By Gideon Rachman
In the 1930s, the Spanish civil war sucked in outsiders, with Nazi Germany backing the nationalists, the Soviet Union backing the Republicans and foreign idealists flocking to the country to fight on either side of the conflict.
George W Bush famously said that he had looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and “got a sense of his soul”. Maybe he did – for the former US and current Russian presidents are beginning to look like soulmates, when it comes to the idea of a “war on terror”. Like President Bush, President Putin has decided to deploy his country’s military in the Middle East, as part of a war on terrorism. And like President Bush, the Russian leader has argued that he is engaged in a struggle on behalf of the whole civilised world, while appealing for global support. Read more
Merkel under pressure
Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel is facing an array of problems ranging from the scandal at Volkswagen to the arrival of up to a million refugees in the country. Gideon Rachman discusses the extent of Germany’s difficulties and whether it amounts to a crisis with Stefan Wagstyl and Andy Sharman.
By Gideon Rachman
“American and Chinese presidents do not really know how to talk to each other. They are like computers running on different operating systems.” That was the verdict once offered to me by a US official, who has watched many US-China summits from close quarters.
Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s re-elected prime minister, is finding the first few days back in government anything but plain sailing.
On Thursday this blog reported how Mr Tsipras had demanded the resignation of a deputy transport minister barely 24 hours after having appointed him. The minister, Dimitris Kammenos, was from the rightwing nationalist Independent Greeks party, the junior coalition partner to Mr Tsipras’s leftwing Syriza party. Embarrassingly, his social media accounts contained anti-Semitic content.
Now some curious details are emerging about another deputy minister, this time from inside Syriza itself. Read more
Pope Francis has just delivered his speech to a joint session of Congress. He is the first Pope, and the first religious leader, to speak on Capitol Hill – in many ways the epicentre of US politics. Sitting behind him during the address were John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, and Joe Biden, the US vice-president. Both are Catholic. Read more
Questions are already being raised about the competence of Alexis Tsipras's government
Two days into the new Greek government led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, and tensions are already showing. They will probably be manageable, for the moment, but troubling questions about the competence of the ruling coalition are already being asked.
Late on Wednesday Mr Tsipras felt obliged to ask for the resignation of a deputy transport minister whom he had appointed only 24 hours earlier. The minister, Dimitris Kammenos, belongs to the rightwing nationalist Independent Greeks party, with which Syriza, the leftwing party led by Mr Tsipras, is in coalition. Read more
Russia raises its profile in the Middle East
Russia has moved fighter jets, tanks and troops into a base in Syria, meanwhile Vladimir Putin, Russian president, is gearing up to make a major speech at the United Nations. What are the Russians up to? Gideon Rachman discusses this question with Neil Buckley and Geoff Dyer.
While the US prepares to welcome Pope Francis, his new world origins, drive for Vatican reform, and calls for social justice and action against climate change have enthused – and shaken – Catholics around the world. The Argentine pontiff arrives for his first trip to America at a time of declining Catholic congregations and with a society that has become more liberal than the church on many social issues.
The Catholic share of the US population has been declining at a slow rate in recent decades, but a Pew study released this year raised fears that the pace of the drop has accelerated since 2007. According to the survey, it had fallen to 20.8 per cent in 2014, from 23.9 per cent seven years earlier underlining the challenge facing Pope Francis. Read more
Pope Francis landed in the US around 4pm on Tuesday afternoon after a three-and-a-half hour flight from eastern Cuba, to be greeted on the tarmac of Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland by the Obamas and Bidens. The Argentine pontiff then hopped into a black Fiat 500L – an incongruous sight in a motorcade of SUVs and another symbol of Francis’ modest ways – headed to the residence of the Vatican envoy to the US, on Massachusetts Avenue in northwest Washington, where he will spend the night.
His schedule will be packed over the five days of his first ever visit to America: there will be high-profile speeches to Congress and the UN, a series of masses, and appearances at a prison, a homeless shelter and an inner-city school. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
Muslims have replaced Hispanics as the focus of verbal attacks on the US campaign trail with Donald Trump shifting his anti-immigrant focus to people of the Islamic faith.
