UPDATE: EU is suggesting it will help Ukraine pay its $2bn Russian gas bill (to keep its spice flowing)
The question many are asking this morning is what is the iron-first of Putin thinking? With his "military exercise" over, does he believe it enough to have shown the world his potential for disruption? We suspect another reason may have been weighing on his mind. As we noted previously, Europe accounts for around a third of Gazprom's total gas sales, and around half of Russia's total budget revenue comes from oil and gas... and whatever Putin's geo-political ambitions, we suspect he did not want to jeopardize that source of revenue - no matter how much sabre-rattling and Gazprom-fear-mongering. As the following chart shows, Europe should be sighing a huge relief this morning - but remain cognizant that this, we suspect, is far from over.
Futures are soaring and are just shy of their record high first following news that the Russian military drill has ended, even if Russian troops stationed in the Crimea remain, but more importantly driven by a just completed press conference by Vladimir Putin in his residence outside of Moscow, in which the Russian leader appears to have softened his stance on Crimean aggression, saying he does not consider adding Crimea to its territory. What the market is focusing on is the repeat of Putin's stance that he will not be sending troops to the Crimea yet (even though they are there already), and that he suddenly appears concerned about the impact on markets and the fallout from sanctions.
We had previously warned that Putin's "trump card" had yet to be played and with Obama (and a quickly dropping list of allies) preparing economic sanctions (given their limited escalation options otherwise), it was only a matter of time before the pressure was once again applied from the Russian side. As ITAR-TASS reports, Russia's Gazprom warned that not only could it cancel its "supply discount" as Ukraine's overdue payments reached $1.5 billion but that "simmering political tensions in Ukraine, that are aggravated by inadequate economic conditions, may cause disruptions of gas supplies to Europe." And with that one sentence, Europe will awaken to grave concerns over Russia's next steps should sanctions be applied.
Russia’s seizure of Crimea is the most naked example of peacetime aggression that Europe has witnessed since Nazi Germany invaded the Sudetenland in 1938. It may be fashionable to belittle the “lessons of Munich,” when Neville Chamberlain and Édouard Daladier appeased Hitler, deferring to his claims on Czechoslovakia. But if the West acquiesces to Crimea’s annexation – the second time Russian President Vladimir Putin has stolen territory from a sovereign state, following Russia’s seizure of Georgia’s Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions in 2008 – today’s democratic leaders will surely regret their inaction. When Chamberlain returned from Munich, Winston Churchill said, “You were given the choice between war and dishonor. You chose dishonor and you will have war.” Obama and other Western leaders face a similar choice. And if they choose dishonor, one can be certain that an undeterred Putin will eventually give them more war.
The Big Picture: The U.S. and NATO Have Been Trying to Encircle Russia Militarily Since 1991
Having explained the Ukraine "situation" in one map, it appears the inter-connectedness of Ukraine and Russia is becoming any increasingly problematic part of the current crisis. As Reuters reports, absent Russian gas, Ukraine's natural gas stocks can meet just 4 months of demand. The modest silver-lining is that the stocks are generally in the west of the country (away from potential Russian intervention) but it bears noting that Ukraine meets around half its gas demand through Russian imports (and Russia has cut supplies in the past). The situatio is not just energy though as Bloomberg notes, that Ukraine relies on Russia for about 30 percent of its global trade activity, compared with Russia’s 6 percent dependency on Ukraine. However, Ukraine has another big problem - while it would like $3bn in IMF loans, that will not even cover interest and principal payments through June...
As the big questions surrounding the future of the Ukraine crisis persist, the countries neighboring the former communist nation, and especially the Baltic states which are members of NATO, are asking for safeguards should Russian ambitions end up just a little too big to be contained solely by the Ukraine. As a result, the WSJ reports, they are considering calling for a greater North Atlantic Treaty Organization presence in their countries “if the situation gets worse” in the Ukraine, Ojars Kalnins, the chairman of the foreign-affairs committee of the Latvian parliament, said Monday. Mr. Kalnins said that a worsening of the Ukraine crisis “such as an outright invasion” of areas outside Crimea would present a threat to all of Russia’s neighbors, including the Baltic states–which are members of NATO. Such an expanded conflict should be reason for NATO to “bring extra military support to the Baltic region as a safeguard.”
Catherine Ashton, senior representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy has announced an "extraordinary" press conference...
