The Mob, Ukraine and Moscow

Donetsk

From my latest Daily Beast dispatch from Ukraine:

“We have already seen organized crime working hand-in-hand with the Russians in Crimea,” says the prosecutor. In that breakaway Black Sea peninsula, Moscow helped install former gangland lieutenant Sergei Aksyonov as prime minister, and his background is well known. Aksyonov and his Russian separatist associates share sordid pasts that mix politics, graft and extortion in equal measure and together they helped steer Crimea into the Russian Federation.

“Why should it surprise you,” the prosecutor in Donetsk asks, “if the same dynamic [as in Crimea] is playing out here? … Maybe there are Russian intelligence agents on the ground, but Moscow through crime networks has an army of hoodlums it can use, too.”

Putin of the Nile

Cairo

“Of all the world leaders out there today, el-Sisi is perhaps the most like the Russian leader, at least if you take into account their personal beginnings and their respective rises through the ranks of power. And these commonalities could give the West some crucial hints about how el-Sisi—who is expected to declare his presidential bid any day now—might run a post-Arab Spring Egypt, one that has already shown a willingness to engage in warmer relations with Moscow.”

Full article here at the Daily Beast.

Would Stubborn UK Inflation Have Anything To Do With High Taxes?

Now why would UK core inflation remain stubbornly high? Anything to do with high income taxes, high business rates and high sales tax and government and local government fees slapped at every twist and turn? Plus government consistently over-paying for staff, services and vendors. What remains amazing is how the British press, including Conservative papers, seldom make the link.

The U.K.’s Consumer Prices Index has remained at 3.1pc for the sixth month running. Obviously there is a connection with higher international commodity prices – for example, cereals have gone up because of wheat price increases partly as a result of this summer’s forest fires in Russia.

But services inflation climbed to its highest rate since February 2009. It is now well above its low of 2.3pc in November. At least the Daily Telegraph noted that there might be a link with the upcoming jump in VAT (national sales tax). It quotes a retail expert, Neil Saunders of Verdict, suggesting that shops are already beginning to increase prices ahead of next year’s VAT increase to 20 percent.