FirstFT: US damps hopes for diplomatic solution to Ukraine crisis

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The US damped hopes that Moscow wanted to find a diplomatic route out of the Ukraine crisis as officials warned that Russia’s military had continued this week to ramp up plans for an invasion of its neighbour.

Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, raised expectations yesterday that the stand-off might be resolved peacefully when he said Moscow was prepared to keep talking to the west about its security concerns and that there could still be a “way forward” in negotiations with the west.

But officials in Washington said the comments, which were made in a televised meeting with Vladimir Putin, were at odds with advancing military preparations for an assault.

US president Joe Biden and UK prime minister Boris Johnson agreed on a call that “there remained a crucial window for diplomacy and for Russia to step back from its threats towards Ukraine”.

Olaf Scholz, Germany’s chancellor, who is due to speak with Putin today after meeting with his counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky yesterday, stressed that Ukrainian membership of Nato was “not on the agenda”, a potential attempt to assuage Russia’s security concerns. Scholz should go into the meeting with clear goals and messages, writes our editorial board.

  • Markets reaction: US and European stocks fell in volatile trading as investors were spooked by fears of an imminent Russian attack.

Share your thoughts on the Ukraine-Russia conflict with me at [email protected]. I may feature them in a future edition of the newsletter. Thanks for reading FirstFT Europe/Africa — Jennifer

1. Buyout firms’ pay ‘dwarfs’ investment bankers Top private equity firms set aside more than twice as much to pay each employee last month — $2mn including benefits — than leading investment banks, according to calculations by the Financial Times, underscoring a shift towards the less regulated corner of Wall Street.

“It’s a different landscape than five or 10 years ago, when the banks were rocking and rolling” — Alan Johnson, Johnson Associates

2. TikTok poaches Big Tech content moderators The short-form video app owned by China’s ByteDance has poached hundreds of content moderators in Europe from outsourcing companies that serve social media rivals such as Facebook, as it seeks to tackle harmful content.

  • More on social media: Texas is suing Facebook parent Meta for billions of dollars, accusing it of harvesting and exploiting citizens’ biometric data through its since-shuttered facial recognition system without proper consent.

3. Ex-Goldman banker accused of pocketing millions in 1MDB scandal US prosecutors accused Roger Ng, a former Goldman Sachs managing director, of pocketing millions in kickbacks from the multibillion-dollar 1MDB scandal, as his criminal trial got under way in New York yesterday. Ng, who has pleaded not guilty, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted.

4. BlockFi to pay $100mn penalty over interest-bearing accounts US regulators have taken their first enforcement action on cryptocurrency lending, agreeing $100mn in settlements with platform BlockFi for offering interest-bearing accounts without registering them as securities.

  • Opinion: The proliferation of technologies around digital currencies calls for better cross-border regulation, writes Eswar Prasad, a professor at Cornell.

5. UK population changes boost public finances Ministers will be under far less pressure to raise taxes in the coming years to pay for the costs of the country’s ageing population because of falling birth rates, declining life expectancy and rising immigration, according to FT research.

Coronavirus digest

  • Scotland’s cautious pandemic policy had an effect on public behaviour last year but it did not stop death rates climbing above England’s, FT analysis shows.

  • Almost £1.4bn of cheap debt issued by the Bank of England to help big UK companies survive has not been repaid, with the scheme to close next month.

  • US growth and stimulus measures drove record remittances to Mexico and northern Central American countries last year, rising more than 25 per cent.

  • In Hong Kong, thousands of Covid-19 patients are waiting to be admitted to the hospital. French spirits maker Pernod Ricard has asked top executives to temporarily relocate outside the city as authorities tighten restrictions.

  • The Canadian province of Ontario will end its proof of inoculation requirement at public venues, while Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has invoked emergency powers to quell anti-vaccine mandate demonstrations.

The day ahead

GDP data The EU, Poland and Hungary publish fourth-quarter gross domestic product figures. The bloc also has employment data and December goods trade figures.

Dubai trade talks Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, will speak with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the UAE’s de facto ruler, on the sidelines of the Expo 2020 world fair about doubling bilateral trade.

Corporate earnings Accommodation specialist Airbnb, games platform Roblox and entertainment group ViacomCBS report quarterly results. Miner Glencore delivers preliminary annual results.

Beny Steinmetz-Vale judgment A final judgment will be delivered at the High Court in London in the legal fight between the billionaire and Brazilian miner over a failed iron ore joint venture in Guinea.

What else we’re reading

Emerging markets: all risk and few rewards? The difference between the pace of growth in developing and advanced economies is set to narrow to its lowest level this century, raising a problem for emerging market investors who seek greater yields and markedly quicker growth. Is it still worth it?

You are seeing a snapshot of an interactive graphic. This is most likely due to being offline or JavaScript being disabled in your browser.

French election polls The country will vote over two rounds in April on whether to give President Emmanuel Macron a second five-year term or entrust a different candidate with leadership, in an unpredictable election that could mark a shift to the right in French politics. View our tracker here.

Keeping asylum seekers in limbo is bad for everyone Even as the UK faces labour shortages, there are people who want to work but are banned from doing so: asylum seekers waiting for a decision on their applications. Forcing people to sit idle damages “human capital”, writes Sarah O’Connor.

Poor regional results hit Spain’s centre-right If all had gone to plan, Pablo Casado of the People’s party would have burnished his credentials as Spain’s prime minister-in-waiting this week. Instead, voters instead sent a clear message to the centre-right: if it wants to return to national power, it may have to do so with hard-right rival Vox.

You can’t hide from the jerks at work Are co-workers: a) great because you can bounce ideas as you head to a well-ventilated, sanitised bar for drinks? b) an inevitability to be tolerated? Or c) total jerks? Social psychologist Tessa West’s new book speaks directly to the fear that c) is the only honest answer.


Food is both personal and universal, so River Café owner Ruth Rogers doesn’t have to work hard to get her celebrity subjects to open up on her podcast River Café Table 4 for conversations that are intimate, revealing and real. Read Fiona Sturges’ review here.

Ruth Rogers, chef and owner of the River Café
Ruth Rogers, chef and owner of the River Café, hosts ‘River Café Table 4’

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