After a frenetic period of travel involving 10 separate trips overseas in the past three months, I am trying to catch my breath, shake off the jet lag and make sense of what I have seen. Leaving aside the big geopolitical themes, one tentative conclusion I have reached is that world leaders and hotel lobbies do not mix.
This first struck at the Ritz Hotel in Madrid as I waited to greet Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, who was the guest-of-honour at the FT’s Spain Summit. On one side of the lobby was a bank of photographers and TV crews. I was standing on the other side with a couple of FT colleagues and the hotel management. Rajoy’s limo drew up and we could see him and his entourage heading towards the entrance. Just at that moment, a party of elderly Americans came out of the lift, clad in their trademark tracksuit bottoms and fluorescent visors, and began to totter across the lobby, demanding loudly, “Where’s the coach?” The hotel manager froze — torn between the desire to shove the Americans out of the way and his duty to be courteous. He just about pulled it off but it was a close-run thing. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
Is Vladimir Putin a wimp? The Russian president has a macho image and has shocked the west with his annexation of Crimea. But, in Moscow, there are hardliners who seem frustrated that he has not gone further.
By Gideon Rachman
In 1990 Kenichi Ohmae, a management consultant, published a book called The Borderless World, whose title captured the spirit of globalisation. Over the next almost 25 years developments in business, finance, technology and politics seemed to confirm the inexorable decline of borders and the nation states they protected.
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
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.
By Gideon Rachman
Most politicians try to say something uplifting when they take office. Arseniy Yatseniuk took a different approach. Accepting the post of interim prime minister of Ukraine in February, his opening words were: “Welcome to hell.”
♦ In the new cold war, Russia could hit the US where it hurts – in Iran.
♦ Vladimir Putin has confounded three US presidents as they tried to figure him out.
♦ The decision in Egypt to hand the death sentence to 528 Muslim Brotherhood members was widely condemned, but Egyptian TV told a different story.
♦ The US is losing its edge as an employment powerhouse after its labour participation rate fell behind the UK’s.
♦ Russia’s actions in Crimea have sent a chill through its former Soviet neighbours in Central Asia and the Caucasus.
♦ American economist Hyman Minsky is back in vogue as his ideas offer a plausible account of why the 2007-08 financial crisis happened.
♦ A report on how former Tunisian president Zein al-Abidine Ben Ali changed the rules of business underlines the challenges still facing the country. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
As US President Barack Obama and the leaders of the EU huddle together this week, they will strive to look united and resolved. The reality, as Vladimir Putin knows, is that they are divided and uncertain. The Russian president has moved with a speed and ruthlessness that has left western leaders floundering. Russia swallowed Crimea, in less than a week, with scarcely a shot fired. It has now massed troops on Ukraine’s eastern border – and all that the west has so far offered the Ukrainian military is a supply of US army ready-meals.
Both the US and the EU are stepping up their sanctions against Russia over its annexation of Crimea. So far it has all been very personal; both the US and the EU have focused on making life difficult for key individuals in and around the Kremlin and President Vladimir Putin. But that is unlikely to be the end of it. Both the US and the EU have threatened to impose further, broader, sanctions on the Russian economy. So in terms of trade, what might they target? Read more
Europe’s response to the Crimean crisis
Ben Hall is joined by Peter Spiegel, Brussels bureau chief and Neil Buckley, East Europe editor to discuss Europe’s response to Russia’s summary annexation of Crimea, the first such grab for sovereign territory by a European nation since the second world war. President Vladimir Putin’s move has prompted outrage in European capitals, and the muscular tone of his speech to the Duma on Tuesday will have triggered some alarm about Russian intentions. But Europe’s response so far seems timid, as governments weigh their economic interests with standing up to Russian aggression.
By Stefan Wagstyl
All this talk of fascism: the most abused and overused word in the political dictionary is once again being royally abused and overused.
For weeks, Russian propaganda has portrayed the protesters in the Kiev Maidan as fascist, along with the interim government, and most of western Ukraine. Now Oleksander Turchynov, Ukraine’s interim president, has returned the compliment – and called Russian president Vladimir Putin a fascist. Read more
A few weeks ago, even Europeans were paying little attention to events in Ukraine. Now the whole world is watching. This is because the Russian incursion into Ukraine is widely seen as a direct challenge to the US-led world order. If President Vladimir Putin gets away with it then other governments, such as China and Iran, may decide defying America is getting less risky.
The stand-off continues. The ultimatum, reportedly given by Russia to Ukrainian military forces in Crimea to surrender by 5am (3am GMT), passed without incident. Russian President Vladimir Putin has given a press conference in which he stepped back from the brink of confrontation but insisted Viktor Yanukovich was toppled in an “unconstitutional coup”. The US continues to press for full withdrawal of Moscow’s troops from Ukrainian territory. Global equities traded higher and haven assets retreated as markets reacted with relief to an apparent easing of tensions.
By Shannon Bond, John Aglionby and Amie Tsang with FT correspondents around the world
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
By Gideon Rachman
When the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Moscow stock market did not crash. That is because there was no Moscow stock market. By contrast, the news that Russian troops have taken effective control of Crimea was greeted, on Monday, by a 10 per cent collapse in shares on the Russian market.
The Sochi Winter Olympics and the image of modern Russia
Even by Olympic superlative standards, the Sochi games are an extraordinary event. The most expensive Olympics ever, these games are the personal project of President Vladimir Putin, bankrolled by the country’s billionaire oligarchs.
In this week’s podcast, Ben Hall, world news editor, is joined by Kathrin Hille, Moscow bureau chief and Neil Buckley, East Europe editor to discuss whether after the build up, snags and negative portrayal in western media, are we now seeing a normal winter Olympic contest?
Mikhail Khodorkovsky (Getty)
As Mikhail Khodorkovsky enters a fourth day of freedom in Berlin after his stunning release from a remote prison colony last Friday, some conclusions can now start to be drawn. All suggest it is premature to get too excited about the implications of the liberation of Russia’s most famous political prisoner.
First, though it may be true – as Mr Khodorkovsky claims – that no formal conditions were attached to his pardon by president Vladimir Putin, the former Yukos oil company chief is in de facto exile. He says he will not return to Russia while a $500m legal claim related to his first conviction on fraud and tax evasion charges in 2005 still hangs over him. The European Court of Human Rights has ruled this claim illegal. But unless Russia’s supreme court strikes it out, Mr Khodorkovsky fears it could be used, at the very least, to prevent him from leaving Russia again if he did go back. Read more