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Pro-Moscow protesters in eastern Ukraine took up arms in one city and declared a separatist republic in another yesterday and the new build-up of tensions continues this morning.
The Kiev government has launched what it calls “anti-terrorist” operations in the eastern city of Kharkiv and arrested about 70 separatists. Moscow has responded by demanding Kiev stop massing military forces in the south-east of the country.
Russia’s own forces remain massed just over the border and Ukrainian President Oleksander Turchinov said Moscow was attempting to repeat "the Crimea scenario”.
Washington has warned Vladimir Putin against moving "overtly or covertly" into eastern Ukraine and said there was strong evidence that pro-Russian demonstrators in the region were being paid.
from Hugo Dixon:
Spain’s recovery is clouded by politics. Mariano Rajoy has achieved a lot in the two years that he has been prime minister. Growth has finally returned; even unemployment is falling. But as Spain enters a new electoral cycle, the appetite for reform is waning. What’s more, there is a big question mark about what will happen after the next election, which has to be held by March 2016.
Rajoy cannot claim the lion’s share of the credit for Spain’s economic turnaround. That belongs to Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank, whose “do whatever it takes” speech in mid-2012 marked the beginning of the end of the euro crisis.
It’s ECB day and the general belief is that it won’t do anything despite inflation dropping to 0.5 percent in March, chalking up its sixth successive month in the European Central Bank’s “danger zone” below 1 percent.
The reasons? Policymakers expect inflation to rise in April for a variety of reasons, one being that this year's late Easter has delayed the impact of rising travel and hotel prices at a time when many Europeans take a holiday. Depressed food prices might also start to rise before long.
By Neil Unmack and Fiona Maharg-Bravo
The authors are Reuters Breakingviews columnists. The opinions expressed are their own.
The euro zone periphery trade is running out of gas. Investors keen on a recovery story have been piling into assets in Spain, Italy, Portugal and Greece for over 18 months now. But some periphery assets are looking expensive. Further gains need two tricky conditions to be satisfied.
Russian troops seized two Ukrainian naval bases, including a headquarters in Sevastopol where they raised their flag. Moscow, continuing to insist it does not control the unbadged militia in Crimea, called for a detained Ukrainian navy commander to be freed, which has now happened. Make of that what you will.
Washington is keeping up the rhetorical pressure. Vice President Joe Biden, in Lithuania, said Russia was travelling a “dark path” to political and economic isolation. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is travelling to Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other senior officials. He will move on to Kiev on Friday.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet in London, a last chance by the look of it to make diplomatic headway before Sunday’s Crimean referendum on joining Russia which the West says is illegal.
Kerry said he would present “a series of options that are appropriate in order to try to respect the people of Ukraine, international law, and the interests of all concerned” and that sanctions would be imposed against Moscow if the referendum went ahead.
The European Union, as we exclusively reported yesterday, has agreed on a framework for sanctions against Russia, including travel restrictions and asset freezes, which goes further than many expected. The list of targeted individuals is still being worked on but will be ready for the bloc’s foreign ministers to look at on Monday.
Angela Merkel will speak to the German Bundestag about the standoff with Russia. Merkel has been cautious about imposing anything too tough as she tries to convince Vladimir Putin to agree to a "contact group" that would reopen communications between Moscow and Kiev. But yesterday she said measures would be imposed next week – after a Crimean referendum on joining Russia which the West says is illegal - unless diplomatic progress is made.
If the hastily drawn up timetable is adhered to an interim Ukrainian government will be formed today. Whatever the line-up, it is likely to repeat its urgent call for aid.
The West, led by the EU, is trying to drum up support – Brussels has already talked with Japan, China, Canada, Turkey and the United States on possible help -- but the signals are that big money will only flow after May 25 elections when a permanent government is in place. Can it wait that long? The IMF adds that conditions it imposed on a previous loan offer would still apply, strings that it would be tough for any government in Kiev to meet.
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.
Dramatic twist in the Ukraine saga last night with a conversation between a State Department official and the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine posted on YouTube which appeared to show the official, Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, deliberating on the make-up of the next government in Kiev.
That led to a furious tit-for-tat with Moscow accusing Washington of planning a coup and the United States in turn saying Russia had leaked the video, which carried subtitles in Russian. A Kremlin aide said Moscow might block U.S. "interference" in Kiev.