Counting the Cost

Russia: The cost of sanctions

What effects have six months of Western sanctions had on the Putin government and the country’s economy?

When Western powers imposed sanctions on Russia, the plan was to target President Vladimir Putin’s circle of influence, to hit the oil and banking industry, to hopefully force a pull-back on Ukraine, and avoid damage to the larger economy.

But a strange thing has happened: Russian consumers are feeling the pinch, the currency is in a mess, and unemployment is at a record low.

Sanctions began in March, and since then $75bn worth of Russian assets have left the country, and the deputy economy minister has been quoted as saying it could go as high as $120bn.

The currency, the rouble, has slumped by almost a fifth since the start of the year, raising concerns Russia may respond with capital controls, as a plunging currency means imports become more expensive.

Russia’s currency reserves have shrunk more than $30bn to $465bn, as it has had to defend the currency and pay more for imports. But that is not actually much for a $2tn economy which is expected to dodge a second recession in five years. And Russia’s tight labour market means unemployment is at a record low of 4.8 percent.

To discuss this paradox in the Russian economy, we speak to Cornelia Meyer, a global economist and an expert on energy issues.

Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands also reports from Moscow, as the banks turn to the government to raise money. And Nidhi Dutt reports from Moscow’s former satellite, Tajikistan, on how Western sanctions have opened up new markets for the country’s farmers.

A Path to online privacy

In the world of access to private information, the Edward Snowden affair brought everything out into the open last year. And there are continuing concerns about what happens to our online content and who is accessing it.

In the latest, Twitter is in essence suing the US government. The backstory is that some tech companies signed up to a deal where they would disclose the amount of data requests they get from spy agencies, but only in broad numbers, which does not tell users a whole lot about how much they are being watched.

Twitter was not part of the deal, because it wants to be able to disclose all the requests it gets so people have the full picture. In a statement it talks about the restrictions being a violation of the First Amendment.

Smaller players in the social media game were not really part of this deal, but some say that privacy is paramount to the whole experience. Social network Path is doing things in a different, smaller and – it claims – much more private way.

While Facebook has 829 million daily active users, Path only had 1.5 million at the start of the year. But comparative growth in 2014 has been good, and it is now up to five million daily active users, from a total base of around 25 million global users.

To discuss online privacy in the social media world, we speak to Dave Morin, a former manager at Facebook, who is the co-founder and CEO of Path.

Japan: Abenomics continued

This week we also look at Japan and the next phase of ‘Abenomics’, as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe thinks about another increase in tax.

It does seem an obvious way to raise money and bring down debt, but does the once-mighty Land of the Rising Sun have enough economic strength to deal with it? Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay reports from Tokyo.