Reuters blog archive
from John Lloyd:
Ukraine is not the only crisis to emerge from the former Soviet Union. It’s the most immediate and most immediately dangerous. But beyond the stunning images of boiling demonstrations in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, there is a less vivid but as potentially destabilizing danger growing greater by the week. It is the threat of a Slav crash.
The three Slav republics of the former Soviet Union are Russia, with more than 140 million people, Ukraine, with around 47 million, and Belarus, with nearly 10 million. These made up some three quarters of the USSR’s population and were (apart from the tiny Baltic states) the richest regions.
But now they are faltering; Ukraine most obviously. Sergei Voloboev, head of emerging markets at Credit Suisse, said in London this week that the country has a current account deficit of nearly 10 percent and a fiscal deficit of 7.5 percent.
These are very high, but need not be deadly if the economy is healthy and reform is under way. But Ukraine’s economy is sick, and reform will be difficult. Alone among the former Soviet republics, Ukraine has made no post-communist headway. It’s as poor now as it was in 1989.
By Pierre Briançon
The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
The Western governments wondering what Vladimir Putin wants in Ukraine should start by focusing on what he doesn’t. That has become a little clearer after the Russian president’s rambling press conference earlier this week, during which glimpses of rationality appeared amidst a long, disingenuous rant against the new authorities in Kiev. Putin doesn’t want Crimea - which is only a pawn in his Ukrainian game. He is not ready to take the risk of a Western-style democracy in the former Soviet republic. And he fears the disruption of the economic and financial ties that bind Russia and Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin said this morning Russia and the United States are still far apart over Ukraine. Moscow, he said, could not ignore “illegitimate decisions” imposed on the east and south of the country and calls for help by ethnic Russians there but the two powers should not sacrifice relations over it.
In an hour-long telephone call last night Barack Obama urged Putin to accept the terms of a potential diplomatic solution to the crisis whereby Moscow would keep its military bases in Crimea while respecting Ukraine’s sovereignty. But he also ordered sanctions – including travel bans and freezing of assets in the U.S. - on people responsible for Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine though Putin himself is not on the list.
from Anatole Kaletsky:
Oscar Wilde described marriage as the triumph of hope over experience. In finance and geopolitics, by contrast, experience must always prevail over hope, and realism over wishful thinking.
A grim case in point is the confrontation between Russia and the West in Ukraine. What makes this conflict so dangerous is that U.S. and EU policy seems to be motivated entirely by hope and wishful thinking. Hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin will “see sense” -- or at least be deterred by the threat of sanctions to Russia’s economic interests and the personal wealth of his oligarch friends. Wishful thinking about “democracy and freedom” inevitably overcoming dictatorship and military bullying.
Foreign ministerial talks in Paris yesterday made little progress on Ukraine. Russia rejected Western demands that its forces in Crimea should return to their bases and its foreign minister refused to recognise his Ukrainian counterpart. Moscow continues to assert that the troops that have seized control of the Black Sea peninsula are not under its command. The West is pushing for international monitors to go in.
Today, at least some of the focus switches to Brussels where EU leaders will hold an emergency summit with a twin agenda of how to help the new government in Kiev and possible sanctions against Russia. On the latter, Europe has appeared more reticent than Washington not least because of its deep financial and energy ties, none more so than Germany and Britain.
from The Great Debate:
As the crisis in Ukraine escalates, boardrooms and senior management teams worldwide are now likely talking about the problems of doing business in conflict zones. These regions test the boundaries of risk tolerance.
Any multinational corporation involved in and around Ukraine and Russia must be feeling the impact. Companies such as Italian group Eni and France's EDF, which signed an offshore oil and gas production-sharing agreement with Ukraine in November, are likely to be monitoring developments. So, too, are Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell, which signed shale gas deals with Ukraine.
from The Great Debate:
The American natural gas revolution has boosted economic competitiveness, and helped reduce U.S. carbon emissions to their lowest levels in 20 years. The question is now whether the United States will leverage this energy bounty to advance its foreign policy goals during the most serious East-West crisis in a generation.
Russian’s intervention in Crimea and looming threats against eastern Ukraine underscore Europe’s energy vulnerability. Roughly 80 percent of Russian exported gas to the EU passes through pipelines in Ukraine, which Moscow has turned off twice in recent years.
The end of Russian military exercises near the Ukrainian border and Vladimir Putin’s statement that force would only be used as a very last resort seemed to have taken some of the tension out of this crisis but the situation remains on a knife edge.
Moscow chose to test fire an intercontinental ballistic missile though Washington said it had been notified of plans to do so before the standoff in Crimea blew up. And there is always the possibility of conflict being triggered inadvertently.
from John Lloyd:
The more or less liberal, democratic, capitalist countries that make up seven of the Group of Eight (G8) have condemned Russia and are discussing boycotting the June G8 meeting in Sochi. There is even talk of expelling Russia from the group.
This western government consensus against Russia’s actions is based on evidence that prompted the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power to say that it is “hard to avoid concluding that Russia does not want peace and does not want a diplomatic solution.”
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.