do," he said on CNN. "I don't use profanity, but believe me I've got a lot of friends who do. Some people really like classical music and ballet and opera. It's not my cup of tea."
Deflategate may have been a bunch of hot air.
The NFL's investigation into the New England Patriots' alleged ball tampering has determined that the footballs used in last month's AFC Championship were not as underinflated as previously believed, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. Though previous reports said 11 of 12 footballs were each underinflated by two pounds per square inch, the league actually found many to be only "a few ticks" under the minimum allowable PSI; only one was two pounds under the limit.
The Patriots denied tampering with the balls in any way, and team owner Robert Kraft demanded an apology from the NFL should it find no evidence of wrongdoing.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said Sunday that the U.S. had to be "prepared to put boots on the ground" in Syria and Iraq to battle ISIS. In an appearance on ABC's This Week, the potential 2016 candidate said that he did not consider it an "immediate plan," but that it should remain on the table.
Also Sunday, a Des Moines Register poll showed Walker leading a hypothetical GOP field in Iowa one year out from the Iowa caucuses. Walker declined to say Sunday if he was indeed preparing a White House run, though he said he "wouldn't bet against me on anything."
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Sunday condemned the Islamic State's apparent killing of journalist Kenji Goto, calling it a "despicable and horrendous act of terrorism."
ISIS on Saturday released a video purporting to show Goto's decapitated body after its demand of a prisoner exchange went unmet. Though the video has yet to be authenticated, both Japan and the U.S. have released statements tacitly confirming it is real.
"To the terrorists, we will never, never forgive them for this act," Abe said.
As you may have heard, the Super Bowl is finally here. So ahead of the big game, Saturday Night Live showed what it would be like if the Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch and Richard Sherman hosted their own talk show. Incredibly, a special guest even got he media-averse Lynch (played by Kenan Thompson) to crack a smile and open up a little bit. — Jon Terbush
Egypt on Sunday said it freed Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste and would soon deport him to his native Australia.
Greste was arrested in December 2013 and accused of publishing false news, sparking an international outcry from free press advocates who considered the charges bogus. Egypt has not said what it plans to do with two other Al Jazeera reporters, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, who were imprisoned along with Greste.