Envoys from Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany convene in Berlin today under the Normandy format: a diplomatic club launched in 2014 on the sidelines of the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. On today’s agenda is the deteriorating security situation in eastern Ukraine and kickstarting the stalled 2015 Minsk agreement. While American officials aren’t invited (and European diplomats have probably had their fill of Donald Trump following his recent tour of the continent), Trump’s newfound interest in the peace plan will doubtless be discussed. After initially signalling that the US would keep its distance from negotiations, the White House now appears keen to play a pivotal role, with secretary of state Rex Tillerson leading the way. The move has been welcomed by European diplomats, though it remains to be seen whether a notably fickle administration will lose interest again.
In late June, Japan will dispatch a team to Russia’s southern Kuril Islands with an urgent mission: look for projects in fisheries, tourism and healthcare that the two countries can jointly invest in. The announcement, by Japan’s foreign minister Fumio Kishida, comes six months after prime minister Shinzo Abe and Russian president Vladimir Putin agreed to move forward with economic projects while they continue to negotiate a peace treaty that would formally end hostilities dating from the Second World War. The two sides have been trying to end a territorial row over the southern Kurils – Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and the Habomai islets – since Soviet troops seized the islands from Japan in 1945. Tokyo is hoping that goodwill can persuade Moscow to hand over control; Kishida said that Russia would allow former Japanese residents to visit the islands. How that and joint economic projects might lead to a peace treaty is still unclear.
With the start of Ramadan last Friday, the Gulf nations shift into a lower gear as family and after-dark feasts take precedence over business. For the world’s big car manufacturers, however, this is the month to get moving: the last few years of cheap oil have taken a deep bite out of retailers’ profits in the once reliably lucrative Gulf market, and Ramadan is typically a time when bigger purchases tend to be made. Sales tend to jump by 25 per cent as dealerships offer discounts and manufacturers roll out philanthropic efforts that chime with the spirit of the season. It may not be enough though: the launch of Nissan’s own “camel-power” index in March, rating the sand-worthiness of its 4x4s, has yet to get the regional market’s wheels turning again.
Head to the Italian capital and the Galleria Lorcan O’Neill for new works by Rachel Whiteread, the British artist with an affinity for architectural light, shade and meaning, faces, façades and things that make you wonder, “Are they monuments?” Very Roman. Whiteread has worked with space and negative space for 30 years: Ghost was an other-worldly cast of a bedsit; House, a similar idea on a larger scale, read as a metaphor for the compulsory-purchase frenzy of Hackney’s ongoing gentrification programme. Her Holocaust memorial in Vienna is stark and moving. Whiteread’s new work uses her trusty concrete alongside resin and papîer-maché to present a beguiling, tactile show that questions materials and history, and asks you to spot the difference between the work and the rather beautiful courtyard gallery space itself.
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