First Thing: crisis talks in Europe as Russia cuts gas to Poland and Bulgaria


Good morning.

Russia has been accused of seeking to blackmail Europe as the energy company Gazprom confirmed it had halted gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria, prompting crisis talks in capitals across the continent.

In a statement, the Russian supplier said today it acted in response to the failure by the two EU countries to make their payments in roubles. “Gazprom has completely suspended gas supplies to Bulgargaz and PGNiG due to absence of payments in roubles,” a statement issued by the company said.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, condemned the move, saying that fellow EU countries would come to Poland and Bulgaria’s aid. She said: “The announcement by Gazprom that it is unilaterally stopping delivery of gas to customers in Europe is yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail.”

When do experts think the war in Ukraine will be over? Lloyd Austin, the US defense secretary, has said the west is gearing up to help Ukraine for “the long haul” and would take steps to increase rearmament of the embattled country after a meeting of defense ministers in Germany.

What else is happening? Here is what we know on day 63 of the invasion.

Concern over Elon Musk’s Twitter takeover wipes $126bn off Tesla value

Tesla shares dropped 12.2% yesterday. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Investors have wiped $126bn (£100bn) off Tesla’s value amid concern that Elon Musk may have to sell shares in the electric carmaker to fund his personal contribution to his $44bn acquisition of Twitter.

Tesla stock has been targeted despite the company not being involved in the bid. Musk, its chief executive and largest shareholder, is part-funding the Twitter deal with $21bn of his own equity and a further $12.5bn loan secured against his Tesla stake.

The 12.2% drop in Tesla’s shares yesterday equated to a $21bn drop in the value of his Tesla stake, equal to the cash stake he committed to the Twitter deal.

Dan Ives, an analyst at the financial firm Wedbush Securities, said worries about expected stock sales by Musk and the possibility he was becoming distracted by the Twitter venture were weighing on the electric carmaker’s shares. “This [is] causing a bear festival on the name,” he said.

What else is behind the drop? The share fall took place against a backdrop of difficult trading for tech stocks. The Nasdaq closed at its lowest level since December 2020 on Tuesday, as investors worried about slowing global growth and more aggressive rate increases from the US Federal Reserve.

Revealed: top US corporations raising prices for Americans even as profits surge

Guardian analysis has uncovered how companies enriched themselves and their investors while boasting about increasing prices. Composite: The Guardian/Getty Images/Unsplash

As inflation shot to a new peak in March, cost increases exacted a deep toll on the economy, eating into most Americans’ wages and further imperiling those who are financially vulnerable. But for many of the US’s largest companies and their shareholders it has been a very different story, writes Tom Perkins.

One widely accepted narrative holds that companies and consumers are sharing in inflationary pain, but a Guardian analysis of top corporations’ financials and earnings calls shows most are enjoying profit increases even as they pass on costs to customers, many of whom are struggling to afford gas, food, clothing, housing and other basics.

The analysis of Securities and Exchange Commission filings for 100 US corporations found net profits up by a median of 49%, and in some individual cases by as much as 111,000%. Those increases came as companies saddled customers with higher prices and all but 10 carried out large stock buyback programs or bumped dividends to enrich investors.

Economists who reviewed the data say it is more evidence of a clear reality: consumers are taking a financial hit as companies and shareholders profit or are largely shielded.

In other news …

A video still of an intelligence officer in Tadamon, Damascus, during the killing of at least 41 people. Photograph: Guardian video

Researchers have cast an unprecedented light on crimes believed to have been widely committed by Bashar al-Assad’s regime at the height of the Syrian war but always denied, or blamed on rebel groups and jihadists . This is the story of how two academics hunted down a Syrian war criminal.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been sentenced to five years in prison after she was found guilty of corruption by a court in military-controlled Myanmar, the latest in a series of legal cases condemned as an attempt to remove her as a political threat. Myanmar’s former leader, 76, has been detained since a military coup in February last year.

A dramatic drop in Covid-19 testing has left the world blind to the virus’s continuing rampage and its potentially dangerous mutations, the head of the World Health Organization has warned . “When it comes to a deadly virus, ignorance is not bliss,” Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

Leading former diplomats, including seven former UK foreign and defence ministers, have said the Iran nuclear talks are heading to “corrosive stalemate devolving into a cycle of increased nuclear tension” and urged Tehran and Washington to show more flexibility.

Stat of the day: Harvard devotes $100m to closing educational gap caused by slavery

Harvard’s move comes after a report by a 14-member committee on the school and the legacy of slavery. Photograph: Charles Krupa/AP

Harvard University is setting aside $100m for an endowment fund and other measures to close the educational, social and economic gaps that are legacies of slavery and racism, according to an email the university’s president sent to all students, faculty and staff yesterday. The email from Lawrence Bacow, included a link to a 100-page report on Harvard and the legacy of slavery and acknowledged that the elite institution “helped to perpetuate … racial oppression and exploitation”.

Don’t miss this: the software you might not realize is watching you

Bossware – can it tell if you and productive and happy? Illustration: Ben Hickey/The Guardian

Can a company really use computer monitoring tools – known as “bossware” to critics – to tell if you’re productive at work? Or if you’re about to run away to a competitor with proprietary knowledge? Or even, simply, whether you’re happy? Many companies in the US and Europe now appear – controversially – to want to try, spurred on by the enormous shifts in working habits during the pandemic, in which many office jobs moved home and seem set to stay there or become hybrid.

Climate check: parched southern California takes unprecedented step of restricting outdoor watering

Southern California’s new restrictions will limit outdoor watering to just one day a week for millions of peple. Photograph: Frederic J Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Southern California officials declared a water shortage emergency yesterday, and introduced unprecedented restrictions on outdoor watering that will affect millions of people living in Los Angeles, Ventura and San Bernardino counties. Metropolitan water district of southern California’s resolution will limit outdoor watering to just one day a week for district residents supplied by a depleted system of canals, pipelines, reservoirs and hydroelectric power plants.

Last Thing: Sarah Palin faces formidable opponent in Congress run: Santa Claus

Sarah Palin faces competition from Santa Claus. Photograph: Mark Thiesssen/AP

Sarah Palin announced her candidacy for Alaska’s only congressional seat this month, entering a race with dozens of candidates. She certainly brings name recognition to the contest – but another contender may have her beat in that department. His name is Santa Claus. He lives, of course, in North Pole, a town of about 2,000 people in Alaska. He has a big white beard and a kindly manner, and Santa Claus is indeed his legal name, though, as a Bernie Sanders supporter, he does not exploit elf labor. Could his new workshop be in Washington?

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