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Sensemaker: Moscow rules

Sensemaker: Moscow rules

What just happened

Long stories short

  • Holders of bank bonds worth $17 billion were wiped out in a $3.25 billion deal for UBS to buy Credit Suisse (more below).
  • Ma Ying-jeou, Taiwan’s former president, will visit China next week in the first such trip by a current or former leader since 1949.
  • Cloete Murray, a South African accountant who was investigating high-level corruption cases, was shot dead along with his son.

Moscow rules

On Friday the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin for alleged war crimes including abducting children. On Saturday he travelled to Mariupol, the scene of many of those crimes. Yesterday he returned to Moscow to prepare for a three-day state visit by Xi Jinping that starts today. 

So what? Putin made himself the focus of a historic contest between brute force and a rules-based international order when he invaded South Ossetia in 2008. Fourteen years on that contest suddenly has a forum at the ICC – which Putin is determined to show is powerless in the world created by his wars. 

In the short term he will succeed. Longer-term, all bets are off.

  • For now, the arrest warrant is unenforceable and largely symbolic because Russia is not a party to the ICC, though it will serve as a de facto travel ban to the 123 countries that are.
  • That deepens Putin’s international isolation, but he is showing he can travel and grandstand with fellow dictators even so…
  • … as details emerge of his efforts to expand the territory where he can venture without being arrested by rebuilding Soviet-style relationships with Moldavia, Belarus and Georgia as well as Ukraine. 

Redraw the map. Putin’s tour to occupied Mariupol straight after being accused of the illegal deportation of children from there was a typically concise rejection of the ICC and everything it stands for – and not just in Ukraine. 

Moldova. Moldovan investigative journalists have revealed Kremlin plans to control Moldova by 2030 using political, economic and humanitarian levers to distance it from the West, including:

  • counteracting “external actors’ influence”, including that of Nato, the EU, US, Turkey and Ukraine;
  • expanding the electoral base of pro-Russian political forces; 
  • shrinking the use of western currencies in Moldova’s foreign trade;
  • preserving Moldova’s dependence on Russian gas; and
  • growing Russia’s media presence in Moldova, as well as its support for the Russian Orthodox church there. 

“This is the most realistic plan we have seen out of six plans [for] Moldova’s occupation,” the Moldovan journalist Vladimir Tkhoryk tells Tortoise.

Belarus. Meduza reports that a similar plan has been drawn up for Belarus. It aims to align Belarus’s laws with Russia’s, assert control of Belarussian trade, science, politics and culture, boost Russia’s military presence and give Belarusians Russian citizenship. 

In Georgia, the ruling pro-Russian party has tried to adopt legislation based on a Russian template to restrict independent media and NGOs. The project has been shelved – for now – in the face of protests in Tbilisi.

The warrant. The ICC’s bid to arrest Putin and bring him to justice may look quixotic in the context of his revanchism. As long as Putinism lasts he will not be extradited to The Hague and the court doesn’t conduct trials in absentia. But the warrant is far from pointless.

  • The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, cites the precedent of the Serbian dictator  Slobodan Milosevic, who ended up in The Hague’s International Criminal Tribunal for war crimes in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo despite low expectations, after being handed over following a change of regime in Belgrade. 
  • The warrant should be seen as a “first shot” in what could grow into a substantial indictment based on specific crimes for which Ukraine has gathered evidence and which Khan considers prosecutable, Ben Emmerson KC tells Sky News.
  • Russia cannot gain relief from sanctions without compliance with the warrant, says Stephen Rapp, former US ambassador-at-large for war crimes. 

The warrant is historic but late in coming, says Tetiana Pechonchyk of the ZMINA Ukrainian human rights group. “Russia already kidnapped children in occupied Crimea back in 2014 and they were adopted by Russian families. [So] the same crime was committed nine years ago, but there was no reaction from the international community, including the ICC.”

Pechonchyk and others argue that the only hope of justice for Ukraine lies in the establishment of a special tribunal on the Serbian model. That, too, would require Russia to surrender Putin to The Hague. But at least, while the world waits, he is wanted in 123 countries. 


