Daily Archives: June 7, 2012

News of another dreadful massacre in Syria – and Kofi Annan’s grim report to the UN today – will inevitably prompt fresh calls for military intervention in Syria.

In a column a couple of weeks ago, I came out against intervention. That was not a piece I particularly enjoyed writing – and a few people I respect have upbraided me for (in effect) a callous indifference to the massacre of children. So I have promised to keep thinking about it.

I would recommend anybody who wants to get a sense of the debate to read these two columns – one by my colleague, Roula Khalaf, and one by Henry Kissinger. Roula is in favour of intervention. Kissinger – “realist” that he is – is opposed. Read more

Putin’s agenda for Russia

As Vladimir Putin settles back into the Kremlin, we focus on his vision for Russia, both domestically and in terms of its relationship with China and the west. Charles Clover, Moscow bureau chief, and Neil Buckley, eastern Europe editor, join Gideon Rachman to discuss Putin’s return to the presidency.

A storm of protest has broken out in Russian political circles over, of all things, protesting. A new law sharply raising fines for unsanctioned political demonstrations, effectively criminalising them, was passed this week by both houses of parliament, and awaits signature by President Vladimir Putin. But is it fair? Read more

One of the very few bright spots in governments’ generally grim recent performance of managing the world economy has been that trade protectionism, rampant during the Great Depression, has been relatively absent.

That may no longer be the case. The WTO, fairly sanguine about the use of trade barriers over the past few years, warns today that things are getting worrying. The EU made a similar point yesterday. And this monitoring service has been pointing out for a long time that a lot of the new forms of protectionism aren’t counted under the traditional categories, thanks to gaping holes in international trade law. Read more

Supporters of Bashar al-Assad greet the motorcade of Russian minister Sergei Lavrov in Damascus earlier this year. Reuters

There’s been a lot of noise in the last few days about Russia shifting its position on Syria in the aftermath of the international outrage over the Houla massacre. In fact, every few months, as Syria slides ever more deeply into civil war, we hear the same noises.

Surely, diplomats and analysts say, the Russians must at some point recognise that the status quo is untenable, that Bashar al-Assad is a liability, that unless they loosen their support for him their interests and their naval base in Tartous will be jeopardised when a new government comes in.

But do they? British, Turkish and American officials say it is too early to tell whether Russia is willing to accept a transition that excludes Assad. It is under pressure and it is engaging more with western governments, but whether this will translate into a new attitude remains to be seen. The US will be testing the Russian position tomorrow when Fred Hof, state department advisor on Syria, holds meetings in Moscow, on what the US says should be a transition plan that includes Assad’s exit. Read more

In our Reporting Back series, we ask FT foreign correspondents to tell us about a recent trip.

Xan Rice, the FT’s West Africa correspondent, visited Mali, spending time in Bamako, and Mopti – a riverside town around 4oo miles northwest of the capital.

Why now? Mali is known as one of west Africa’s more peaceful countries. But now it faces two major crises. The first is political: on March 22, army officers staged a coup. An interim government has been formed, but the junta still wields considerable influence.

An Islamist rebel of Ansar Dine gestures on April 24, 2012 near Timbuktu, rebel-held northern Mali, during the release of a Swiss hostage. AFP PHOTO / ROMARIC OLLO HIEN

A member of Ansar Dine. AFP PHOTO/ Romaric Ollo Hien

The second crisis concerns northern Mali, a vast desert region. Since late March, the area has been controlled by a loose alliance of rebels whose victories over the poorly-equipped army helped spark the coup. One of the groups, the MNLA, is a Tuareg nationalist movement that wants independence. The other, Ansar Dine, or “defenders of the faith”, is a hardline Islamist group with close links to al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM), a terrorist organisation. Neighbouring countries and Western nations fear that northern Mali could become a safe haven for jihadis and criminal networks, a “west African Afghanistan”, in the words of France’s defence minister. Read more

In talking to senior officials about plans for a Spanish bailout for our story in today’s dead tree edition of the FT, several steered us to the seemingly overlooked bank recaptialisation guidelines for the eurozone’s €440bn rescue fund that were adopted last year.

Those six pages, available for all to see on the website of the rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, make clear European leaders were contemplating exactly the situation Spain now finds itself in: having done the hard work on fiscal reform, but suffering from a teetering banking sector that needs to be recapitalised.

The important thing to note in the current context is that the EFSF guidelines, adopted after more than a year of fighting over whether the fund should be used for bank rescues at all, allow for a very thin layer of conditionality for bailout assistance if the aid goes to financial institutions – notably, it foresees no need for a full-scale “troika” mission of monitors poking around in national budget plans. That’s something the government of Mariano Rajoy has been demanding for weeks.

 Read more