Foreign affairs

Keep an eye on Transnistria, the pro-Russian breakaway state in Moldova. On Monday, Dmitri Trenin, one of Russia’s best-known foreign policy analysts and a man with good Kremlin antennae, tweeted: “Growing concern in Moscow that Ukraine and Moldova will seek to squeeze Transnistria hard, provoking conflict with Russia.” On Tuesday, a columnist in the pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper warned that Russia “seriously faces the prospect of a repeat of the [2008] situation” – when it went to war with Georgia – “this time around Transnistria”.

What sparked the tensions was a May 21 vote in Ukraine’s parliament to suspend military co-operation with Russia. That included a 1995 agreement giving Russia military transit rights across Ukraine to reach Transnistria, which borders Ukraine’s Odessa region. Read more

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko (L) with Mikheil Saakashvili (C) in Odessa

Unlike Russia’s leaders, who loathe him, and unlike some of his western friends, who once treated him as if he were Georgia’s greatest hero since King Davit the Builder (1089-1125), I don’t hold strong views for or against Mikheil Saakashvili.

If pressed, I would say that, during his 2004-13 spell as president of Georgia, he displayed an impressive, but slightly frantic reformist energy in pursuing what he believed to be his country’s pro-western destiny. His modernising fervour combined indomitable self-confidence and business school English with an unpredictability and a capacity for misjudgment that at times bordered on recklessness.

I interviewed Saakashvili in Brussels in October 2008, two months after a short war in which Russia in effect partitioned Georgia by invading it and recognising the independence of the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. He was more subdued than usual, possibly because it had dawned on him that in the build-up to that conflict he had fallen into a well-laid Russian trap.

Now, in the strangest of career twists, Saakashvili has been appointed governor of Ukraine’s southern region of Odessa by President Petro Poroshenko. The Ukrainian president has speeded up this move by granting Saakashvili instant Ukrainian citizenship. Read more

Christine Lagarde made headlines on Friday saying in a German press interview that Grexit was “a potential.”

Coming from the head of the International Monetary Fund, her words rightly caused a stir – even if they were little more than a statement of the obvious. Those charged with maintaining financial stability are not supposed to rock the boat, even if the water is already coming over the gunwales. Read more

There are drawbacks to being a satirist from a deeply authoritarian state. Exile is a frequent consequence. But it has its advantages.

“I’m really blessed as an Iranian comedian,” Kambiz Hosseini told the audience of democrats, dissidents and defectors who gathered this week in Norway for the annual Oslo Freedom Forum (or “Davos for dissidents”). “There’s no shortage of material for me.” Read more

FIFA spokesman Walter De Gregorio arrives to give a press conference on 27 May, 2015.  © Getty

Charges of corruption have swirled around Fifa for many years. Now with the arrest of senior officials at football’s world governing body and the investigation into the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, those allegations may finally be converted into a genuine and full exposure of corruption at the top of world football.

Three key issues will now come into focus. First, the future of Sepp Blatter, the president of Fifa, who is standing for re-election for yet another term in office this Friday. Second, the future of Fifa itself, which looks increasingly like a completely rotten organisation. Third, the future of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, which were awarded to Russia and Qatar. On Wednesday morning, Fifa reaffirmed that these World Cups would go ahead as planned. But the corruption investigations may make that impossible. A decision to re-award the two World Cups would have political implications that go well beyond football. Read more

Ireland's Dustin the Turkey at the 2008 contest

Russian Babushki have invited Europeans to a “Party for Everyone”, four Swedes found their “Waterloo”, British airline attendants camped it up when “Flying the Flag”, and a girl band from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia pressed Financial Times readers’ buttons with a percentage breakdown of their amorousness (“I Love You 100%”). Read more

Over the weekend, my colleague Richard McGregor, reported on the growing clamour in Washington to push back against China’s “island factory” in the South China sea. He pointed to the possibility of a “limited but risky challenge to Chinese actions by the US military”. That challenge now appears to be underway. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
As Europe’s military capacity has shrunk, so the Nato alliance has grown more dependent on the US. But Urban argues US military power is also on the slide.  Read more

If you think that getting fast-track authority from Congress to negotiate trade agreements is hard, just wait for the deal that it is designed to pass.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between the US, Japan and 10 other economies in Asia and Latin America has run into a barrage of criticism. Some of it is probably justified; some of it is not. The problem is that we don’t really know.

The governments involved, and particularly the US administration, have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the negotiating texts secret. Even senators and congressmen are only allowed to look at them in a secure location without taking away notes.

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By Gideon Rachman
Why is Barack Obama so desperate to secure a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal? The long-winded official answer is that the US president thinks that it would break down barriers between 12 leading Pacific economies and so increase prosperity. The short, real, answer is: China.