While the FT promptly retracted an article on precisely the topic of gold manipulation from earlier this week (recorded for posterity here), Bloomberg appears to not have had the same "editorial" concerns and pressures, and today released an article once again slamming the final conspiracy theory that while every other asset class is manipulated, gold is in a pristine class of its own, untouched by close-banging, price fixing traders or central bankers, and reports that "the London gold fix, the benchmark used by miners, jewelers and central banks to value the metal, may have been manipulated for a decade by the banks setting it, researchers say." And the punchline: "Large price moves during the afternoon call were also overwhelmingly in the same direction: down. On days when the authors identified large price moves during the fix, they were downwards at least two-thirds of the time in six different years between 2004 and 2013. In 2010, large moves during the fix were negative 92 percent of the time, the authors found."
- European Bonds Surge on Slowing German Inflation, Ukraine Tumult (BBG)
- Ukraine tensions hit shares (Reuters)
- Debating Geithner’s Appearances in 2008 Transcripts (Hilsenrath)
- Tensions in Asia Stoke Rising Nationalism in Japan (WSJ)
- GM Investigated Over Ignition Recall Linked to 13 Deaths (BBG)
- Smartphone wars shift from gadgetry to price (Reuters)
- Some Companies Alter the Bonus Playbook (WSJ)
- London’s Subterranean Luxury Manors Lure New Breed of Lenders (BBG)
- Japan No Country for Old Farmers as 7-Eleven Takes Plow (BBG)
- Dream of U.S. Oil Independence Slams Against Shale Costs (BBG)
When civilians launched a suicidal attack on an armed force in Kyiv on February 20, their sense of representing “the nation” far outweighed their concern with their individual mortality. The result was to swing a deeply divided society from the verge of civil war to an unprecedented sense of unity. Whether that unity endures will depend on how Europe responds. We hope and trust that Europe under German leadership will rise to the occasion. We must, however, end with a word of caution. A replay of the Cold War would cause immense damage to both Russia and Europe, and most of all to Ukraine, which is situated between them.
PUTIN ORDERS URGENT COMPREHENSIVE CHECKS OF TROOPS' COMBAT READINESS IN WESTERN AND CENTRAL MILITARY DISTRICTS, AND OF AEROSPACE, AIRBORNE TROOPS, LONG-RANGE AND MILITARY TRANSPORT AVIATION - SHOIGU
- Turkish PM says tapes of talk with son a fabrication (Reuters) but opposition confirms authenticity, and national TV carriers cut parliament when played live
- Inside the Showdown Atop Pimco, the World's Biggest Bond Firm (WSJ)
- Ex-Jefferies Trader’s Customers Say Lies Common Tactic (BBG)
- Bitcoin exchange Mt. Gox disappears in blow to virtual currency (Reuters)
- The messenger mania is spreading: SoftBank Said to Seek Stake in Naver’s Line Messaging Unit (BBG)
- Ukraine Replaces Central Bank Head (BBG)
- Yup, an actual headline: Harsh weather tests optimism over U.S. economy (Reuters)
- Hiring of Law Grads Improves for Some (BBG)
- Easy Currency Bet Gets Harder as the Chinese Yuan Tumbles (WSJ)
- In Ukraine turbulence, a lad from Lviv becomes the toast of Kiev (Reuters)
The usual interventionists in the US have long meddled in the internal affairs of Ukraine. In 2004 it was US government money that helped finance the Orange Revolution, as US-funded NGOs favoring one political group over the other were able to change the regime. These same people have not given up on Ukraine. They keep pushing their own agenda for Ukraine behind the scenes, even as they ridicule anyone who claims US involvement. If you asked most Americans how they feel, my bet is that you would discover they are sick and tired of the US government getting involved in every crisis that arises. And I bet if we asked the Ukrainians, a vast majority of them would prefer that the US — and Russia and the European Union — stay out their affairs and respect their sovereignty. So let’s keep our hands off of Ukraine and let them solve their own problems!
The Russians had dangled their multi-billion euro carrot - then swiftly removed it pending further details of who is really running the show (demanding a crackdown on the extremists who are trying to establish power). The Europeans have promised an even bigger carrot - predicated on, we presume, total abdication of sovereignty. But now the Americans are jumping in - Treasury Secretary Jack Lew "urged" Ukraine's interim leader Yatsenyuk to start talks with the IMF as he and Lagarde agreed the fund would be the best foundation for advice and financing (if sought by a fully established Ukrainian government). And the winner is...
- *UKRAINE'S KUBIV PLANS TO INVITE IMF MISSION, UNIAN SAYS
Which means only thing - Russia is locked out and gas prices are about to take off.