FirstFT: US and Russia plan talks for January

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Vladimir Putin said the US and Russia would meet in January in Geneva for talks over Ukraine, which he said were essential to protect Moscow from what he claimed were existential threats from Nato.

Speaking at his annual press conference in Moscow on Thursday, Russia’s president welcomed a “positive reaction” from the US to two sets of draft proposals on European security that the Kremlin published last week, which he said the sides would discuss at bilateral talks early next year.

“Our American partners are telling us they’re ready to start this discussion, these negotiations,” Putin said. “Representatives from both sides have been appointed. I hope that this is the way the situation will play out.”

He added: “The ball’s in their court. They need to tell us something in response.”

  • Related read: France, 13 European countries and Canada denounced “the deployment of mercenary troops” linked to Russia in the west African country of Mali as the government there battles Islamist militants who have killed thousands and displaced millions across the Sahel.

Thanks for reading FirstFT Asia. We’re taking a short holiday break and will be back in your inboxes on Tuesday, December 28. Here’s the rest of today’s news — Emily

1. US stocks close at a record high as Omicron fears abate US stocks rose to a record-high close yesterday, marking the third consecutive advance for the $52tn market as promising economic data helped offset fears surrounding the spread of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

2. Intel apologises for banning use of components from Xinjiang The apology was in response to attacks from Chinese nationalist media over the policy. The controversy erupted after the US chipmaker sent a year-end letter to suppliers noting that components made in the north-western Chinese region of Xinjiang should not be used in its semiconductors.

3. Tencent reduces stake in ecommerce group The Shenzhen-based tech conglomerate will begin distributing $16bn of shares in ecommerce group to shareholders from March. It is Tencent’s first big move to unlock the value of its vast investment portfolio as Beijing steps up regulatory scrutiny of the sector.

Tencent’s most valuable stakes

4. Third Point fund chair quits after ‘personal threats’ Steve Bates, a former US equity analyst and JPMorgan executive who had been Third Point’s chair since 2019, has stepped down after he received “personal threats” amid an escalating fight with rebel investors. “Circumstances have rendered his continued service as a director of the company untenable,” a statement from the board said.

5. Europe’s biggest energy users warn on soaring costs Dunkirk’s Alvance, Europe’s largest producer of aluminium, has reduced output by close to 4 per cent since early December, as outages at several nuclear power plants sparked higher electricity prices in France. Zinc producer Nyrstar will mothball a 150,000-tonne-a-year smelter in Auby, northern France, after Christmas because of record power prices.

Coronavirus digest

  • China has locked down 13m people in the city of Xi’an, as the country battles to contain increasingly frequent coronavirus outbreaks that threaten its economic recovery in the run-up to the 2022 Winter Olympics.

  • People infected with the Omicron coronavirus variant were much less likely to be admitted to hospital than those with Delta, according to a study by England’s public health body. Meanwhile, daily Covid-19 infections in the UK have shot up to a record of almost 120,000.

  • Joe Biden has acknowledged that he should have pushed for a bigger national programme to distribute free rapid Covid-19 tests earlier.

  • After producing the first Covid-19 shots, Moderna and BioNTech, with its partner Pfizer, are racing to dethrone established vaccine makers in another big market: flu.

The day ahead

Libya election postponed Libyans were meant to go the polls today, but after the High National Electoral Commission ordered a dissolution of the electoral committees nationwide without naming a final list of candidates, the commission said it was “impossible” to go forward with the planned election. The election board has proposed January 24 as the new date for the poll.

Christmas Eve celebrations Pope Francis will hold “midnight mass” at St Peter’s Basilica (although the ceremony hasn’t been held at midnight since 2009, when Pope Benedict XVI moved it to 10pm). Traditional Christmas Eve midnight mass will also be held at the recorded scene of Jesus Christ’s birth — at the Church of the Nativity on Manger Square in the West Bank town of Bethlehem.

What else we’re reading

Where have weather records been broken this year? The year 2021 has been getting progressively warmer than normal, with global temperatures inching higher than the average with each passing month. The FT is tracking extreme and record-breaking climate events from around the world. Explore our interactive tracker.

Brexit one year on: the impact on the UK economy Brexit’s overall effect on the UK economy and people’s living standards appears to be negative but uncertain, according to economists. The debate has rarely been about whether there would be a hit to growth and living standards, but rather how big a hit.

In Hong Kong, the poor scavenge for cardboard Cheung Yuk-fong, 70, spends her day collecting discarded packaging for re-sale, a growing industry in one of the world’s most unequal cities. She is one of Hong Kong’s “cardboard grannies”, who, in a day’s work, earn up to about HK$60 (US$7.69) — barely enough to buy two meals in a fast-food restaurant in one of the costliest cities in the world.

Jair Bolsonaro turns to the establishment For an outsider who won Brazil’s presidency criticising the traditional political system, to tell an audience of legislators “I feel at home here” as the far-right leader recently did, was a remarkable volte-face. With less than a year to go until the presidential election, the incumbent is on the ropes.

How bad was 2021? Chief foreign affairs columnist Gideon Rachman is joined by colleagues Martin Wolf and Gillian Tett to look back at a year bookended with Donald Trump’s chaotic exit from the White House and Vladimir Putin’s threats against Ukraine, with the ever-present inflation raging throughout.

Food and drink

“We always drink good wine at Christmas, but the only time we’ve opened a really, really good (read: seriously expensive) bottle was last year, when social gatherings were limited to a single household and, for the first time ever, it was just us two,” writes Jancis Robinson on the best time to drink seriously expensive wine.

© Leon Edler

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