Bank swoon
European bank stocks slid this morning despite the weekend takeover of Credit Suisse by UBS in a deal that valued the bank at $3.25 billion, down 86 per cent in two disastrous years. Like Silicon Valley Bank, Credit Suisse’s failure can be explained by bad management and excessive exposure to rising interest rates. Unlike SVB, Credit Suisse was listed as one of the world’s 30 “systemically important” banks. Translation: too big to fail. Was this a bailout? Absolutely, Mohamed El-Erian, former Pimco CEO, tells Bloomberg. Does it leave UBS as Switzerland’s sole remaining global investment bank and the whole sector holding its breath in the hope that a virtually unlimited credit facility set up by six central banks including the Bank of England will be enough to stop the slide? That too. The immediate lesson of the weekend is that holders of Credit Suisse “alternative tier 1” (AT1) bonds who thought they would take precedence over shareholders as the bank’s value sank were wrong. AT1 bonds were created as high-risk, high-reward debt instruments and the risk came home to roost. The longer-term lesson of the past two weeks is that even the big capital cushions mandated for banks after 2008 aren’t enough to guarantee stability without unconditional guarantees from central banks. 


ByteDance empire
The new essential tool in the TikTokkers’s arsenal? CapCut – a video editing app also owned by TikTok’s parent company, the Chinese-owned ByteDance. In recent weeks, the WSJ reports, CapCut has been downloaded more than TikTok as it becomes the go-to app for producing short-video content – including for sharing on Meta’s apps. As an editing tool, rather than a platform in itself, CapCut is currently avoiding the scrutiny of regulators monitoring TikTok’s data management. But CapCut still collects data on a user’s location and gender as well as their photos and videos (although this is not unusual). The US Justice Department is currently investigating the surveillance of American journalists on TikTok. The UK, Canada and New Zealand have all recently banned use of the app on government phones over cybersecurity concerns. 

The 100-year life health, education AND GOVERNMENT

SNP mess
The Scottish National Party (SNP) is in a “tremendous mess”, says Mike Russell, the party’s president, as Scotland’s dominant political party votes in its first leadership election in 19 years. Peter Murrell, the party’s chief executive since 1999 and husband to outgoing first minister Nicola Sturgeon, resigned abruptly on Saturday after the pro-independence party admitted it had 30,000 fewer members than it claimed at the beginning of the leadership campaign. Two of the three candidates to replace Sturgeon, Kate Forbes and Ash Regan, have also questioned the independence of the election process. Russell said the vote should go ahead – the winner of the vote by SNP members is due to be announced on 27 March – but the party should take an “entirely reset position” under a new leader.

Our planet CLIMATE AND geopolitics

Last stop before oblivion
There is no new science in the latest IPCC synthesis report on the state of the global climate – just a reminder that the planet is approaching irreversible levels of warming, that low-lying island nations face existential threats as a result, and that humanity has very little time to change the way it runs its affairs if Earth is to remain habitable for all. So what’s the point? This is a shorter synthesis of previous IPCC reports, published with an even shorter summary for policymakers, and the hope is that it finally cuts through. Fiame Naomi Mata’afa, prime minister of Samoa, sees a glimmer of hope in the simple fact of a science-based summary agreed by nearly 200 countries. That is not nothing. Nor is it a good sign that publication coincides with a rearguard action by carmakers in Germany to keep making internal combustion engines after 2035. 


Braverman in Rwanda
Suella Braverman lands back in the UK this morning after a weekend trip to Rwanda. The UK home secretary only took a select number of reporters – the Guardian, BBC, Mirror and Independent were not invited – to promote the government’s message that migrants who arrive in the UK illegally – including victims of modern slavery – could be deported to the African country by the summer (and joked that she wanted the details of the interior designer behind homes being built to house migrants). A reminder: since the Rwanda deal was first signed last April, no one has yet been deported (an appeal hearing on its legality is due next month). The government’s new Illegal Migration Bill, which hinges on sending migrants to third countries like Rwanda – and which Braverman admits may break international law – is due back in the Commons next week.  

Thanks for reading. Please tell your friends to sign up, send us ideas and let us know what you think. Email sensemaker@tortoisemedia.com.

Nina Kuryata

Will Brown

Additional reporting by Giles Whittell, Jess Winch and Phoebe Davis.

Photographs Getty Images, PA

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