Ukraine’s war on two fronts

This is my latest feature piece for IBA Global Insight:

Natural gas pipeline Photo Harald Hoyer Over the past 18 months, Ukraine hit the international headlines time and again as it battled months of widespread demonstrations, bloodshed, the annexation of Crimea, snap elections, the downing of Flight MH17 and a tumbling currency,  the beleaguered hryvnia. The country’s long-running spat with Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom, which has a monopoly over the European gas market, has also been well documented since the feud first began ten years ago.

Ukraine is still largely reliant on gas from Russia and disputes over payments have crippled supply numerous times over the past decade as the two countries continue to come to contractual blows. The pipeline that transits the country also carries around half of Gazprom’s exports to the rest of Europe, meaning that the problems have also been felt much further afield.

Over the years, contracts between Russia and Ukraine have been signed, amended and restructured in an unregulated and often arbitrary way. This finally came to a head last year when Gazprom launched a case against Ukraine’s state-owned gas utility, Naftogaz, in the Arbitration Institute of the Stockholm Chamber of Commerce (SCC), claiming the Ukrainian company owed it billions of dollars in unpaid debts on gas delivered since 2009.

Published on 07-08-15. Read on here

Rule of law ‘critically important’ to BRICS success

Russia will chair the BRICS’ seventh summit in July this yearHere is my latest column for IBA Global Insight:

When it was first coined in 2001, the term ‘BRIC’ seemed little more than a quirky acronym. Since then, the term has quickly become universal shorthand for the emerging markets’ ascent in the global economy.

Brazil, Russia, India and China – and South Africa since it joined the fold in 2010 – have all come a long way since former Goldman Sachs Chief Economist Jim O’Neill first spotted their potential 14 years ago. Despite riding out the global financial crisis remarkably well, the mighty BRICS have not been left completely unscathed. The average growth rate of each country has slipped by more than two percentage points over the past decade.

At a recent IBA conference, From BRICS to MINT… and Beyond!, O’Neill said that China was the only one of the original BRICS that hadn’t disappointed him, clocking an average growth rate so far this decade of eight per cent. Although he acknowledged weaker commodity prices were partly to blame for poorer performances in Brazil and Russia, he maintained his view that rule of law is vital for economic success. If all these countries can ‘succeed in doing all the things that are necessary for rule of law, then they’re going to get somewhere’, he says.

Published on 15-06-15. Read on here

Better together? Ukraine and Russia’s contrasting trade alliances

Ukraine Photo Ivan BanduraHere is my latest column for IBA Global Insight:

After months that have seen widespread demonstrations, bloodshed, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, snap elections and ongoing turmoil in Ukraine, it is easy to forget that it was the decision by former President Viktor Yanukovych to pull out of a much-anticipated trade pact with the European Union that sparked the protests in the first place.

Wind on nine months and the EU has signed an association agreement with Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova. Russia has also forged ahead with expanding its own trade relationships and signed the Eurasian Economic Union (EaEU) with Belarus and Kazakhstan. As the fallout from the tragic downing of flight MH17 over Ukraine on 17 July continues and relations across the EU and beyond become increasingly strained, the question remains: is it always better, together?

Lourdes Catrain, Vice-Chair of the IBA International Trade and Customs Law Committee and director of Hogan Lovells’ European international trade and investment group, believes the June association agreement signed between the EU and Ukraine is a significant step for European trade relations. ‘It’s important to remember that it was the proposed Ukrainian association agreement with the EU that triggered the Russia-Ukraine crisis, and which shows that Ukraine has made a strong bet for the EU,’ she says.

‘The association agreement with the EU shows that at least, a very large part of the population in Ukraine is prepared to follow the EU. Given the size of Ukraine that’s an important message. [Although] Georgia and Moldova have much smaller economies, it’s significant that the three of them have joined what could become a very deep association with the EU.’

Published on 04-08-14. Read on here

Five key takeaways on Russia’s relations with the West

Here’s my latest blog for Huffington Post UK:

After months of fraught relations between Russia and the West which have seen a flurry of tit-for-tat sanctions triggered by the growing unrest in Ukraine, the final straw seemed to come with the suspected downing on 17 July of flight MH17 over Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists.

Under growing international pressure to act, on 29 July the EU finally confirmed it was imposing ‘stage three’ sanctions against Russia. Here are the five key takeaways on Russian relations with the West in recent weeks:

1. Press reaction to MH17 disaster – differing views

Many of the European, American and Asian newspapers led with the story:

Guardian front pageAlthough as UK broadsheet The Guardian was quick to point out, many Russian newspapers relegated news of the accident to the bottom of the page:

Rossiskaya GazetaAlthough pro-Kremlin Russian tabloid Tvoi Den did lead with a more dramatic image, the caption told a startlingly different story: Donetsk People’s Republic Authorities Claim Plane Destroyed by a Ukrainian Buk Missile:

Tvoi Den front pageReflecting the shockwaves felt across the Netherlands, which suffered the most losses, Dutch daily nrc•next was noticeably more reserved: Last night in eastern Ukraine, a plane crashed. On board were 300 people, 154 of them were Dutch:

nrc.nextPublished on 01-08-14. Read on here

Could Sochi provide the thaw that Anglo-Russian relations need?

Sochi Olympics

Here’s my latest blog for Huffington Post UK:

It’s already been over a week of sun, sea and well, some snow in Sochi, but yet more naysayers continue to join the chorus of disapproval over the Russian city’s choice as host for the 2014 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

This time, however, the criticism is not directed at President Vladimir Putin, Sochi or its subtropical climate, but at UK prime minister David Cameron, whose decision to forego the Games has been labelled a “missed opportunity” by International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach.

As with many other world leaders – Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, François Hollande, to name but a few – Cameron opted to shun Sochi and sent culture secretary Maria Miller along to enjoy the action instead.

Although Downing Street has gone to great lengths to deny that Cameron is staging any kind of boycott, Bach clearly is far from convinced. “I always think if you don’t have a dialogue, it’s a missed opportunity,” he told the BBC in an exclusive interview. “A dialogue is always better than talking about each other. It’s always better to talk with each other.”

Published on 16-02-14. Read on here