(Getty)

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

David Gardner

A Yazidi family that fled Sinjar in Iraq takes shelter in the Kurdish city of Dohuk ( SAFIN HAMED/AFP/Getty Images)

Barack Obama’s decision to move back into the maelstrom of Iraq, from which he withdrew in 2011 after solemnly pledging to extricate US forces once and for all, would clearly not have been taken lightly.

Little under a year ago, after all, the president baulked at the last fence on Syria, declining to punish the Assad regime for nerve-gassing its own people – crossing a red line he had chosen to single out as inviolable. That was the wrong decision, and it is worth a moment to remember why. Read more

Japan’s Government Investment Pension Fund, the world’s largest pool of publicly managed pension assets, is poised to make a change to its investment strategy that has equity markets salivating. Indications are that a review of its allocation guidelines, expected to be wrapped up next month, will raise the percentage of the fund’s roughly Y127tn ($1.3tn) portfolio that is dedicated to Japanese stocks, while reducing holdings of Japanese bonds.

The GPIF’s current guidelines are risk-averse by global standards, with the majority of the model portfolio dedicated to low-yielding Japanese public debt and just 12 per cent given over to domestic equities. Under the new guidelines, the equity level looks likely to rise to 20 per cent – a change that could send trillions of yen flowing into the Topix, the Nikkei and other Japanese share indices. And as of this week, key investment decisions will be made by the fund’s investment board, rather than Takahiro Mitani, its president. Read more

Emily Cadman

Welcome to our live coverage of ECB president Mario Draghi monthly press conference. Earlier the ECB kept its interest rates at their current record lows for the second month in a row.. Follow the questions and reaction live here with Lindsay Whipp and economics reporter Emily Cadman.

 

Gideon Rachman

The Gaza strip was not the only place where civilians were suffering and dying last week. There were (and are) several other lethal conflicts underway. Take the fighting in eastern Ukraine. The current edition of The Economist reports that: “Ukraine’s offensive already seems to have featured pretty indiscriminate use of artillery. By July 26th 1,129 people had been killed in eastern Ukraine, 799 of them civilians, the UN has reported … shells have already begun falling in the centre of Donetsk: the potential for things to go lethally wrong is great.”

Civilians are also dying in large numbers in Iraq. Just yesterday over 50 people were killed in car bombs in Baghdad, while 60 were killed in an Iraqi government air-strike aimed at a Sharia court, set up by Isis in Mosul. Read more

  • The hum of US drones is becoming more familiar over African skies as US military presence increases on the continent.
  • Russia has doubled the number of its battalions near the Ukrainian border and could launch a cross-border incursion with little or no warning.
  • The New Yorker considers the experience of the US ambassador to Russia and how he saw the promise of democracy come and fade.
  • Ben Judah takes a look inside the bullet-proof bubble of Vladimir Putin, the “latter-day dictator”.

 Read more

By Gideon Rachman
When last week I saw a White House spokesman say that Israel’s bombing of a UN school was “totally indefensible”, I briefly thought that I had witnessed something new. Surely the Americans had never before been that strong in condemning Israel? But a colleague with a longer memory reminded me that Israel’s siege of west Beirut in 1982 had provoked President Ronald Reagan (yes, Reagan) to telephone Menachem Begin, the Israeli prime minister, and accuse him of perpetrating a “holocaust”. There is nothing new about Israeli military action killing hundreds of civilians. There is also nothing new about the international outcry it provokes.

David Gardner

The call this weekend by bishops of the Church of England for the UK to grant asylum to the Christians driven out of the northern Iraqi city of Mosul by the jihadi fanatics of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, seems instinctively right. As the Right Reverend David Walker, Bishop of Manchester, observed: “this is, in part, our mess”.

“We have created the space in which Isis have moved in and have expelled Christians from northern Iraq and would like to expel them from the whole of that country,” he told the BBC. Read more

Israel’s Operation Protective Edge entered its 24th day on Thursday, and is now one of the longest-running conflicts for a country that typically fights short wars.

The Israeli military is moving deeper into Gaza, inflicting a level of civilian casualties during its war on Hamas that troubles the international community’s conscience, but which it has been unable to stop.

Behind the scenes, serious diplomatic manoeuvering to end the war is starting. As the stronger party by far in the conflict, Israel holds most of the cards in any ceasefire agreement.

But there are other players too: Egypt shares an interest with Israel in disarming Hamas, an ally of its suppressed Muslim Brotherhood, and restoring calm to a troublesome border region. Hamas, too, needs to calculate what it can get out of its third war with Israel, as talks on a post-war order involving the US, the Palestinian Authority, Qatar and other countries get underway.

As they do, a few end-game scenarios are emerging (the assessments of each one’s likelihood of coming to pass are my own): Read more

Ebola: what risk does the virus pose to Africa and the wider world?
Parts of Western Africa are gripped by the Ebola virus, with more than 670 dead in the current outbreak. Gideon Rachman is joined by Clive Cookson, science editor, and Javier Blas, Africa editor, to discuss how serious a threat the virus poses to the region and to the wider world, and what the international community can do to thwart its progress.