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Quartz Daily Brief—Russian rollercoaster, Chinese growth goals, banana plague, papal curses

What to watch for today

Showdown—or not—in Ukraine. Russian officials have denied an earlier report that their forces in Crimea told Ukrainian troops to surrender by 5am today local time (11am Hong Kong time) or “be ready for an assault.” Meanwhile, representatives from the IMF begin consultations in Kiev to assess financial aid to the country.

The White House proposes its budget. President Obama is expected to outline his plans for creating jobs (paywall), paring back the military, and rolling in an extra $1 trillion worth of taxes over the next decade. The budget will also include $56 billion of priorities that the White House would like to see funded, such as education. 

Glencore Xstrata strikes gold. The mining giant will report its first full-year earnings since merging last May, and is expected to show a strong increase in both copper and gold production. Investors will be watching for hints about a Chinese buyout of its Peruvian copper mine, after reports that a price agreement could not be reached.

China announces its GDP growth target for 2014. While most analysts expect that the figure won’t change from the 7.5% set last year, some see the target dropping to 7% amid growing debt and a thick smog smothering Beijing and the surrounding area. But dropping the target too much would signal a lack of confidence and scare off investors.

Europe’s longest-serving head of government resigns. Andrus Ansip, prime minister of Estonia since 2005, will submit his resignation to President Toomas Hendrick Ilves today in the hope of boosting his party’s chances of winning in the March 2015 general election.

While you were sleeping

Russian oil headed for world domination… Vitol, the world’s largest energy trader, is set to lend a further $2 billion to Rosneft (paywall) to fund its global acquisition spree. This adds to the $10 billion loan Vitol and Glencore gave the Russian state oil company last year, in return for guaranteed oil supply in the future.

…while the rest of Russian business took a beating. Investors punished Russia for its Crimean adventure more firmly than any number of diplomatic protests. The stock markets and the ruble fell, and European firms that do a lot of business with Russia felt the pain too.

RJ Reynolds rolled up a deal. The tobacco king behind Pall Mall and Camel cigarettes may make an offer for Lorillard (paywall) in what would be the biggest deal in the industry for many years. Lorillard is strong in both e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes, which would give RJ Reynolds a counterweight to the US trend of declining tobacco sales.

An al-Qaeda trial got under way. Jury selection began for the trial of Suleiman Abu Ghaith, Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law and the highest-up al-Qaeda figure to face prosecution in the US since 9/11. The jury will determine whether Abu Gaith conspired to kill Americans and how instrumental he was in supplying resources to terrorists.

The “Blade Runner” trial kicked off. Paralympic athlete Oscar Pistorius pleaded not guilty to murdering his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, who was shot to death in his bathroom last year. A neighbor testified hearing “bloodcurdling screams,” adding that “something terrible was happening at that house.” The trial, which is being televised live, is set to last three weeks.

Quartz obsession interlude

Gwynn Guilford on the new strain of fungus that threatens to wipe out the world’s banana crop. “Tropical Race 4 is a pure killing machine—and not just for Cavendishes. Scores of other species that are immune to Race 1 have no defenses against the new pathogen. In fact, Tropical Race 4 is capable of killing at least 80%—though possibly as much as 85%—of the 145 million tonnes (160 million tons) of bananas and plantains produced each year.” Read more here.

Matters of debate

Silicon Valley’s war on Wall Street is only just beginning. The finance industry’s brightest minds and heaviest pockets are moving west.

Get used to life without antibiotics. Humans are growing resistant, and drug companies aren’t bothering to develop more.  

The emerging-markets turmoil has a silver lining. It will probably make disgruntled voters turf out some bad governments and install better ones.

A surefire way to hit Putin where it hurts. The US could use its Strategic Petroleum Reserve to drive down oil prices and knock billions off Russia’s GDP.

Academia does pay. Forget CEOs—university vice chancellors are earning pretty nicely.

There is no gender gap in tech salaries. Women might face other problems in the industry, but pay isn’t one of them.

Surprising discoveries

Bees recycle. The buzzing critters are making homes out of discarded plastic 

Pope Francis got his blessings and curses mixed up. The Argentine pope had rather shocking slip of the tongue in Italian during his Sunday blessing.

You can get early warning of impending mortality. A simple blood test will tell whether you’re likely to die within the next five years.

Be thankful for the “polar vortex.” The record-cold US winter is killing off various invasive insect species that are ravaging forests.

Bill Gates is back on top. Of the Forbes rich list, that is. He booted Carlos Slim out of first place with a net worth of $72 billion.

Get a head start on your summer reading. Here are 13 must-read business books about to hit the shelves.

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