Gideon Rachman

 

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair speaks on on the Middle East in London on April 23, 2014. (Getty)

There are plenty of people who will simply refuse to listen to anything that Tony Blair has to say about the Middle East – on the grounds that he is an idiot or a war criminal, or some combination of the two. I am not one of them. On the contrary, I think that the speech that Blair has just given on the Middle East is worth reading. He is intelligent, passionate and well-informed. But I still think he is wrong or, at the least, unconvincing, on a number of crucial points. Read more

• The peace deal struck in Geneva means little in Ukraine’s easternmost province where hard core activists are refusing to end their occupation of government buildings.

Russia seeks economic self-reliance. Faced with the threat of more sanctions over Ukraine, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev says the country must reduce its dependency on imports and strenghthen from within.

• Thousands of government opponents in Egypt have disappeared into secret jails, which critics warn are radicalising a new generation of jihadis.

• David Moyes’s sacking, after just 10 months as Manchester United’s manager, is above all a story of image.

• The American middle class, long the most affluent in the world, has lost that distinction. New York Times analysis shows that across lower-and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have won considerably larger salary increases over the last three decades. Read more

Geoff Dyer

President Barack Obama will conduct a four-country Asia trip from April 23 to 29. He will visit Japan, South Korea and Malaysia, before finishing the trip in the Philippines. These are 10 discussions that will be on the various tables:

1) Don’t Forget the Pivot Read more

  • The pragmatists have won out over the radical idealogues in Venezuela’s administration and Nicolás Maduro is starting to take orthodox steps to repair the economy.
  • Israel is staying out of the fracas in Ukraine: it cannot jeopardise ties with Russia, even if that puts it at odds with the US.
  • The US-Japan relationship has been the bedrock of Asian security and economic growth, but recent frictions have raised questions about how committeed they are to the partnership.
  • The decline in crime in Western nations could have been a result of the removal of lead from petrol.
  • It may have been disparaged for its decline since the fall of the Soviet Union, but the Russian army has upgraded to 21st-century tactics in order to seize the initiative from the west.
  • Residents of Crimea are living in a state of perpetual confusion, but Crimean authorities are pushing for the peninsula to become the world’s next Las Vegas.

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By Gideon Rachman
Ukraine is a distraction. Syria is a distraction. For believers in America’s “pivot to Asia”, the centre of Barack Obama’s foreign policy must remain the region of the future – Asia. The pivoters will be delighted that this week – despite a raging crisis with Russia – the president is embarking on a four-nation tour of Asia, beginning in Japan.

Neil Buckley

With pro-Russian separatists refusing to leave captured buildings in eastern Ukraine on Friday, it is already clear that Thursday’s Geneva agreement has done little to reduce tensions on the ground – or the threat of a Russian invasion.

That the US, EU, Russia and Ukraine managed to agree on any document and concrete steps at all in Geneva was positive and unexpected. But some of those steps are already proving difficult to implement and provide no guarantee the situation in eastern Ukraine could not escalate further.

Most importantly, there was no commitment by Russia to pull back the tens of thousands of troops it has massed on Ukraine’s border, which Washington and Brussels have both been pressing for.

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By Jurek Martin

The formal obituaries of Shijuro Ogata, the former deputy governor of the Bank of Japan who has died at the age of 86, will take due note of his policy making roles over a long career, invariably executed with acumen. They will also record that, as he frequently said with affection, he was hardly the most famous Ogata in his own household – his wife, Sadako, was the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for a decade and holder of more than one Japanese government humanitarian portfolio.

What is less well known is the extent to which he was single-handedly responsible for opening up the previously closed Japanese bureaucracy to the western media – and all through the device of a tea party of his own mischievous creation. Read more

Judging from Moscow’s dark warnings over the threat of civil war in Ukraine, and its war of words with the west over the crisis engulfing its neighbour, one would assume that president Vladimir Putin would be under considerable stress.

But on Thursday, the Russian leader was on top form. In the marathon televised question-and-answer session in which he holds court once a year, Mr Putin appeared at ease, well prepared, and, most importantly, very satisfied with what he has recently achieved. Read more

• Putin is proving his skills as Russia’s great propagandist, with his use of Soviet-era symbolism alarming those fearful for the country’s democracy.

• The Ukraine stand-off offers Beijing a broader role on the global stage.

• The FT’s series on the Fragile Middle continues, with a look at how India‘s petty entrepreneurs face an uncertain future.

• About to take over a crisis-ridden company with a demoralised workforce? Look no further the Vatican under Pope Francis for a case-study in how it should be done.

• As forests of empty new housing towers fill the horizon in Chinese cities, yet more state sanctioned construction would amount to yin zhen zhi ke – “drinking poison to quench one’s thirst”.

Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former banker accused of fraud and one of the Kazakh president’s main political opponents, says the UK is being manipulated by a kleptocratic dictator after London decided to revoke his asylum status. Read more

The fragile middle
Decades of rapid growth have created a new middle class in the developing world, prompting multinational companies to invest heavily in emerging markets as they attempt to serve millions of new consumers. But rising inequality and slowing growth has presented a risk to this new middle class and is forcing companies to rethink their strategy. In this week’s podcast, Ferdinando Giugliano is joined by Shawn Donnan, world trade editor and James Kynge, emerging markets editor to discuss this nascent middle class and its prospects in the face of slowing growth