Foreign affairs

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

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voters wondered how Mr Pavlopoulos could have been adopted as the candidate of a government that wants to get rid of outdated political practices, given his track record while in office.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

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

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

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

The eurozone is mired in a stand-off over Greece’s government debt which, at roughly 175 per cent of gross domestic product, is the highest in the currency union. But new data released on Tuesday make one wonder whether member states should stop worrying about Athens’ fiscal woes and start being concerned about… Berlin’s. Read more

If there was any doubt that the forthcoming negotiations between Greece’s new Syriza government and its eurozone creditors would be fiery, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras dispelled them in his barnstorming speech to his parliament on Sunday night.

His defiant rhetoric will have gone down well not just in Greece but also with some of the political left in Europe and beyond. Some politicians and commentators have elevated the dispute between Athens and the rest of the eurozone – usually shortened to Greece vs Germany – as a battle between the progressive and reactionary forces for the soul of Europe, a fiscal Spanish Civil War for the 21st century. 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.”

  • Venezuelan émigrés in Florida with fierce anti-Chavez views are aiming to steer US foreign policy on their homeland, just as exiled Cubans did
  • The postponement of Nigeria’s elections offers President Goodluck Jonathan a chance to regain the initiative in the Boko Haram insurgency, but the delay also risks fraying nerves further
  • India hopes deworming 140m schoolchildren in the world’s biggest campaign against the parasites will boost economic productivity
  • Germany and Greece are engaged in a fight to the death, with neither backing down in a cultural and economic clash of wills
  • Welcome to Crimea in winter - a lonely island, with no tourists, frightened Tatars and where Russians have taken all the jobs.

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  • Greece’s privatisation programme, ordered under the terms of its international bailout, was falling far short of targets even before the country’s new left-wing government vowed to scrap further sales of state assets
  • Following Isis’ brutal execution by immolation of captured Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, many in the country have called for a deeper military commitment against the jihadist group
  • Foreigners are leaving Russia in unprecedented numbers, reflecting a worsening economic outlook as western sanctions bite
  • The west’s inability to comprehend how Vladimir Putin sees the world means it has trouble thinking constructively about how to deal with him (The American Interest)
  • A convicted al-Qaeda operative has claimed that more than a dozen prominent Saudi figures were donors to the terror group and that a Saudi diplomat discussed with him a plot to shoot down Air Force One (NYT)

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Less than a week into his new job, Greece’s finance minister is already performing the kolotoumbes, or policy somersaults, anticipated by several Athens commentators.

Yanis Varoufakis, an eloquent economics professor, has removed a key plank of the leftwing Syriza party’s pre-election platform: its longstanding demand that creditors should write off at least one-third of Greece’s huge public debt, which last year amounted to 175 per cent of national output.

Visiting London on Monday, the second stop of a tour of European capitals, Mr Varoufakis told the Financial Times that Athens would restructure its entire public debt by swapping bailout loans for new growth-linked bonds and issuing what he called “perpetual” bonds to replace Greek bonds owned by the European central bank.

The U-turn on the debt issue was so abrupt that some observers wondered whether Mr Varoufakis went off-message as he tried to reassure Greece’s eurozone partners and City investors that the Syriza-led government was serious about meeting its obligations to the EU and International Monetary Fund. Read more

 

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha

Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha Copyright: Getty

Thailand’s military junta is delivering an Asian masterclass in the kind of tin-eared elitism that is galvanising support for new anti-establishment parties across Europe, writes Michael Peel in Bangkok. While tensions linked to the country’s class system, political representation and the division of economic spoils are simmering in the pot, the ruling generals seem to have chosen to screw the lid still more firmly on. Read more

How stable is Saudi Arabia?
Saudi Arabia’s new monarch King Salman takes over at a time of unprecedented challenges in the shape of regional chaos as well as a sharply falling oil price. Gideon Rachman is joined by Roula Khalaf and Simeon Kerr to discuss how stable the kingdom is.

Since the onset of the global financial crisis, the European Central Bank has been desperate to funnel cash into the eurozone’s financial system, in the hope this would boost investment and growth.

Yet, despite steep cuts to interest rates and several rounds of cheap loans to banks, the eurozone is still struggling to get enough investment projects off the ground. Last week, the ECB launched an ambitious programme of quantitative easing aimed at prompting banks to lend more by lowering the interest they receive on government bonds.

But what if Europe’s investment problem was not the result of a shortage of liquidity? Read more

A former colleague on the FT (no names, but he now runs the UK’s Office for Budget Responsibility) used to muse that a useful all-purpose headline for any story about an emerging market economy was “[Insert Name Of Country Here]: Structural Reform?”

Putting “Greece” into that formula after Syriza’s resounding victory in Sunday’s election, where do we stand? Every pundit in Europe is retailing some version of the insightful observation that it is all about whether Syriza — and its leader, Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s new prime minister (above) — can be induced to do enough structural reform to buy the fiscal leeway and debt relief it wants.

The problem with this view is that “structural reform” is a crude and unhelpful term. Read more

The triumph of the anti-austerity Syriza party in Greece’s general election has put back on the table the vexed question of what to do with Athens’ debt. Economists tend to disagree over how sustainable this burden really is: some point to the sheer size of the liabilities, saying Athens will never be able to pay them back. Others emphasise the favourable conditions which the Greek government has secured on official sector loans in two rounds of restructuring: these include heavily subsidised interest rates and a lengthening of the average maturity of the debt, which now stands at 16.5 years, double Italy’s or Germany’s.

One figure on which everyone tends to agree, however, is that Greece’s public debt is 177 per cent of gross domestic product, the highest level in the eurozone. Well, everyone but a private equity group and a number of accountants, who think the relevant figure could be as low as 68 per cent. Read more

Australia Day is typically when prime ministers attract positive headlines by doling out honours to people promoting good causes. But Tony Abbott, the gaffe-prone holder of the office, provoked a storm of controversy on Monday by awarding the country’s highest honour – knight of the order of Australia – to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.

“I don’t get the priority the government had in nominating him,” said Bill Shorten, Labor leader. “It’s a time warp where we’re giving knighthoods to English royalty.” Read more