POLITICO Confidential: Saudi plan to buy World Cup — Can Putin win? — VDL’s climate minefield
The best of POLITICO’s coverage selected by Editor-in-Chief Jamil Anderlini.
By JAMIL ANDERLINI
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The biggest news in Europe this week was the visit of embattled Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to London, Paris and Brussels — a trip that was almost scuppered because of loose lips in the European Parliament.
Watching him speak live from Westminster to a collection of enraptured British worthies made clear his mastery as a performer and his indispensable place at the heart of the Ukrainian cause. The unseemly scramble by French President Macron and others to bask in some of the reflected glory provided a stark contrast.
Given Germany’s foot-dragging and reluctance when it comes to supplying weapons to Kyiv, there was never a question of Zelenskyy heading to Berlin, but Chancellor Olaf Scholz did make the trip to Paris to stand in solidarity with him and Macron. Speaking of which, it seems that a Franco-German alliance is forming against the rest of the EU bloc over the question of state aid following a faltering start to the hoped-for Macron-Scholz bromance.
In the U.K., Liz Truss — the only prime minister in history to be hounded out of office by a lettuce — is back in the limelight and making a lot of noise about how unfairly she was treated and how nothing is really her fault.
In the European Union, the corruption scandal often referred to as Qatargate rolls on and keeps claiming new scalps. Unfortunately, within the Brussels bubble, the thick treacle of complacency and impunity has hardened into rock candy and everyone now says the worst is over. According to most E urocrats I’m speaking to, it’s high time to get back to business as usual, with no real oversight and lots of sanctimonious posturing designed to cover up petty and not-so-petty corruption. Plus ça change!
Given the fact I spent virtually all my adult life living in China, I can’t end the week without mentioning the Chinese spy balloon debacle. I’ve seen lots of low-quality analysis about this, much of it from a totally U.S.-centric perspective.
My take: This is textbook Xi Jinping — making a provocative military gesture immediately before a big bilateral meeting. In this case it was U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned rapprochement trip to Beijing, but in the past it was bilateral meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi or every meeting he has ever had with a Japanese politician.
The intention is to subtly humiliate and discombobulate your opponent as you enter tough negotiations or discussions. From Xi’s perspective, there was little downside to the spy balloon caper — either America would let it float over its most sensitive military installations and thus expose itself as the impotent paper tiger Xi says it is, or Washington would shoot down the balloon and allow Beijing to portray the U.S. as the aggressor but also as overreacting to a comically unthreatening slow-moving balloon.
The best bad option was to shoot it down and so that’s what Biden did. As usual, Xi has won a small tactical victory at the expense of a proper strategic outcome, since Washington is now even more distrustful and wary of Communist Party belligerence than it was before. This is the overriding theme of Xi’s reign. It signals bad news for China and bad news for the world.
That’s all for now. Next week I will be with my family in the Alps.
See you in two weeks!
The secret Saudi plan to buy the World Cup
The football World Cup is not just about sport. The tournament is increasingly about big business and high-stakes geopolitics. In this stunning exclusive, we revealed the jaw-dropping offer from Saudi ruler Mohammed bin Salman to the Greek PM: Join our bid to host the 2030 World Cup and we’ll build all your stadiums for you. The catch? MBS, as he’s known, will want to stage 75 percent of all the matches on Saudi soil. Read the story.
Can Putin win?
This is an expert analysis of a very fluid and opaque situation ahead of what promises to be a defining moment for the war in Ukraine. Will Russia launch a major new offensive — and what effect will that have? Read the story.
The delayed impact of the EU’s wartime sanctions on Russia
This powerful piece of visual storytelling exposed how some EU member countries — led by tiny Slovenia — have more than doubled imports from, and expanded exports to, Russia since Vladimir Putin ordered troops to invade Ukraine nearly a year ago. That’s despite the 10 rounds of sanctions that the EU has imposed to starve the Kremlin’s war machine of funds. Read the story.
Brussels backtracks: EU prepares to quit dirty energy club
Great scoop on the EU abandoning its efforts to reform the Energy Charter Treaty and instead calling for a coordinated exit. We’ve dominated this story over the past several months, landing strong pieces and scoops like this one. Read the story.
What happens to Europe when the balloon goes up?
When is a story about the U.S. shooting down a Chinese spy balloon really about the risks to European security? When you talk to diplomats in Brussels. The spy balloon saga revealed the depth of anxiety in EU governments that American support for the Ukraine war may be more fragile than it seems. If Washington is suddenly obsessing over the threat from China, will U.S. lawmakers start to forget about Russia’s war in Ukraine? And will the White House make a more concerted attempt to build an anti-China alliance, making it harder for Europe to protect its trade with Beijing by sitting on the fence? Read the story.
Ursula von der Leyen’s climate vision is now an existential minefield
An excellent piece that takes in the big picture of Europe’s race to catch up to the U.S. on green subsidies and zeroes in on the leader who’s supposed to make it all happen. Read the story.
Elon Musk goes to war with researchers
What looks like a weird attempt by Twitter to squeeze out a few extra pennies could seriously disrupt efforts to combat misinformation and keep track of trends on the platform, not to mention get Musk into (more) trouble with the EU. Read the story.
YOUR WEEKEND PLAYLIST
EU Confidential: Zelenskyy in Brussels: the worst-kept secret in town — EU leaders on migration
Coming to you during Thursday’s meeting of EU leaders, we discuss Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s (not so) surprise visit to Brussels, as well as other topics on the agenda: migration and Europe’s response to the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act. On the sidelines of the European Council in Brussels, host Suzanne Lynch sits down with POLITICO’s Clea Caulcutt, Barbara Moens and Jacopo Barigazzi to analyze the impact of Zelenskyy’s visit to Brussels, which became the source of controversy after the news of his trip was leaked earlier in the week. The group also discusses the EU’s attempts to make progress on its migration policy, as well as the bloc’s plan to make Europe more competitive. Listen to the episode.
Westminster Insider is on a break, but our episodes are not time-sensitive: Have a listen to our catalog here or via the links below.
Bad news for anyone who thought they’d heard the last of Liz Truss, last seen being outlasted by a lettuce. Declassified has more.
“Thanks for doing this, Mr. President, it should sell for a fortune on eBay.“
Can you do better? Email [email protected] or on Twitter @pdallisonesque
Last week we gave you this photo:
Thanks for all the entries. Here’s the best from our postbag — there’s no prize except for the gift of laughter, which I think we can all agree is far more valuable than cash or booze.
“This week’s Venn diagram: center left and center right trying their best to overlap,” by Fred Myers.
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