Nato claims to be the world’s strongest military alliance and it may soon add a new title: the world’s most terrifying singing ensemble. Read more

The last members of “Occupy Wall Street” were pushed out of Zuccotti Park in New York in November, 2011. But the original event continues to spawn a host of imitators that use the tactics, vocabulary and brand of the “Occupy movement”. In recent months, “Occupy” has been busy on a number of UK university campuses, including the LSE, Kings College London, Warwick, Goldsmiths and Sheffield. These glimmerings of student discontent are interesting, set against the background of the election on Thursday and the controversy surrounding the Cameron-Clegg coalition’s decision to raise student fees to £9,000 a year. The Labour Party led by Ed Miliband has promised to cut fees in England back to £6,000 a year (there are no fees in Scotland) – and is targeting university towns in an effort to capitalise on the student vote. Some even argue that the student vote could tip the balance in the election. Read more

King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud

King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (Getty)

Over the past few weeks I’ve asked several western officials whether Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen signalled a fundamental change in Riyadh’s behaviour. Should we expect a far more aggressive kingdom under recently installed King Salman, or is Yemen a one-off war to blow off steam? Are we facing a new Saudi Arabia?

The answer has been consistent: we don’t know yet.

Early this morning, at the curious hour of 4 am Riyadh time, King Salman went some way towards providing an answer. In a bombshell announcement, he sacked crown prince Muqrin, who had been close to the late King Abdullah, and elevated Muqrin’s deputy, the security-minded interior minister Mohammed bin Nayef, to crown prince. More importantly – and controversially – he appointed his favourite son, the young Mohammed bin Salman, as next in line for the throne after bin Nayef. Read more

The city of Baltimore is in lock-down after a night of riots and violent clashes between police and protesters that followed the funeral of a black man who died in custody.

In scenes that marked the latest episode of unrest over the treatment of African Americans by police, shops were looted, cars torched and 15 officers injured by youths who threw bottles and rocks.

While the convulsions reignited the debate about police behaviour towards ethnic minorities in the US, some commentators have pointed to the city’s high levels of deprivation and inequality as underlying causes of the outbursts.

These charts show the ethnic composition of Baltimore and shed light on some of its socio-economic problems. Read more

Two Israeli men carry their babies after they were repatriated from Nepal. (Getty)

When a jumbo jet from Kathmandu landed at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport just after noon on Tuesday, the Israelis evacuated from the stricken city included 18 Israeli infants in the care of medical staff.

The tiny evacuees were among 26 babies Israel has airlifted out since Sunday’s 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal – including two prematurely born infants still attached to equipment needed to keep them alive. The infants were born to surrogate mothers in Nepal and claimed by relieved gay and single parents unable to arrange surrogate births in Israel because of a restrictive local surrogacy law. Read more

Poland’s prime minister called them a “provocation” that could disturb Poland’s security. Civil groups have called them “criminals”. But to the 100 or so Polish petrolheads that came to welcome Russia’s nationalist Night Wolves biker gang to the country, they were just fellow motorcycle fans. Read more

By Richard McGregor

Shinzo Abe’s visit to the US this week is by any measure a significant moment. Japan’s prime minister will with President Barack Obama consecrate revised guidelines for the US-Japan security treaty, described by one close observer of Japan as the longest surviving alliance between great powers “since the 1648 Peace of Westphalia”.

The pair will also oversee the final negotiations of one of the largest trade pacts in two decades that will bring together 12 Asia-Pacific countries. Finally, Mr Abe will become the first Japanese leader to address a joint session of Congress.

In a week of landmarks, then, it may be surprising that much of the focus ahead of Mr Abe’s visit is whether he will “apologise” for Japan’s role in the second world war, which ended in Tokyo’s crushing defeat nearly 70 years ago. Read more

Ed Miliband outlines his foreign policy plans at Chatham House in London

If Ed Miliband becomes Britain’s prime minister next month what will this mean for the country’s foreign policy? The question is one that the UK’s allies should start considering because the prospect of him winning power is growing. Betting companies believe there is now a greater chance of Mr Miliband entering Number 10 after the May 7 election than of David Cameron returning to office.

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Just like the conflicts in Iraq and Syria, the violence in eastern Ukraine is attracting foreign fighters – some with the pro-Russian separatists, and some with the Ukrainian government forces.

Many of these fighters are from European countries. This makes it curious that we don’t hear much about this phenomenon from European governments – which are, of course, clamping down on citizens who go to fight in the Middle EastRead more

EU officials have come under renewed pressure to take action against flotillas of migrants from Africa following the deaths of more than 1,000 people during attempted Mediterranean crossings over the past week alone.

A massive search and rescue operation remains underway to find survivors among the wreckage of a ship thought to be loaded with more than 800 migrants which capsized over the weekend off the coast of Libya, potentially representing the worst maritime disaster of its type in the Med. Only 27 of those on board have been rescued.

The migrant deaths have shone a spotlight on Libya’s lucrative people smuggling industry. While the human cargo consists mainly of young men from Africa and the Middle East, more than 900 children also embarked on the dangerous crossing in the first three months of 2015.

In the aftermath of Libya’s bloody civil war, business is booming for the people traffickers. These figures illustrate why. Read more