Predictions that the war in Ukraine might be past its worst point can only be advanced with caution and caveats. Over the past 18 months, the western world has been consistently surprised by unexpected escalations and brutal events – from the annexation of Crimea to the shooting down of flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine. Even now, fighting continues. Last week, saw an escalation of conflict around Donetsk, with six killed in one day.

And yet, for all that, a cautious optimism is growing in the west that the fighting may be past its worst. There are still armed militias on the ground and intermittent fighting continues. But, against expectations, the Minsk peace accords negotiated last February, seem to have succeeded in damping down the conflict. One well-placed EU diplomat calls the new situation, a “hybrid peace” – a play on the well-known idea that Russia is fighting a hybrid war. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Last week, the British election went nuclear. Michael Fallon, a Conservative and the UK’s defence secretary, made the emotive claim that a Labour government might “stab the UK in the back” by refusing to fund the renewal of Britain’s Trident nuclear deterrent.

This week Greece finally put a figure on its demand for war reparations from Germany – €278.7bn as compensation for the death and destruction visited by the Nazis during the war. Opinion polls suggest that this gambit is widely popular in Greece. But by bringing this issue up now, the Greek government may have made a serious miscalculation that could contribute to the country’s disorderly exit from the euro.

Greece’s reparations demand comes at a time when the government in Athens is running out of money and its creditors are running out of patience. The country is likely to need a new bailout package this summer. By putting the reparations issue on the table, the Greeks may feel they gain extra leverage – as well as the possibility that they will actually get debts written off, rather than simply extended. But they have also significantly raised the risk that the Germans will simply walk away from the table altogether – forcing Greece into a default and a disorderly exit from the euro. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Is military and ‘soft power’ enough to make up for relative US economic decline? Read more

By Gideon Rachman

Amid all the talk of a new cold war, it is easy to forget that there are parts of the world where the cold war never ended. A couple of weeks ago I visited one of them. On the south side of the demilitarised zone that divides the Koreas, tourists use telescopes to stare into the North . A giant flag from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as it styles itself, flutters in the breeze. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Rome fell. Babylon fell. Hindhead’s turn will come.” George Bernard Shaw’s bon mot in Misalliance was a reminder to British theatre audiences in 1910 that all empires eventually decline and fall. The fact that Hindhead is an English village was a light-hearted cloak for a serious point.

By Gideon Rachman
Europe is in a race against time. After six years of economic crisis, extremist political parties are well-entrenched across the continent. Set against that, the European economy is in better shape than for some years. The question is whether economic optimism can return quickly enough to prevent the bloc’s politics slithering over the edge.

Brazil president’s troubles multiply
The popularity of Brazil’s president Dilma Roussef has plummeted only months after she was re-elected in the face of a floundering economy, mass street protests and a corruption scandal. Gideon Rachman discusses what went wrong with Jonathan Wheatley and Samantha Pearson.

Even some of his bitter enemies would now have to concede that Benjamin Netanyahu is a giant on the Israeli political scene. The results of Israel’s elections mean that the Likud leader is now likely to serve a record fourth term as prime minister, making him his country’s longest-serving prime minister ever. More than ever, “Bibi” is now confirmed as the international face of Israel. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
The story of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is turning into a diplomatic debacle for the US. By setting up and then losing a power struggle with China, Washington has sent an unintended signal about the drift of power and influence in the 21st century.

By Gideon Rachman

The British are used to syrupy American tributes to the “special relationship” that binds the US and the UK together. But this week, the Brits heard rather different noises coming from Washington: growls of frustration at the direction of UK foreign and security policy. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Just before Alexis Tsipras was elected Greek prime minister in January, he made a vow to the voters: “On Monday national humiliation will be over. We will finish with orders from abroad.”

When Benjamin Netanyahu rises to speak in Congress later on Tuesday he will become the first foreign leader since Winston Churchill to speak before Congress three times. John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, apparently intends to mark the occasion by presenting the Israeli prime minister, with a bust of Churchill.

Mr Netanyahu is probably vain enough to think that the comparison is appropriate. The Israeli prime minister believes that, like Churchill in the 1930s, he is a voice in the wilderness warning a complacent world against a “gathering storm” – in this case, an ambitious Iran that is intent on acquiring nuclear weapons.

But all politicians should be wary of comparing themselves with Churchill. George W Bush was also presented with a bust of Churchill, by the British government, which he kept in the Oval Office during the Iraq war. That didn’t work out too well. Beyond the threat of vainglorious self-delusion, the Netanyahu-Churchill comparison is dangerous for the Israeli leader himself, for a couple of reasons. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
When a government starts murdering its critics in the streets, it has crossed the line into barbarism. President Vladimir Putin of Russia is fond of accusing the administration in Ukraine of fascism. But it is the aggressive, self-pitying nationalism whipped up by Mr Putin — allied to the persecution and now murder of his domestic opponents — that is truly reminiscent of the politics of Russia and Germany in the 1930s.

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.

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

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

By Gideon Rachman

China’s education minister has just issued an edict to the country’s universities that sounds like something from the heyday of Maoism. “Never let textbooks promoting western values enter our classes,” thundered Yuan Guiren. “Any views that attack or defame the leadership of the party or socialism must never be allowed.”

By Gideon Rachman
There are three crises afflicting Europe. Two are on the borders of the EU: a warlike Russia and an imploding Middle East. The third emergency is taking place inside the EU itself — where political, economic and diplomatic tensions are mounting.