MacroScope

Nearer the brink

A man walks past cutting boards, that have been painted with images of Russia's President Vladimir Putin, at a street store in the center of St. Petersburg

Ukraine is nearer the brink with Russian forces now pretty clearly operating over the border. The past week has seen Ukrainian forces flee in the path of a new rebel advance which Kiev and its western allies says has been directly aided by Moscow’s forces.

Russian President Vladimir Putin called on Sunday for immediate talks on “statehood” for southern and eastern Ukraine, though his spokesman tried to temper those remarks, that following an aggressive public showing in which Putin compared the Kiev government to Nazis and warned the West not to “mess with us”.

The deputy leader of the breakaway east Ukrainian region said he would take part in talks with representatives of Moscow and Kiev in Minsk today but did not expect a breakthrough. Russian foreign minister Lavrov is out saying the Minsk talks will aim for an immediate ceasefire without conditions although he also said Ukrainian troops must vacate positions from which they can hit civilian targets. Meanwhile, eight Ukrainian seamen have been rescued, two are still missing, after a patrol boat was sunk by artillery.

Despite some vacillation at an EU summit on Saturday, there seems no way that Europe and the United States can avoid tougher sanctions to halt what they say is direct Russian military involvement in Ukraine.

One of the great imponderables of this crisis has been whether economic pain could bring Putin to heel or whether he felt free to act given the zero chance of any military intervention by the West, notwithstanding the call by U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the political divide on Sunday to send arms to Kiev.

Euro zone recovery snuffed out

A BMW logo is seen the wheel of a car in Mexico City

A glut of euro zone GDP data is landing confirming a markedly poor second quarter for the currency area.

The mighty German economy has shrunk by 0.2 percent on the quarter, undercutting the Bundesbank’s forecast of stagnation. Foreign trade and investment were notable weak spots and the signs are they may not improve soon.

France has fared little better, flatlining again in the second quarter. That has forced the French government to confront reality, saying it would miss its deficit target again this year and cutting its 2014 forecast for 1 percent growth in half. There was no mention of the 2015 goal when France’s public deficit is due to come into line with the EU’s 3 percent of GDP cap, but Finance Minister Michel Sapin said Paris would cut its deficit “at an appropriate pace”.

All eyes on Putin

Russia's President Vladimir Putin talks to reporters during a meeting in Brasilia

Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet his top security officials prior to visiting annexed Crimea on Thursday with members of his government.

One way or another, with Ukrainian government forces encircling the main pro-Russian rebel stronghold of Donetsk, matters are coming to a head. Putin must decide whether to up his support for the separatists in east Ukraine or back off.

Tens of thousands of Russian troops remain camped near the Ukraine border and a Russian convoy of trucks carrying tonnes of humanitarian aid is heading for  eastern Ukraine. Kiev says it would not allow the vehicles to cross into its territory and it and Western governments warned Moscow against any attempt to turn the operation into a military intervention by stealth in a region facing a humanitarian crisis after four months of warfare.

Moment of truth in Ukraine

A Ukrainian serviceman guards a checkpoint near Donetsk

Financial markets perked up on Monday after Russia called off military exercises near the Ukraine border but was the confidence well founded?

NATO’s chief told Reuters there was a “high probability” Russia could launch an invasion of Ukraine where the government said it was in the “final stages” of recapturing Donetsk, the main city held by pro-Russian rebels, a battle that could be a decisive turning point in the biggest confrontation between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

Vladimir Putin must now decide whether to leave the rebels to their fate or step up his support. Thousands of Russian troops are still massed near the border and a Russian convoy of 280 trucks carrying humanitarian aid for Ukraine set off on Tuesday amid Western warnings against using help as a pretext for an invasion.

End game in east Ukraine?

A Ukrainian serviceman sits on a military armoured vehicle near Donetsk

Ukrainian government forces say they are preparing for the final stage of recapturing the city of Donetsk from pro-Russian separatist rebels after shelling its outskirts and making significant gains over the weekend.

The city faces increasing shortages of food, water and electricity. Vladimir Putin must now decide whether to leave the rebels to their fate or step up his support.  Kiev said on Saturday it had headed off an attempt by Russia to send troops into Ukraine under the guise of peacekeepers accompanying a humanitarian convoy sanctioned by the Red Cross. Moscow dismissed the allegation as a “fairy tale”.

