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FirstFT: Europe plans for risk that Russia will cut off gas

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Europe is developing contingency plans in case of a complete breakdown in Russian gas imports, the EU’s energy commissioner said, as she warned that any country was at risk of being cut off by Moscow.

Kadri Simson said the EU was racing to store as much gas as possible and could replace most of Russia’s deliveries this year but would have to do more if there were any “full disruption” of supplies.

The plans being drawn up by the European Commission would include measures to ration gas supplies to industry while sparing households, according to people familiar with the proposals.

Russian state-owned gas supplier Gazprom has already cut gas supplies to Poland, Bulgaria and Finland for refusing to comply with a Kremlin decree to pay their bills in roubles instead of euros or dollars.

“We are facing a situation that any member state might be the next one [to be cut off],” Simson said in an interview. “This year if there will be full disruption, we are preparing contingency plans.”

Thanks for reading FirstFT Europe/Africa. Here’s the rest of the day’s news.

The latest on the war in Ukraine

  • Military briefing: Ukraine’s forces have proved to be agile, giving leeway to company and platoon commanders to shape tactics on the ground.

  • Russian economy: Russia’s central bank cut its main policy rate to 11 per cent from 14 per cent. The rouble’s ascent not only belies a struggling economy, but lowers the local currency value of dollar-denominated oil and gas revenues.

  • Opinion: Using seized Russian assets to rebuild Ukraine makes for rousing rhetoric — and is causing private angst among many of the Davos corporate and financial elite, Gillian Tett writes.

  • The FT View: A ban on Russian imports should remain the priority, but an interim measure to stem Moscow’s profits from energy sales — a punitive EU tariff on Russian oil, proposed by the US and others — is worth examining.

Line chart of roubles per dollar showing Russian rouble rebounds sharply from post-invasion low

1. Sunak engages in ‘serious redistribution’ to help UK’s poorest Stung by criticism of his Spring Statement, Rishi Sunak has engaged in some “serious redistribution from rich to poor” in his latest measures to address the cost of living crisis, analysts say. The Financial Times examines how the new support will help different households.

2. North Sea operators warn of reduced investment and output Oil and gas operators reacted with dismay after the UK outlined a multiyear raid on profits, with some warning they would review commitments to the North Sea after the government announced a windfall tax that could remain in place until the end of 2025.

3. JD Sports reassures investors after longtime boss’s sudden exit The unexpected departure of executive chair Peter Cowgill from JD Sports was because of disagreements about governance and succession and was not connected to the delay in publishing its annual results, the UK retailer told investors yesterday, adding there was no suggestion of impropriety.

4. EY plans global audit spin-off EY is working on a split of its audit and advisory operations worldwide in the biggest shake-up of a Big Four accounting firm in two decades, according to people with knowledge of the plans. This audit-focused firm would retain experts in areas such as tax to support company audits.

5. US says China is greatest threat to international order Despite Russia’s war in Ukraine, US secretary of state Antony Blinken said China is the most serious threat to global stability, accusing Beijing of becoming “more repressive at home and more aggressive abroad”. Washington plans to counter China but is “not looking for . . . a new cold war”.

  • More on China: Beijing is promoting its Global Security Initiative, an alternative security order based on principles such as non-interference and grudges against US “hegemonism”.

The day ahead

Economic data France will release first-quarter preliminary employment figures and final gross domestic product data for the same period.

Nato The Nato parliamentary assembly’s spring session begins today in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Events The MCM London Comic Con opens at the ExCeL conference centre in London.

What else we’re reading

A generation locked in the UK’s savings crisis Many young Britons have a looming sense of financial unease, as the cost of living crisis makes it harder to manage money from one month to the next, let alone to save for the future. The goals that previous generations took for granted — a home and a secure pension — seem out of reach.

Africa’s fastest-growing companies Technology, fintech and agricultural commodities are where some of the fastest-growing companies in Africa operate and investors are taking note. In its first ranking of African companies, the FT worked with data company Statista to provide a snapshot of the corporate landscape on the continent.

Geetanjali Shree and Daisy Rockwell win historic Booker Geetanjali Shree has been announced as the winner of the 2022 International Booker Prize for her sprawling and multi-faceted novel Tomb of Sand. The book, translated from Hindi by Daisy Rockwell, who takes an equal share of the £50,000 award, is the first in any Indian language to win the prize.

Daisy Rockwell, left, and Geetanjali Shree
Daisy Rockwell, left, and Geetanjali Shree celebrate their win © Andrew Fosker/Seconds Left

Apple raises pay on rising inflation and labour competitiveness The iPhone maker will increase pay in an effort to deal with unionisation efforts, inflationary pressures and an increasingly tight labour market. The new minimum of $22 per hour for US retail workers is up 45 per cent from 2018. Apple also plans to increase employee pay outside the US.

Crypto and sports bet on winning combination to woo fans When Crypto.com stamped its name on Los Angeles’s main sports arena, the exchange’s boss Kris Marszalek said the $700mn deal marked cryptocurrencies’ move into the mainstream. Six months later, exuberance over virtual assets has waned, but the love affair between sport and crypto appears to be a perfect match.

Film

What Tom Cruise’s new movie says about American power Top Gun: Maverick arrived in cinemas this week with impeccable geopolitical timing, just as US president Joe Biden reassured Asia-Pacific partners about Washington’s commitment. What better moment for a display of vulgar American soft power, offering a clear vision of US military prowess?

  • Review: Tom Cruise is back in the cockpit 36 years after Top Gun burst on to cinema screens. “The storytelling . . . reminds you of the best version of old Hollywood,” writes FT film critic Danny Leigh.

Tom Cruise as Pete Mitchell
Tom Cruise’s Pete Mitchell is recalled to coach young pilots in ‘Top Gun: Maverick’ © Scott Garfield/Paramount Pictures

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