The stable of fictitious beasts from Greek mythology acquired a new inmate this week, unveiled in the letter from the Syriza government proposing economic reforms to keep the country’s bailout going. Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister, has bravely set off in search of that wondrous creature: “EU best practice across the range of labour market legislation”.
Presidential poll puts Nigeria to the test
Nigeria’s presidential election next month is the closest contest since the end of military rule in 1999 and is taking place against a worrying backdrop of civil conflict and economic trouble. Gideon Rachman is joined by Tom Burgis and William Wallis to discuss whether the country can hold together.
Opposition candidate Mohammadu Buhari at a campaign rally in the northern city of Maiduguri Getty.
The postponement of Nigeria’s presidential elections on security grounds has flushed into the open scenarios reminiscent of the dark days when the country’s democratic aspirations were stifled by a military cabal. The polls will take place against a backdrop of regional and ethnic tensions, with the ruling Peoples Democratic party up against a well organised opposition. A free and fair vote could lead to the country’s first constitutional transfer of power, an event that, if handled peacefully, would not only further Nigeria’s political evolution, but provide a fillip to democracy across the continent. Read more
A useful report on EU-Russian relations was published last week by the EU committee of Britain’s House of Lords, the upper house of parliament.
The report shows how London and other EU capitals badly misjudged Russian intentions last year, before the February revolution in Kiev, President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the Kremlin’s armed intervention in eastern Ukraine. In particular, the way that the British government allowed expert knowledge and experience of Russia to waste away in the UK foreign office after the Soviet Union’s demise is indefensible. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
Watching the Greek crisis unfold, I found myself torn between two equal and opposite thoughts. First, the euro cannot survive. Second, everything must be done to save the euro.
The election by parliament of Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a centre-right former cabinet minister, as Greece’s new president on Wednesday night has sparked criticism from members of the governing Syriza party’s far-left faction who wanted to see an “anti-austerity” politician in the largely ceremonial post of head of state.
Puzzled Syriza voters wondered how Mr Pavlopoulos could have been adopted as the candidate of a government that wants to get rid of outdated political practices, given his track record while in office. Read more
How strong is the Islamic State?
Islamist terrorists have grabbed headlines in the Arab world with horrific atrocities, but there are signs their influence may be on the wane. Gideon Rachman discusses the extent of their power with Borzou Daragahi and David Gardner.
Vladimir Putin with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban
In the West, Vladimir Putin is often viewed as something of an international pariah. Shift your perspective, however, and it is quite striking how many international friends, the Russian president has cultivated.
Mr Putin, who enjoys posing bare-chested, is particularly good at making friends with other “strongmen”. His roster of special friends include Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa. This week, Mr Putin has also been demonstrating that he is capable of finding pals even inside the “enemy camp” – the European Union. The EU may have imposed sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, but that has not stopped Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary – and another self-styled strongman – from rolling out the red carpet for Mr Putin. Read more
During Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests last year, chief executive CY Leung found himself the subject of many unflattering comparisons – from a vampire to Pinocchio to Adolf Hitler.
But his best-known alter ego is as “the wolf”. And now he’s seeking a more sheep-like population to govern. Read more
The scenes of chaos during President Jacob Zuma’s speech at the opening of South Africa’s parliament last week will be remembered as one of the darkest days of the post-apartheid era
Visitors from the Chinese mainland to Hong Kong are known as “locusts” and now a long-simmering resentment at their presence in the territory is boiling over into angry protests
Greece must impose capital controls or repeat the costly mistake of Cyprus, where emergency funding from the ECB was spirited out of the country, argues Hans-Werner Sinn
What Isis Really Wants: The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. Here’s what its beliefs means for its strategy – and how to stop it (The Atlantic)
Washington’s uneasy partnership with Tehran now extends to Yemen (Foreign Policy) Read more
By Gideon Rachman
A friend of mine from Moscow has a nice way of describing how her fellow citizens view the war in Ukraine. She calls it a “contest between the television and the refrigerator”. The television stirs Russian spirits with a story about a great patriotic struggle against a “fascist” Ukraine and a scheming west. But the refrigerator lowers the spirits, with its increasingly sparse and costly contents.
If the Minsk II agreement reached between the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany can secure a ceasefire and save a few lives, then it is probably a good thing. But you would have to be fairly naive to believe that is the end of the matter.
Over the past year, President Putin has shown that he is a master of turning military pressure on and off to keep the Ukrainians and the west on the hop. And there are a couple of other reasons for suspecting that the fighting may soon restart.
First, the Russians have not yet achieved even the relatively limited goal of establishing a land corridor between Russia and Crimea. Until they do this, the economic situation in Crimea is likely to be very precarious. Second, while Russia’s denials that it is behind the fighting in eastern Ukraine are not credible (if so, why are they even negotiating a ceasefire?), it may well be true that Moscow is not in complete control of events. The Ukrainian side may also be unable to control some of the nationalist militias that are fighting in the east of the country. Read more
Should you find yourself in Baku, skip the Versace store and Emporio Armani. Go instead to the grand edifice with the Grecian columns that stands between them, overlooking the Caspian Sea with its fabulous oil and gas riches.
This building was constructed in 1960, when Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union, to mark Vladimir Lenin’s 90th birthday. It is a vastly different place these days, hosting the Museum of Azerbaijani Independence. If you’re in luck, as I was this morning, you will be the only visitor. Read more
On Friday we will find out how the eurozone’s economy performed in the final quarter of last year. Analysts think the figures, out at 10am GMT from Eurostat, the European Commission’s statistics bureau, will show output grew by 0.2 per cent between the third and the fourth quarters.
That figure is far from spectacular in a region where the economy remains smaller than before the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Yet a positive number will feed hopes that the conditions are in place for 2015 to be a better year for the region’s economy. Read more
Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin and one of the early frontrunners in a crowded field of possible Republican presidential candidates, was expected to discuss foreign policy in an appearance on Wednesday at London’s best known foreign policy think tank.
Instead he talked a lot about cheese.
Mr Walker declined to opine on a wide range of international affairs, from whether the UK should stay in the European Union, to the current turmoil engulfing Greece and Ukraine to how to combat terror groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant at a Chatham House event. Read more
Are Europe’s politicians ready to contemplate Grexit?
Gideon Rachman is joined by Ferdinando Giugliano and Stefan Wagstyl to discuss the growing stand-off between Greece and its eurozone creditors as the language becomes more uncompromising on both sides. What would happen if Greece left the eurozone and are politicians prepared to contemplate such an outcome?
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hoping to further strenghten his AK party's representation in parliamentary elections
It sounds like the guest list for a high-profile dinner party but it could be the future of Turkish democracy.
In the last few days a host of prominent Turks, including the country’s spy chief, the head of its stock exchange, several university heads, top civil servants and the chief of the country’s wrestling federation have all resigned their posts, paving their way to stand in June 7 parliamentary elections.
It is striking that so many people from so many walks of life – many at the pinnacle of their careers – should ditch their jobs to have a bash at electoral politics. The vast majority are thought to be aiming to run for the ruling AK party. Read more