Australian politics is so cut-throat and brutal that it is easy to treat it simply as a spectator sport – without much wider international significance. But that would be a mistake. The fall of Tony Abbott and his replacement as prime minister by Malcolm Turnbull may well herald a shift in Australian foreign policy that will be noticed in Beijing, Tokyo and Washington.
Put simply, Turnbull is likely to take a softer line on China. Abbott was a firm supporter of America’s pivot to Asia and the effort to push back against Chinese territorial ambitions. But Turnbull seems to be more sceptical. The evidence for his scepticism is set out, in this informative post from the Lowy Interpreter. It is interesting, in particular, that Turnbull has sympathetically reviewed the work of Hugh White, an Australian academic who has argued that the US should do more to accommodate a rising China – and that the alternative might be a catastrophic war. Read more
Portugal’s October 4 general election catches the eye for three reasons.
Firstly, Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho’s centre-right government has overtaken the opposition Socialists in opinion polls. If he holds on to this lead, he will become the first prime minister to be re-elected among the five eurozone states that required emergency financial help between 2010 and 2013. Read more
The 2nd Republican presidential debate saw Donald Trump face off against 10 other GOP contenders for the White House, as the challengers tried to gain ground against the bombastic billionaire, who has surprised the pundits by leading the field by a long way. Carly Fiorina made her debut in the big league, joining the main debate for the first time.
Europe’s fraying union
Mark Vandevelde, executive comment editor, joins Gideon Rachman, Tony Barber and Peter Spiegel to discuss how the dual euro and refugee crises are putting strain on the EU, what role the Schengen agreement may or not have played in the latter, and whether or not the union can weather the storm.
I was at the Greek archaeological site of Delphi last weekend, attending a conference on Europe’s future, when the news arrived that Jeremy Corbyn, a 66-year-old leftwinger, had been elected as leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party. I climbed up the hill and asked the Oracle for some predictions.
TB: Oh, Oracle, will the world see Corbyn’s triumph as irrelevant? After all, Labour’s never going to win a general election under him, so he will never be prime minister.
ORACLE: Not irrelevant, my friend, but illustrative. The world will see Corbyn’s success as one more that Britain, like a snail, is retreating from the international stage and withdrawing into itself. Read more
In a country that has had more leadership heaves of late than elections, Malcolm Turnbull’s ousting of Tony Abbott caught a surprising number of people off-guard. Mr Abbott himself was so stunned that it took him more than 12 hours to speak to the media since losing Monday’s Liberal party vote by 54 to 44. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
There is a comforting cliché in Brussels that the EU needs crises in order to progress. But the current cocktail of problems facing Europe — refugees, the euro and the danger that Britain might leave the union — look far more likely to overwhelm the EU than to strengthen it.
On Friday morning Petro Poroshenko announced a small breakthrough in the war in Ukraine. The Ukrainian president said that for the first time in a year and a half, a full day had passed without a single artillery shell being fired on his country’s soil. It was the latest sign that the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine – called for under the Minsk peace accords – may finally be beginning to take hold.
The Ukrainian leader was speaking at the annual Yalta European Strategy meeting in Kiev. (The meeting used to be held in Yalta but that is in Crimea – which is now under Russian occupation). After his speech, I interviewed Poroshenko on stage and asked him about the other provisions of the Minsk accords that have not yet been met – including demands for the withdrawal of troops and for the Ukrainian-Russian border to be sealed by the end of the year. Poroshenko told his audience that Russian troops and heavy weaponry remain on Ukrainian soil. When I pressed him about what should happen if these troops remain in place and the border stays open, the president was rather vague – insisting that there was no alternative to the full implementation of Minsk. There were no details about what he plans to do, if that doesn’t happen. Read more
Lebanon and Turkey struggle to meet the needs of Syrian refugees
The future of Syria and its neighbouring states, Lebanon and Turkey, remains unsure as they are struggling to cope with millions of refugees from the Syrian conflict. Gideon Rachman talks to Erika Solomon, FT correspondent in Beirut, and Dan Dombey, former FT bureau chief in Istanbul, about the political and societal strains caused by the refugee crisis