By John Thornhill
© The Financial Times Ltd 2014 FT and 'Financial Times' are trademarks of The Financial Times Ltd.
I was passing through eastern Croatia the other day and found myself in Vinkovci, a pleasant town not far from the Danube river border with Serbia. As any Agatha Christie enthusiast will tell you, Vinkovci is the place in Murder on the Orient Express whereSamuel Ratchett, a shady American traveller, is bumped off while the famous train is stuck in a snowdrift. Read more
My brother has a small Chinese vase standing on his mantle – an antique that tells us something about Russia‘s centuries-old techniques for imposing its will on weaker neighbours.
The vase is a small remnant of what had been a much grander set of pottery originally given to Russia’s Catherine the Great by the Chinese emperor, and then handed to my ancestor, Szczesny Potocki, in return for his services. Read more
The stand-off between Russia and the G7 over Moscow’s intervention in the Ukrainian region of Crimea continued on Monday. Financial markets reacted sharply to developments: fears of a war wiped a tenth off the value of Moscow’s stock exchange, sent the rouble tumbling to an all-time low and pushed up the price of commodities. At the UN in New York, the security council meeting turned into a showdown between Russia and several other nations, including the US and UK, which strongly condemned its incursion on Ukraine’s territorial integrity. And tensions were high in Crimea where it was reported Russia had given Ukrainian military forces an ultimatum to surrender.
By John Aglionby and Leyla Boulton in London, Shannon Bond in New York and FT correspondents around the world
Vladimir’s Putin’s decision to send Russian troops into Ukraine and seize control of Crimea has thrown the spotlight onto the peninsula.
Located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, Crimea has strong historical and cultural ties with Russia. It was Russian territory until 60 years ago, and one of the pretexts for Russia’s military invasion has been to defend its citizens and interests in Ukraine, especially in Crimea.
By Gideon Rachman
In theory, David Cameron and Radoslaw Sikorski should get on marvellously. Both the British prime minister and the Polish foreign secretary studied at Oxford and were members of the elite Bullingdon club, which specialises in dressing up, drinking, vomiting and vandalism. Both men have matured into robust conservatives. But last week we witnessed an unedifying dispute between the two politicians, sparked by Mr Cameron’s suggestion that Britain should not be paying child benefit to children living in Poland, even if their parents are working in Britain. In response, Mr Sikorski accused the British of stigmatising Polish immigrants and tweeted (in Polish) a suggestion that Poles in Britain should return home.
Protests continue in Ukraine
Mass protests continue in Kiev, the capital of Ukraine, against the government of President Viktor Yanukovych. The government had refused to sign an association agreement with the European Union, apparently in favor of closer ties to Russia. Neil Buckley, east Europe editor, and Roman Olearchyk, Kiev correspondent, join Gideon Rachman to discuss the still-volatile situation.
I have just spent an interesting day in Washington, part of which was spent listening to European and US officials discussing Ukraine’s decision to halt talks on a bilateral pact with the EU. This decision by the Yanukovitch administration is a big blow to both the EU and the US, which had been hoping to draw Ukraine decisively into the Western orbit. It also a minor triumph for the Russians. One disappointed western analyst says that – “It is the first time that the West has lost a soft power contest with Russia.”
And yet the reaction from Western officials was calmer than I expected. Broadly speaking, the view seems to be that it’s a great shame – but that the biggest loss is to Ukraine itself. In the long-term, it is hoped that this will become apparent and that the Ukrainians will look West again. There is also a strong view that the Russians won this particular struggle through the use of inducements that were not available to the West. As one analyst put it – “In the end, this came down to money. And not money for Ukraine itself. Money for particular groups in Ukraine.” Read more
Washington would like to brush aside European indignation with a spot of Latin.
The Obama administration is coming under intense criticism from many parts of Europe after Der Spiegel reported the US has been bugging various European Union offices. European politicians have accused the US of treating the EU as an “enemy” and of a return to “Cold War practices”.
The reaction in Washington has been to invoke the international law doctrine known as “tu quoque”, which translates as “you, too” or as the Pentagon described it during a similar late-90s bout of European anger about US spying: “A nation has no standing to complain about a practice in which it itself engages.” Read more
For 33 minutes on Wednesday, it appeared that Vladimir Yakunin, the powerful head of Russia’s state railway corporation, and a close personal friend of president Vladimir Putin, was out of a job.
His resignation, apparently, had been demanded by prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, and all the signs indicated that a behind the scenes bureaucratic turf battle was underway – a number of Mr Medvedev’s associates have had their careers cut short recently by people from Yakunin’s hard-line faction, and this smacked of retribution. Read more
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Commentary on international affairs, with Gideon Rachman and his colleagues