By Christian Oliver and Richard Milne
Europe’s leaders are preparing for a trade war with Russia by mapping out the battlefields on which they see the highest risk of casualties.
In data released on Friday, the European Commission identified the agricultural exporters most vulnerable to Moscow’s trade embargo on EU produce. Spanish peaches, Dutch cheeses and Polish apples find themselves squarely on the front line.
Polish fruit exports to Russia were valued at €340m last year and win the dubious honour of being the most exposed crops. The Poles have launched an impassioned public campaign to try to switch to more domestic consumption with their “Eat an apple to spite Putin” slogan.
The Netherlands (with dairy exports to Russia of €257m in 2013) and Finland (€253m) are at most risk on the milk and cheese front. Spain and Greece are vulnerable in relation to citrus, with stoned fruit such as peaches and nectarines also being described by farmers as being at crisis point in terms of storage overload and no market to go to. Read more
Crisis over the MH17 atrocity
Russia and the west have been increasingly at odds following the shooting down of a Malaysia Airlines flight over Ukraine, an atrocity that has been widely blamed on pro-Russian separatists. What are Vladimir Putin’s options, and what diplomatic accommodation be can be found to make the situation less volatile? Katherine Hille, Moscow bureau chief, and Neil Buckley, east Europe editor, join Gideon Rachman.
By Gideon Rachman
Just a couple of months ago it was fashionable to laud Vladimir Putin for his strategic genius. American rightwingers contrasted his sure-footedness with their own president’s alleged weakness. In a column entitled “Obama vs Putin, The Mismatch”, Charles Krauthammer argued: “Under this president, Russia has run rings around America.” Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York, praised Mr Putin’s decisiveness and cooed: “That’s what you call a leader.” Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence party, said Mr Putin was the world leader he most admired.
By Gideon Rachman
The headlines are dominated by regional crises – in Ukraine, in Iraq and in the South China Sea. But is there a common thread that ties together these apparently unconnected events?
Leaked tapes of expletive-filled conversations involving senior Polish ministers are extremely embarrassing to the government in Warsaw and to some of its leading figures, such as Radoslaw Sikorski, Poland’s foreign minister (above). And that, presumably, is exactly the intention.
Amidst all the uproar, relatively few people seem to be asking who would have the resources and expertise to expertly bug several Warsaw restaurants – over the course of a year – and then the motivation to release the tapes. The obvious answer, based entirely on circumstantial evidence, would be Russia’s intelligence service. Read more
Relations between Russia and China
President Vladimir Putin’s recent visit to Beijing took on added significance because of the deep divisions between Russia and the west, caused by the Ukrainian crisis. The two countries signed a landmark deal on gas supplies, as well as other agreements covering trade and arms sales. So is a new Russia-China axis emerging? Gideon Rachman is joined by James Blitz and James Kynge to discuss.
By Amie Tsang and Gavin Jackson
After a decade of negotiations, Russia managed to wrangle out a gas deal with China – and just in the nick of time.
Europe has been looking to extricate itself from its dependence on Russian energy, while Putin wants to show Europe that it has friends – and customers – in the east.
When China’s largest oil company signed up to a 30-year deal to buy from Gazprom up to 38bn cubic metres of gas per year from 2018, it helped the Russian gas company to make its first shift away from the west.
Europe’s demand for energy is critical to the Russian economy: gas and oil exports make up some 52 per cent of Russia’s government budget, which has slipped back into deficit in the last two years. So Russia needs to find another market for its energy exports. Read more
A visit by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to Beijing would be an important event, at any time. But, coming on the heels of Moscow’s military interventions in Ukraine, it takes on a special significance.
With Russian relations with the West in the deep freeze over the Ukraine crisis, it is clearly in the Kremlin’s interest to improve ties with China. Beijing is likely to prove a willing partner. They too have an increasingly tense strategic relationship with the US. Meanwhile, the Americans will be watching nervously from the sidelines. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
In America, they have Super Tuesday. Europe is about to have a Super Sunday, with elections for the European Parliament taking place across the 28-member EU, ending on May 25. That same Sunday, Ukraine will be holding a presidential election. The next day, Egypt will hold its own presidential vote. And then, towards the end of that week, on May 29, President Vladimir Putin’s pet project – the formation of a Eurasian Union – will receive the formal go-ahead with a signing ceremony between Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan.
By Gideon Rachman
The disputed referendums in eastern Ukraine give President Vladimir Putin time to take stock and choose between two very different paths. The first involves grabbing more territory for Russia, attempting to rebuild an empire in the old Soviet sphere, and accepting a prolonged confrontation with the west. The second is more pragmatic – and involves attempting to pocket his Crimean winnings and rebuild relations with the US and the EU.