To hear some Russia watchers say it, Vladimir Putin will fight to the last Russian air bomb to keep Bashar al-Assad of Syria in power. But will he?

I argue not only that Putin could and should let Assad go, but also that Putin’s own record of behind-the-door diplomacy offers a clue as to how the Syrian dictator could step aside without losing face. Read more

The mass movement of millions of refugees from Syria and Iraq has been perplexing politicians and exasperating economists for months. Who will take them and how many are questions that now make the Greek debt crisis look like dry rot in a house on fire – and as winter approaches, the situation is getting more serious by the day.

While western leaders quarrel over a solution, they are overlooking a country that earlier this year was the centre of yet another argument: Ukraine. Read more

By Martti Ahtisaari and Fernando Henrique Cardoso of The Elders

It is unconscionable that March 15 marked two years of a bloody and remorseless conflict in Syria that the international community has, until now, proved impotent to end. Next week’s Brics summit is a chance for the world’s rising powers to demonstrate their commitment to the people of Syria at their time of greatest need. Read more

Opening the only five-star hotel in Iraq two years ago was a bold move by any standards. Throw in marketing cigarette makers in Lebanon and distributing Shell Lubricants in Iraq, and Malia Group looks like a controversial risk-taker. Read more

MTN, the South Africa-based telecoms group with operations in 21 countries in Africa and the Middle East, left investors struggling to understand its prospects on Wednesday. Its 2011 results were decent enough and an ambitious capex programme promises future growth. But there are things to worry about, including Iran and Syria, which account for nearly 15 per cent of revenues.

MTN’s shares (MTN:JNB) rose more than 2 per cent during the day but fell back to close down 0.81 per cent. Read more

There may be no obvious link with central Europe but the crisis in Syria is having a knock-on effect in Budapest.

Mol, the Hungarian oil and gas group, said on Friday the turmoil in Syria contributed to the company’s difficulties in the fourth quarter of 2011, when revenues from its Syrian hydrocarbon production were blocked under sanctions applied by the EU. Read more

A.Kamel Eurasia GroupBy Ayham Kamel of Eurasia Group

Syria’s president Bashar al Assad once flaunted his immunity from the wave of protest-driven unrest in the Middle East. Today, while the regime is unlikely to fall in the near term, there’s no doubt that instability is on the rise.

That has broad geopolitical implications for the Middle East. And while Lebanon and Israel are often mentioned, Iraq stands to lose the most. Syria could, for example,  become a base for groups seeking to undermine stability in Iraq, increasing risks for the growth of oil production. Oil traders should watch closely how Bashar handles Syria’s political turmoil. Read more

Quantifying the economic collateral damage from unrest in the Middle East might seem a grim task, but it’s not all bad news.

The spike in oil prices provoked by political upheaval has boosted the rate of GDP growth in the oil exporting Gulf Cooperation Council states to an estimated 6.5 per cent for 2011, according to a new regional economic report from the Institute of International Finance. For regional oil importers – many of whom are embroiled in political riots – the picture is less attractive: as a group they will see a fall in growth of 0.5 percentage points in 2011. Read more

What is the relationship between government debt and local traffic fines? In Dubai, a lot. This morning yours truly received a text message from Dubai police: the family car has incurred yet another $165 traffic fine. And of course those breaking traffic regulations should pay up.

But the authorities aren’t just concerned with reducing road accidents. In a twist familiar to disciples of Jeremy Clarkson, it seems that the traffic fines are a roundabout route to trimming Dubai’s budget deficit. Read more