Here's today's look at some of the top stories on markets and politics in Europe.
Putin rejects Obama proposals as Crimea moves to secede.
Russian President Vladimir Putin had another long, fruitless conversation with U.S. counterpart Barack Obama on Ukraine. This one lasted an hour. It took that long for Obama to explain he wanted Russia to pull out of the Crimea and have direct talks with the new Ukrainian government, and for Putin to say he considered his intervention in Ukraine justified and, in general, not important enough to affect U.S.-Russian relations. Like the EU, which, at a special summit, failed to offer anything in the way of a diplomatic solution or a credible threat of sanctions against Russia, the U.S. continues to demonstrate its impotence in the Ukraine conflict. Meanwhile, Crimea's regional legislature voted to join Russia and then hold a referendum to ask the people about it. The decision runs counter to the region's own constitution, not to mention the Ukrainian one, and there has been no official response from Russia yet. Putin, however, is likely to embrace the separatist region and thumb his nose at the West, as his cronies are doing now as they buy up Russian shares, which took a tumble on news of the secession vote.
Erdogan suggests Facebook and YouTube ban.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested Turkey could ban Facebook and YouTube after the March 30 local elections. "We will not let these companies capture the nation," Erdogan said. This is clearly a response to the leaked recordings of Erdogan's phone conversations, showing he was something less than the dedicated anti-corruption crusader he professed to be. Turkey banned YouTube between 2007 and 2010, but this time Erdogan appears to be talking about a blanket ban on social networks. He has previously called Twitter "a plague." From the point of view of a dictator clinging to power, Erdogan is right: the Internet poses a threat and should be tightly controlled. The question is whether Turkey wants to be ruled by a dictator.
Russia takes over the bank of Putin's Ukrainian critic.
Less than a week after Ukrainian billionaire Ihor Kolomoyskyy called Russian President Vladimir Putin "a schizophrenic shorty" and Putin promptly responded by calling Kolomoyskyy a "crook," Russia's central bank took over the Moscow subsidiary of Kolomoyskyy's Privatbank, the biggest in Ukraine. The subsidiary, Moskomprivatbank, is the 95th-biggest in Russia, and it is not bankrupt or close to bankruptcy -- the usual reasons for the central bank to wade in. Private deposits at Moskomprivatbank have been going down because of the Ukrainian crisis, but not dramatically. "We hope the groundless political pressure on Moskomprivatbank will not turn into economic pressure," Privatbank head Oleksandr Dubilet said in a statement. Too late, it already has. Kolomoyskyy, appointed governor of a region by the anti-Russian government is Kiev, is unlikely to be able to do business in Russia in the current political climate.
ECB keeps rates steady.
The European Central Bank decided to keep its lending and deposit rates unchanged at Thursday's policy meeting, though many analysts expected a small cut. ECB chief Mario Draghi said, as he has many times in recent months, that the ECB is "ready to act as needed," but it's not clear what could motivate it to act if not ultra-low inflation and the strongest euro we have seen so far this year. Though economic numbers, apart from inflation and unemployment, have been encouraging, the strong currency is likely to hurt exports, and so will the Ukraine crisis. Perhaps the ECB, which does not have much space for cutting rates, is waiting for the expected problems to emerge before it makes a move.
Biggest Greek bank to try bond issue.
Greece's biggest bank, Piraeus, is about to attempt a return to capital markets with a $688 million unsecured bond issue and a $2.5 billion share offering. "These actions are meant to send a signal: Greece has turned the corner," Piraeus chief executive Anthimos Thomopoulos said. Greece itself, however, would be hard put to attract that much investment on the open market. Piraeus is betting its effort will be successful because of renewed investor interest in Spanish, Portuguese and Irish banks, until recently also considered toxic. Those, however, are healthier than Greek banks because they have undergone rigorous restructuring efforts and gotten rid of the bulk of their questionable assets. In Greece, stress tests run by Black Rock have shown the big banks need $8.8 billion in fresh capital to absorb future losses on bad loans. International lenders think even that figure is low. Piraeus's gamble is opportunistic, but because investors tend to lump markets with more or less similar characteristics together, it may well pay off.
(Leonid Bershidsky writes on Russia, Europe and technology for Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter at @Bershidsky.)
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