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from MacroScope:

A question of gas

A Ukrainian soldier sits on top of an APC at a checkpoint outside the city of Slaviansk

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is in Washington for talks with Barack Obama after Europe and the United States imposed wider sanctions on Russia.

Obama is already looking ahead to a third round of measures and has hinted at impatience with Europe, saying there had to be a united front if future sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy were to have real bite. At home, the Republicans are accusing him of weakness so will he put pressure on Merkel to move ahead in a way that the European Union has shown it is entirely unready to, at least yet?

The east of Ukraine remains in turmoil with pro-Russian separatists, who have seized civic buildings and police stations in a number of cities and towns, saying Ukrainian forces had launched a big operation to retake the eastern town of Slaviansk. That would mark the first significant military response from the government in Kiev.

The interior minister said a pilot has been killed and others wounded by anti-aircraft missiles used by the rebels. Separatists said at least one helicopter had been shot down.

from MacroScope:

Marathon banking union talks

Shots were fired at an international team of monitors in Crimea over the weekend, violence flared in Sevastopol as thousands staged rallies and Angela Merkel, who perhaps has the most receptive western ear to Vladimir Putin, rebuked him for supporting a referendum on Ukraine’s southern region joining Russia. But in truth we’re not much further forward or backwards in this crisis.

The West from Barack Obama on down has said the referendum vote next Sunday is illegal under international law but it’s hard to put the genie back in the bottle if Ukraine’s southern region chooses to break away. The best guess – but it is only a guess – is that barring an accidental sparking of hostilities, there is not much percentage in Russia putting its forces in Crimea onto a more aggressive footing in advance of the vote.

from MacroScope:

A glimmer of hope in Kiev

A glimmer of hope in Ukraine?

Let’s not count our chickens after 75 people were killed over the past two days but President Viktor Yanukovich’s people are saying an agreement on resolving the crisis has been reached at all-night talks involving the president, opposition leaders and three visiting European Union ministers.
A deal is due to be signed at 1000 GMT apparently although no details are as yet forthcoming. There has been no word from the EU ministers or the opposition so far.

Even if the violence subsides and some sort of political agreement is reached (a huge if), there is potential financial chaos to deal with despite Russia’s only partially delivered pledge of $15 billion to bail its neighbour out.

from Photographers' Blog:

A taste for music

Haguenau, France

By Vincent Kessler

I love cooking and I have a passion for music. What then could please me more than an orchestra that plays music with instruments made out of vegetables?

I cannot remember when I first heard about the Vegetable Orchestra. But when I realized that they were planning to hold a concert some 40 kilometers from my home, I got in touch and was given the opportunity to watch them prepare for a performance.

from John Lloyd:

Goodbye to all that centrism

How much longer will the political center hold in Europe? Its erosion, years in the making, is only picking up speed. In Italy, the latest political crisis presages the collapse of the centrist left-right coalition. In Austria, a recent election barely gave a similar coalition enough votes to continue governing. The European Union nations are hurtling toward elections next spring for the European parliament, which will bring real debate and divide to what has been a largely consensual assembly. Not far separated from the yolk of the financial crisis, nationalism is the politics of the times.

While Europe’s economy is making a slow, small improvement (with exceptions in the south), its politics are becoming much more fragile. Most economists say that the crisis can only be fully remedied by taking more powers into a powerful Euro-center, one that’s fiscal, financial, macro-economic, and thus political. Brussels believes it must be done: but no national government, even Germany’s, believes it could deliver popular approval for the move. The crisis is already forcing integration, yet causing citizens to recoil from the EU. That’s the central contradiction of Europe, stark and grim.

from MacroScope:

Oh Silvio

Even before the vote on his political future, Silvio Berlusconi ordered his five ministers to quit Italy’s teetering coalition government over the weekend in an attempt to force fresh elections.

With markets already alarmed at the prospect of another self-inflicted political wound – the U.S. government budget shutdown – Italian assets could take a hammering today with investors finally waking up to the potential chaos looming.

from MacroScope:

Abe’s European spring break: Japan stimulus sends euro zone yields to record lows

It wasn't just the Nikkei. Euro zone government bonds rallied following Japan's announcement of a massive new monetary stimulus. That sent yields on the debt of several euro zone countries to record lows on bets that Japanese investors might be switching out of Japanese government bonds into euro zone paper, or might soon do so.

The Bank of Japan on Thursday announced extraordinary stimulus steps to revive the world's third-largest economy, vowing to inject about $1.4 trillion into the financial system in less than two years in a dose of shock therapy to end two decades of deflation.

from Photographers' Blog:

Under the ice

Lake Weissensee, Austria

By Michael Dalder

I’ve been diving for almost 15 years, but due to family matters it has fallen off my list lately. So a new picture assignment at Lake Weissensee in mid-February 2013 just came right to my diver’s heart: The Underwater Ice hockey Championships.

Underwater Ice hockey is not played on top of the ice like ice hockey is usually played but underneath it. That’s where diving comes into the game because the underwater ice hockey players are in fact apnea divers who want to give their sports an additional sportive kick.

from Photographers' Blog:

Taking the ski path less traveled

Innsbruck, Austria

By Dominic Ebenbichler

The tragedy of Dutch Prince Johan Friso, who was buried in an avalanche while skiing in Austria last February and who has since been in a coma, generated the idea to shoot a story about freeride skiing and how ski professionals are trying to minimize any possible risks.

I'm lucky to have easy access to some of the best European freeride skiers as they are either part of my family or good friends with whom I go skiing with. I asked one of my cousins, Christoph Ebenbichler, who is a professional skier, if he would like to be part of this story. We discussed the riders who we wanted to work with on the story and the basic topics we wanted to cover, and decided to focus on showing the beauty of skiing in the back country combined with showing the professional approach everybody should have when skiing off piste. I contacted the skiers and they were all happy to work with me on the project.

from Photographers' Blog:

Demon face

Heitwerwang, Austria

By Dominic Ebenbichler

Tourists or foreigners have to look twice when attending a Perchten festival in the western Austrian region of Tyrol. Some probably think there is something wrong with the countryfolk - dressing up like demons, wearing head to toe animal skins and wooden masks, behavior that could easily be associated with some kind of a devil's cult. It just doesn't seem to be normal.

The explanation goes back to the years about 500 AD. Back then farmers performed pagan rites to disperse the ghosts of winter to help bring a fruitful harvest. They thought it might work with terrifying masks which should scare even ghosts. And what is more scarier than the devil himself? Right, nothing! Even ghosts have to be scared by the devil.

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