FirstFT: Western pleas on Ukraine fail to sway African and South American leaders



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Western leaders used the important Munich Security Conference over the weekend to make the case that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine posed a threat not just to Europe but to the whole world. But there was little evidence their message got through.

US vice-president Kamala Harris said “no nation is safe” in a world where “one country can violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of another”, a message echoed by German chancellor Olaf Scholz. French president Emmanuel Macron similarly said the “neocolonial, imperialist” Russian invasion was not “only a European war”.

But their efforts met with familiar retorts from African and South American nations frustrated that the war, which on Friday will enter its second year, was consuming the time, money and attention of the west at the expense of other pressing problems.

“We cannot keep talking only of war,” Brazilian foreign minister Mauro Vieira said, while Colombian vice-president Francia Márquez said she wanted Europe’s help to tackle climate change, not “go on discussing” the war’s outcome. Namibian prime minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila said money used for weapons could be better used to “promote development in Ukraine, in Africa, in Asia, in the EU”.

On the sidelines of the Munich meeting, Poland’s president Andrzej Duda called on Nato powers to give postwar security guarantees to Ukraine. He told the Financial Times that it “would be important” for Ukraine and the morale of its soldiers by underscoring “this feeling that Nato stands with them”.

Also at the Munich conference:

  • Nordic Nato bid: Sweden’s prime minister said the alliance should not delink its membership bid from Finland’s in response to Turkish obstruction.

  • US warns China: Secretary of state Antony Blinken stressed that lethal aid for Russia would have “serious consequences” for US-China relations.

  • Peace proposal: Western leaders reacted with scepticism over China’s plan for a proposal to end the war in Ukraine based on “the sovereignty of all countries”.

1. World Bank members split on reforms Developing nations have warned against reforms at the World Bank that would imperil its triple-A credit rating and increase funding costs after Trump appointee David Malpass’s early departure. Shareholders and economists have argued the bank could provide more climate finance by expanding its balance sheet and taking on more risk.

2. Meta to launch subscription service For up to $14.99 a month, Facebook and Instagram users can get a verification badge, direct access to customer support and extra impersonation protection, Meta chief Mark Zuckerberg announced yesterday. Called Meta Verified, the new service will be rolled out first in Australia and New Zealand this week.

3. Sunak hopes to seal N Ireland deal soon The UK prime minister is pressing to seal a deal with the EU on post-Brexit Northern Ireland trade rules as early as tomorrow, rejecting calls from Boris Johnson to take a more confrontational approach. Rishi Sunak’s officials held talks with their Brussels counterparts yesterday on how to give Northern Ireland politicians a say in the application of EU law.

4. Ireland’s economic growth is ‘real’ Ireland’s central bank governor Gabriel Makhlouf defended the country’s runaway economic growth, forecast to be 12.2 per cent last year, against claims that it was an artificial product of big US companies taking advantage of Dublin’s low taxes. The country’s 3.5 per cent quarter-on-quarter growth has single-handedly prevented the eurozone economy from stagnating.

Line chart of GDP growth (annual % change) showing Ireland’s economy has outpaced the rest of the EU

5. Scottish business leaders call for reset Scotland’s government should use the exit of first minister Nicola Sturgeon as a chance to reset its troubled relationship with business, said Benny Higgins, an influential former adviser to the Scottish National party administration, underscoring widespread discontent in business circles. “There is a sense that business is way down the list of priorities,” Higgins said.

The day ahead

Economic data The EU has flash consumer confidence data for this month and construction output for December. Rightmove publishes its house price index for the UK.

Presidents’ Day Markets in the US are closed for the federal holiday.

EU meeting The bloc’s foreign affairs council will discuss the war in Ukraine, the crisis in Afghanistan and climate change diplomacy.

Israel legal reform The Knesset will hold the first reading of a contentious bill that aims to curb the powers of the judiciary.

Energy meeting The Spanish International Conference on Renewable Energy begins in Madrid, Spain.

What else we’re reading

Opinion: Britain can learn from Singapore on savings It is now widely agreed that the UK invests too little, which has naturally led to a discussion of how to induce more investment, writes Martin Wolf. Yet how would the extra investment be funded by a country that is even more strikingly short of savings than it is of investment? Singapore’s forced savings policy may provide a model to consider.

Missing Chinese dealmaker casts chill across tech sector The disappearance of Bao Fan, founder of investment bank China Renaissance, has set on edge the country’s vast tech industry that the dealmaker helped build. Bao’s fate is a pivotal test of Beijing’s stance on the sector — a two-year crackdown has already sidelined Alibaba chief Jack Ma, decimated the vast for-profit education industry and hit investments globally.

Orbán expands his grip on Hungary Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s expanding grip on Hungarian society now includes the military-industrial complex. The Orbanisation comes as Nato allies are increasingly alarmed by the prime minister’s ambivalent stance towards Russia and the war in Ukraine, in which Budapest remains an outlier in its continued refusal to send weapons to Kyiv.

Goldman chief prepares to explain himself Earlier this month, David Solomon admitted to mistakes that resulted in deep job cuts at Goldman Sachs. Now, he faces shareholders at the bank’s second-ever investor day at its headquarters in Manhattan. Solomon will try to reassure them that a painful fall in profits in the fourth quarter does not mean Goldman is moving in the wrong direction.

Beyond the balloon: the US-China spy game The Chinese balloon that flew over North America before it was shot down has inspired a range of American responses from anger to humour. But in Washington, it has exacerbated fears that China has stepped up the scale and ambition of state intelligence-gathering, leaving the US struggling to catch up.

Take a break from the news

From the Atlas Mountains to off-grid in the deep south-west, here are five reasons to retreat to Morocco this spring.

Views of the peaks at Olinto Atlas Mountain Retreat
Views of the peaks at Olinto Atlas Mountain Retreat © Ebony Siovhan

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