Gideon Rachman

As the situation in eastern Ukraine gets ever more volatile, the West is still trying to figure out what to do. On Monday April 14th, EU foreign ministers are due to meet to discuss the situation. Top of the agenda will be the question of how to respond, if Russia invades eastern Ukraine. Defining “invasion” might be a trickier task than is sometimes realised. Agreeing on effective sanctions will be even harder. All the same, a new sanctions package really needs to be pulled together – and fast. Read more

India goes to the polls

India, the world’s largest democracy, is in the midst of conducting its general election. Voting has started and is set to go on for several weeks, with the result declared in mid-May. That result could be dramatic, with polls and pundits predicting the end of a long period of rule by the Congress party, and that a new government could be headed by Narendra Modi, the controversial leader of the BJP. To discuss what we can expect from these elections, Gideon Rachman is joined by Victor Mallet, Delhi bureau chief, and James Crabtree, Mumbai correspondent

Gideon Rachman

The first time I met Bob Carr, who was then Australian foreign minister, he struck me as a polite and humble man. That just shows how wrong you can be. For Mr Carr, who lost office when the Labor Party lost power in Australia, has just published a book called Diary of a Foreign Minister, which reveals – with remarkable frankness – his raging egotism. Among other things, the former minister congratulates himself on his membership of the “elite of the flat-stomached” (fellow members, Barack Obama and Prince Charles), his brilliance as a chairman and his taste in ties. He also complains vociferously about the iniquities of business-class travel on an airline. (Apparently the layout of the seats is similar to a slave-ship). He also publishes, in full, an apology sent to him by Singapore Airlines, for sins that include not providing English subtitles on the Wagner opera that the minister had been watching in first-class. Read more

Blimey, those lazy French slackers are at it again.

Not content with a statutory 35-hour week, now people are banned from checking work emails after 6pm. No wonder France’s economy is going down the pan. That, more or less, was the story that went viral this week after a flurry of reports on English-language media (The Guardian, the Daily Mail, the tech blog Engadget among others) that a new “legally binding labour agreement” in France prohibited employees from answering emails from work outside office hours. Read more

David Pilling

Some people view the US and China as being in fierce competition: for jobs, for technology, for sea lanes and ultimately for control. Others see a symbiotic relationship between a Chinese producer and a US consumer, between a US provider of technology, know-how and branding and a Chinese provider of cheap labour and lax pollution laws.

Stephen Roach, Yale professor and former chairman and chief economist of Morgan Stanley, sees something more like an old married couple in serious need of counselling. He uses the word “codependency”, a psychologists’ term for an inherently unstable relationship that keeps getting worse over time. This is the idea – only a bit of a stretch, he says – that forms the subtitle of his new book Unbalanced: The Codependency of America and China. Read more

From the FT:

The mining arm of Beny Steinmetz’s business empire won its rights to a multibillion-dollar iron-ore prospect in Guinea through a bribery scheme involving the wife of the late dictator Read more

Gideon Rachman

The news that Greece is returning to the markets as an issuer of sovereign-debt is symbolic of the resurgence of interest in Europe among international – and particularly US – investors. As ever there is a circular logic in play here.

Because most investors no longer fear a collapse of the euro, Greece can come back to the markets. And the sight of Greece returning to the markets will confirm the prejudices of those who argue that the crisis in the eurozone is over.

But just as international investors were, in retrospect, too panic-stricken about Europe in 2012 – I suspect they are probably too relaxed now.

Greece’s return to the markets is one striking sign of this. Another is the fact that 5-year Spanish bonds now have a lower yield than their US equivalent – despite the fact that Spain is barely growing, that its budget-deficit continues to bust EU rules, while unemployment is more than 25 per cent. Read more

From the FT:

Russia’s militarism has caught Nato with its guard down after years of defence cuts Read more

While officials at the debt management agency prepare to trumpet Greece’s return to international capital markets, for long-suffering Athenians it is just another day marked by anti-austerity protests in the centre of the capital.

The five-year bond issue will be snapped up by investors eager for extra yield. But Greek risk, though diminishing, is unlikely to disappear soon. Here is a quick checklist of informal indicators tracked by local analysts. Read more

Could the UK go it alone in the cut-throat world of global trade?

Iain Mansfield, the 30-year-old British diplomat awarded a €100,000 prize by the eurosceptic Institute of Economic Affairs for his plan for a British exit from the EU, certainly thinks so. At the centre of his plan is the case for the UK to go it alone in negotiating trade agreements with big players like China and the US. Read more