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4 March

In the headlines

Russia has been accused of “nuclear terrorism” by President Volodymyr Zelensky, after Vladimir Putin’s troops shelled a Ukrainian nuclear power plant – Europe’s largest – last night. The attack started a fire at the facility, which is now in Russian hands. No “unusual radiation levels” have since been reported, says the FT. Putin plans to occupy “the whole of Ukraine”, says a French official, after Emmanuel Macron spoke to the Russian leader for 90 minutes yesterday. “The worst is yet to come.” Zelensky has survived at least three assassination attempts in the past week. Ukrainian officials say the plots were orchestrated by the Moscow-backed Wagner Group and the Chechen special forces, and were foiled with the help of intelligence from Russian spies opposed to the invasion.

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Vladimir Putin

Putin has united Europe against him

Until a week ago things were going as well as Vladimir Putin could have hoped for, says Fraser Nelson in The Daily Telegraph. Nato seemed a relic; the queue of world leaders waiting to sit at the end of Putin’s long table appeared to show where power lay. “Now things have changed – and changed utterly.” Europe, not just the EU, is uniting. Norway’s sovereign wealth fund, the world’s largest, is selling its stakes in Russian companies. Not long ago, Britain was the only country sending weapons to Ukraine. Now, 20 nations are doing so, including Sweden, which “hasn’t sent arms to a war zone in 80 years”.

Angela Merkel

Merkel’s legacy is in ruins

One of the many things destroyed in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has been Angela Merkel’s reputation, says Iain Martin in The Times. The former German chancellor was feted by her fellow Western leaders when she stood down last year. Barack Obama said the “entire world” owed her a debt of gratitude; Charles Michel, President of the European Council, said EU meetings without her would be like “Paris without the Eiffel Tower”. The consensus was that she was “a geopolitical genius, the grown-up leader of a grown-up country”. Yet it was Merkel’s “epic delusion” about Russia that helped embolden Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine.

On the money

“When dodgy Russian money evaporates” from London, says Bagehot in The Economist, “dodgy money from other sources will replace it.” Cash from Nigeria and Azerbaijan already “sloshes around the City”, and Britain has had few qualms about Saudi Arabia buying up assets like Newcastle United. Of the now-axed “golden visas” dished out to wealthy foreigners since 2008, Russians made up a fifth. “Chinese citizens accounted for a third.”


Roman Sahradyan has set the Guinness World Record for the most pull-ups performed in one minute from a flying helicopter – 23. The Armenian athlete has form with these kinds of stunts: in 2011, he swung himself all the way around a horizontal gymnastics bar 1,001 times in a row. It took nearly half an hour.

Eating in

Avocados have become such big business in Mexico that crime cartels are fighting a “bloody turf war” for control of production, says Jeffrey Miller in The Conversation. The US – where avocado consumption per head ballooned from 2lbs per year in 2001 to nearly 8lbs in 2018 – gets 80% of its supplies from its southern neighbour. The American government recently banned imports for eight days after one of its food inspectors was threatened for refusing to certify a shipment. There have even been reports of cartels attacking rival avocado operations by “using drones to drop bombs”.

Inside politics

Before she was foreign secretary, Liz Truss once told me she found diplomacy “really boring”, says former cabinet minister Rory Stewart in his podcast The Rest is Politics. “I can’t understand why you’re obsessed with foreign affairs,” she told him. Truss has at least found one aspect of the job she can enjoy, says Stewart’s co-host, Alastair Campbell – posting pictures on Instagram.


Ukrainians have been defacing road signs to confuse the Russians, says eastern Europe expert Sergej Sumlenny on Twitter. And they’re “doing it with Ukrainian humour”. One sign (pictured above) now has three destinations: “The Hague”, “The Hague” and “The Hague”.


It’s an M&S Monet. The painting, Autumn at Jeufosse, has turned up in Marks & Spencer’s archive and is now on display at the University of Leeds. If authenticated as a true Monet, the previously unrecorded work will be a “major rediscovery”, says The Art Newspaper. It was bought in 1937 by Simon Marks, who founded M&S in 1894 with Thomas Spencer, then hung in the entrance hall of Marks’s house on London’s Grosvenor Square. After he and his wife died, it was given to the family firm.


quoted 4.3.22

“Fashions come and go; bad taste is timeless.”

Regency dandy Beau Brummell