Quartz Daily Brief—Europe edition—Ukraine-Russia conflict, Pistorius trial, bitcoin in Britain, remote-control brain lasers

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What to watch for today

Yulia meets Putin. Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko is expected to sit down with the Russian president in Moscow, just weeks after she was released from prison. Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers hold an emergency meeting on the situation in Ukraine (see below), and US secretary of state John Kerry is planning a trip to Kiev to offer support to the interim government.

The Oscar Pistorius trial kicks off. The South African sprinter and double-amputee faces premeditated murder charges in the death of his girlfriend, who was killed when Pistorius shot four bullets through his bathroom door in February, 2013. Pistorius says he thought she was a burglar.

Britain ditches its bitcoin tax. The UK tax department is set to repeal its 20% tax on bitcoin transactions (paywall), effectively confirming the digital currency’s status as a negotiable financial instrument. The Bitcoin Foundation is also relocating to London.

A US ruling on the death penalty. The US Supreme Court will clarify its 2002 prohibition against executing mentally disabled people in the case of Freddie Lee Hall, convicted of the 1978 murder of a pregnant woman in Florida.

Over the weekend

Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula fell to Russia after an invasion of about 6,000 troops. Ukraine’s newly-installed government called up military reservists and enlisted the help of billionaire oligarchs as it attempted to head off further Russian encroachment into its eastern provinces.

Russia faced eviction from the G8. France, the UK and the US said they would not attend the G8 summit scheduled to take place in Sochi this summer, and US secretary of state Kerry warned that Russia could be kicked out of the group and face sanctions unless Putin stops his “incredible act of aggression.”

Microsoft’s post-succession shake-up. Tony Bates and Tami Reller, two top executives and erstwhile CEO candidates, are leaving the software maker after Satya Nadella was chosen to replace Steve Ballmer.

China suffered a deadly terrorist attack… A group of Muslim Uighurs slashed their way through a railway station in the region of Kunming, killing at least 29 people and injuring dozens more. The attacks could signal new escalation in tensions between China and its ethnic Uighur minority.

…And its manufacturing slump worsened. A Markit/HSBC survey put February’s purchasing managers’ index at 48.5, the third straight month of declines, in a growing challenge to the government’s ability to reposition the economy.

A boom year for Warren Buffett. Berkshire Hathaway banked record profits of $19.5 billion in 2013—trumping analysts’ estimates of $18 billion. Buffett failed to meet his target of beating the S&P 500—but we don’t really think that matters.

Quartz obsession interlude

Steve LeVine on how Putin surprised everyone by claiming Ukraine. “If Kiev keeps to its independent course, he will possess another spit of territory in a foreign land, perhaps with added strips of eastern Ukraine, as well, if his men keep marching. But he will lose the heartland of Kiev to the West, and perhaps end up in a bloody new guerrilla conflict.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

The Trans-Pacific Partnership should wither and die. The trade treaty would mainly give Big Pharma and Hollywood more power.

Google Doodles should be more diverse. Out of 445 individuals celebrated, 357 were male, 77 were female and only 19 were women of color.

We need a new way of talking about “developed” countries. “Fat” and “lean” (paywall) could do the trick.

Start-up culture isn’t killing the MBA. The hoodie-wearing college-dropout CEO is an anomaly.

Surprising discoveries

Remote controlling brains with lasers. Zapping genetically engineered fruit flies gets them in the mood for love.

Indians are the world’s biggest bookworms. The average citizen reads for 10 hours and 42 minutes per week.

There is such a thing as free money. Cryptocurrency sites are handing out free coins to hook new users.   

Hanging with Mickey Mouse will cost you. A ticket to Disney World costs five times as much as it did in 1970.

GrubHub and Seamless take a hefty cut. A 13.5% commission on online order, and other gems from their IPO prospectus.

Our best wishes for a productive day. Please send any news, comments, fly-zapping lasers and Disney World tickets to You can follow us on Twitter here for updates throughout the day.

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