Reuters blog archive
A reported 0300 GMT deadline, which Russian forces denied had been issued, for Ukraine’s troops to disarm in Crimea or face the consequences has passed without incident and in the last hour President Vladimir Putin has ordered troops that took part in military exercises in western Russia to return to base.
That has helped lift the euro but the situation remains incredibly tense. Russia’s stock market is up a little over two percent and the rouble has found a footing but they are nowhere near clawing back Monday’s precipitous losses.
The West may have no military card to play – and its ability to impose meaningful sanctions is untested as yet – but the markets reminded Putin in no uncertain terms yesterday that there is a price to pay for war mongering.
The rouble plunged, Russian stocks dropped 11 percent and the central bank raised interest rates by a full point and a half and then blew $12 billion of its reserves trying to prop up the currency, hardly an ideal policy response for an economy that is already struggling. If in the longer term foreign investment dries up things could get quite nasty.
Worrying escalation in Crimea. Interfax reports Russian servicemen have take over a military airport in the Russian-speaking region of Ukraine and armed men are also patrolling the airport at Crimea’s regional centre of Simferopol.
Kiev has condemned the moves as an “armed invasion”.
There has been no bloodshed and there are more constructive noises from Moscow to weigh in the balance.
Russia’s next move remains the great unanswered question for Ukraine but there are glimmers that things might be starting to move elsewhere.
IMF chief Christine Lagarde said last night she would send a technical support team to Ukraine soon if Kiev makes a request. It can’t do so until an interim government is formed, probably tomorrow. That would be step one, but only step one, down the road to an international aid package.
Italy’s president will meet centre-left leader Matteo Renzi today and is likely to ask him to form a government following the ousting of Enrico Letta as prime minister.
Renzi will need to reach an agreement with the small New Centre Right party to continue the current coalition and there is common ground. The 39-year-old has already said he backs lower taxes affecting employment, but they differ on issues such as immigration and laws allowing gay and lesbian civil partnerships.
Any sense of euphoria EU leaders felt about agreeing a plan to underpin Europe’s banks – which should have been muted anyway – may be tempered by S&P’s decision to cut the bloc’s credit rating to AA+ from AAA.
In global terms that’s still rock solid but the rationale – flagging “rising risks to the support of the EU from some member states” has some resonance. On the upside, the agency affirmed its rating of Ireland following its bailout exit and kept its outlook positive. Presumably, S&P is clearing the decks before Christmas because it also reaffirmed the UK’s top notch AAA rating, and reaffirmed South Africa too.
The Slovenian government is poised to publish the results of an external audit of its banks, which will say how much cash the government must inject to keep them afloat. We’ve heard from sources that the euro zone member needs as much as 5 billion euros to recapitalize largely state-owned banks.
The central bank said on Tuesday that sufficient funds were available to an international bailout but, while the euro zone might breathe a sigh of relief, Ljubljana’s problems are far from over. A fire sale of state assets will be triggered and the banks are so embedded into the Slovene economy that deleveraging will cause great damage.
from The Great Debate:
Low expectations surround the G20 meeting in St. Petersburg on September 5-6.
President Barack Obama’s decision to cancel the pre-G20 summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin means the big photo op will likely be the two leaders awkwardly trying to avoid each other. The other headline-making issues in U.S.-Russian relations -- Syria, nuclear weapons reduction, missile defense -- also appear off the table now. There is one timely matter, however, that resonates with Washington, Moscow, and the entire G20 -- the continuing fight against offshore tax havens.
The Cyprus financial collapse in March focused world attention on the outsized role played by offshore banking zones in international tax avoidance and money laundering. Though Russian depositors were the primary victims here, Moscow appeared indifferent to this unprecedented expropriation by Cyprus of the assets of Russian citizens. Putin proved unwilling to help those he viewed as tax-evading oligarchs and corrupt bureaucrats -- as well as a few legitimate businesses.
Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta will be in Athens for talks with Greek premier Antonis Samaras today with (whisper it) the prospect of the euro zone enjoying its first summer lull for years, in fact all the way up to German elections on Sept. 22.
No major decisions are likely before that point and who knows what will come afterwards, though continuity is a better bet than a radical shift.
By Neil Unmack
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
The creditor banks of Cyprus “voluntarily” exchanged 1 billion euros worth of sovereign debt at cheap rates. That lowers the bailout bill for the euro zone, but the burden fell unevenly on the country’s banks. Exchanging all creditors’ debt would have been fairer - but messier.
By George Hay
(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)
Cyprus has a liquidity problem. It has been barely two months since depositors of the two largest lenders of this small island state, Bank of Cyprus and Laiki, learned they were to face losses of 60 to 100 percent on the part of their deposits exceeding 100,000 euros. Yet Nicosia’s streets haven’t been savaged by furious rioting, nor have the banks fallen victim to visible panic. The harm is more pernicious: capital controls are slowly smothering a domestic economy already hit by a heavy dose of austerity.