On a weekend telephone call, U.S. President Barack Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed that any Russian intervention in Ukraine, even under purported ‘humanitarian’ auspices, without the express authorization of Kiev was unacceptable and would provoke “additional consequences.”

When Mario met Jean-Claude

European Central Bank President Draghi and Eurogroup President -Juncker talk during a news conference in Nicosia, Cyprus

A day before the European Central Bank’s monthly policy meeting, ECB President Mario Draghi will travel to Luxembourg for talks with incoming European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker. Oh to be a fly on the wall.

Some in the ECB are concerned that ultra-low sovereign borrowing costs and Draghi’s “whatever it takes” promise has relieved pressure on euro zone governments to carry on with structural economic reforms.
Juncker has signalled he is comfortable with a Franco-Italian drive to focus on growth and job creation rather than cutting debt.

ECB policymakers would probably be happy with that if it came in tandem with reforms to make euro zone economies more competitive. But it is worried about slippage.

The Scottish question

First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond smiles as he watches a diving event at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Edinburgh

Scottish nationalist leader Alex Salmond and former British finance minister Alistair Darling, who is fronting the campaign to remain part of the United Kingdom, go head-to-head in the first and possibly only live television debate of the campaign. It is a bigger moment for Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, who must garner a shift in the polls which consistently put his “Yes” campaign significantly behind with the referendum only six weeks away.

At the last British general election, Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was widely perceived to have won the leaders’ debates yet it didn’t translate into votes. There are, however, a large number of “don’t knows” to play for in Scotland and Salmond is by common consent the more charismatic figure and slick orator.
During the two-hour debate, Darling is likely to highlight the uncertainty over whether an independent Scotland could retain the pound and automatically be part of the EU and how the nationalists would fund their public spending pledges.

The “No” campaign can also point to the greater devolved powers all the major parties are promising Edinburgh should the Scots vote no. Overnight, Britain’s three main national political parties all said they would seek further powers for Scotland in the event of a “No” vote, in the areas of fiscal responsibility and social security.

A reminder that all is not well in the euro zone

Bank of Portugal Governor Costa arrives to read a statement in Lisbon

A reminder that while the euro zone crisis may be in abeyance, it still has the ability to bite.

Portugal will blow 4.4 billion euros of the 6.4 billion euros left from Lisbon’s recently exited international bailout programme shoring up troubled lender Banco Espirito Santo which will be split into “bad” and “good” banks. Junior bondholders and shareholders will be heavily hit.

BES’s tale of woe is so specific that there is no obvious reason to think it will be replicated. But it is a reminder that bank stress tests later this year could throw up other nasties and more immediately the saga leaves Lisbon short of rescue funds should anything else blow up. The bond market is likely to react adversely. The 4.4 billion euros will come in the form of a state loan to a bank resolution fund which the government insists will be paid back.

EU carve-up

Elected president of the European Commission Juncker is congratulated by European Parliament President Schulz after his election in Strasbourg

EU leaders meet for a summit at which they were supposed to decide who gets which European Commissioner posts – one for each member state – in what will be a huge carve-up, so huge in fact that it may well be that only a very few jobs are decided tonight.

Current best guesses – though they are just guesses – are that despite a willingness among some to play nice with the Brits, Prime Minister David Cameron may lose out again having voted against Juncker at a June summit. He is seeking one of the big economic portfolios; internal market, trade or competition but putting forward a low-profile politician as his point person in Brussels has not that made that any more likely.

Because Juncker, the former Luxembourg premier, is from the centre-right and western Europe, the leaders may look for socialists or women from northern, eastern or southern Europeans for the other two key posts of European Council President and foreign policy chief. Denmark’s Helle Thorning-Schmidt keeps getting mentioned in dispatches for the former though her country is not in the euro zone, while the foreign minister of Italy is the frontrunner for the latter.

Draghi vs Weidmann

draghi.jpg

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi makes a lengthy appearance in the European Parliament in Strasbourg. He will doubtless reassert that the ECB would start printing money if necessary but, as we reported last week, policymakers are fervently hoping they won’t have to and that a raft of measures announced in June will do enough to lift the economy and inflation.

Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann fired another broadside over the weekend, saying rates were too low for Germany and policy should remain expansive for no longer than absolutely necessary.

With less than a week to run to the July 20 deadline for a deal, Iran and the six world powers are miles apart on Tehran’s nuclear programme. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday major differences persist – largely over uranium enrichment —  with Iran and Tehran did not demur.