FirstFT: Zelensky says Ukraine ready to discuss neutrality in talks with Russia

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Ukraine is ready to declare neutrality, abandon its desire to join NATO and pledge not to develop nuclear weapons if Russia withdraws its troops and kyiv receives security guarantees, the President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Zelensky told Russian independent journalists yesterday that kyiv was ready to meet some of Moscow’s demands on the condition that the changes be put to a referendum and third parties promise to protect Ukraine. He said his main goal was to end the war as quickly as possible.

Washington, meanwhile, denied it was seeking to overthrow Vladimir Putin’s regime after Joe Biden appeared to call for the Russian president’s ouster in a speech in Warsaw on Saturday, saying, “For God’s sake , this man cannot stay in power”.

The US president’s increasingly vitriolic descriptions of Putin have raised fears that Washington is losing control of its message. Biden also warned democracies of a “long fight ahead” to protect freedom in Europe.

In other developments:

Are you personally affected by the war in Ukraine? We want to hear from you in this survey. Thank you for reading FirstFT Europe/Africa. Here’s the rest of today’s news – Jennifer.

EU plans to cut dependence on Russian natural gas by two-thirds by end of this year

1. Grant Shapps will ask P&O Ferries to reinstate laid off workers Britain’s Transport Secretary is to tell P&O Ferries to rehire 800 staff it laid off this month as plans to replace them with very low-paid workers will be condemned by a law that will soon ban the practice.

  • Learn more about P&O: One of the operator’s ferries was either shut down last week or ‘unfit to sail’. P&O is also embroiled in a dispute with its pension plan over ship value discrepancies.

2. American companies green light record redemptions A record $319 billion in share buybacks have been authorized this year, according to data from Goldman Sachs, as companies take advantage of recent stock market volatility and reassure investors amid slowing growth.

3. Macquarie buys £4.2bn majority stake in UK gas network The Australian group, the world’s largest infrastructure investor, has agreed to take a majority stake in a critical part of Britain’s gas network and pledged “meaningful” investment to upgrade it to a green economy.

4. Shareholders pressure Credit Suisse over Greensill Credit Suisse shareholders are pressuring the bank not to include a vote at its general meeting that would absolve directors and executives of the scandal, according to people familiar with the discussions.

5. All schools in England will aim for academy status by 2030 English schools will be part of an academy trust or be in the process of joining one as part of the government’s plans to raise standards. A white paper to be published today will ask school leaders to offer at least a 32.5 hour school week by September 2023, which equates to an 8.45am to 3.15pm learning day.

Summary of coronavirus

  • People simultaneously infected with Covid-19 and flu have double the risk of death, study finds.

  • CourageNatWest’s digital bank for small businesses, has quintupled the number of users since the start of 2021 thanks to start-ups launched during the pandemic.

  • Opinion: Living with the Covid does not mean pretending that it no longer exists, writes Anjana Ahuja.

The day ahead

The European Refugee Plan EU interior ministers will hold an extraordinary meeting in Brussels to discuss Ukrainian and Moldovan refugees. Ukrainian and Russian delegations open three-day talks in Turkey aimed at ending the invasion.

British economy The Treasury committee will question Rishi Sunak and the Office for Budget Responsibility on last week’s spring statement, in which the chancellor cut fuel taxes and raised the national insurance threshold, but ignored calls to a tax on energy companies.

  • Andrew Bailey, Governor of the Bank of England, will also join Guntram Wolff, Director of Bruegel, to discuss “macroeconomic and financial stability”.

What else we read

Finland has a war plan If Europe’s worst fears come true and the conflict in Ukraine spreads across the continent, Finland will be ready. For decades, the country has mobilized all levels of society to prepare for the possibility of conflict with its neighbour.

  • Learn more about resistance: As bombs fall and people flee Ukraine, artists express unwavering determination and survival of spirit.

Buffett is back Last week, for the first time in six years, Warren Buffett decided it was time to take a big leap. An $11.6 billion deal to buy the insurer from toymaker Alleghany ended a deal crunch that had raised questions about whether the billionaire investor had the chops to compete with bidders from aggressive private equity.

Is Peru becoming ungovernable? No Peruvian president has made as many cabinet changes in his first year in office as Pedro Castillo – and there are still four months to go. “The word ‘chaos’ no longer seems strong enough to describe the political situation in the country,” notes an expert.

Fertilizer inflation could trigger a food supply crisis Until recently, Russia was the second-largest foreign exporter of fertilizer to the United States, and lack of competition is one of many factors that has caused prices to more than double since last year.

A tractor drives through a field, with green crops on one side and a patch of barren land on the other.

Rana Foroohar: “While U.S. wheat farmers should be in a good position to help cushion some of the pain of agricultural disruptions in Ukraine and Russia, they are worried about another kind of inflation — in the fertilizer” © Matt Kenyon

Battlefield Lessons for the Modern Workplace The brutal militarization of white-collar workers in Ukraine, and the idea of ​​how they could fare against seasoned Russian soldiers, is clearly diminishing. But Pilita Clark wonders: could a military experience improve professional life?

Drink

Smoke is one of the most powerful tools a distiller has to give a whiskey a sense of place. Yet more often than some whiskey makers might admit, that sense of place isn’t quite what it seems.

Distillers turn to local ingredients to energize their malts

Distillers turn to local ingredients to ignite their malts © Photography by Thomas Albdorf, set design by Tina Hausmann

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