Putin: opportunist or master strategist?

Vladimir Putin has been playing brinkmanship in Syria, Ukraine, and elsewhere. Is the Russian president a master strategist or are his moves merely opportunistic? Gideon Rachman discusses the question with Neil Buckley the FT’s East Europe editor.

By Gideon Rachman

The assault on the Iraqi city of Mosul that began this week underlines the fact that the next three months will be a perilous period in international politics. Fighting is intensifying in the Middle East. Tensions are rising between Russia and the west. And relations between China and its Asian neighbours are getting edgier. All this is happening while the US is diverted by the Trump-Clinton melodrama and the transition to a new president.

Antonio Guterres

Antonio Guterres, who is poised to be confirmed as the next UN Secretary-General, certainly comes to the job with relevant experience. The 66-year-old former prime minister of Portugal served for ten years, between 2005 and 2015, as the head of the UN High Commission for Refugees. And he will assume office amidst the most acute refugee crisis the world has faced, since 1945. Read more

Russia and Ukraine: a new crisis?

Russia has been back in the spotlight recently, after President Putin replaced his long-standing chief of staff Sergei Ivanov. Meanwhile, tensions have mounted in eastern Ukraine, prompting fears of a new Russian offensive. Russia is still heavily involved in Syria. Is a new crisis building? Gideon Rachman speaks with Kathrin Hille, the FT’s Moscow bureau chief, and Neil Buckley, Eastern Europe editor.

On the eve of his acceptance speech at the Republican convention, Donald Trump has rattled allies in Europe and Asia with an extensive interview about his foreign policy worldview with the New York Times. Here are the most striking passages from the transcript:

1) The US and Nato Most of the attention has focused on Trump’s views on whether the US would defend a Nato ally under attack from Russia: Read more

By Gideon Rachman

Last week, as President Obama entertained the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner and Britain indulged in a bizarre debate about whether Hitler was a Zionist, more than 200 people were killed in a brutal bombardment of Aleppo. The breakdown of Syria’s fragile ceasefire promises yet more suffering in a five-year long war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and created millions of refugees.

Russia’s new nationalism
What are the origins of Eurasianism in Russia and how has it come to occupy a central place in Kremlin thinking today? Charles Clover, FT China correspondent and former Moscow bureau chief discusses his new book, Black Wind, White Snow: The Rise of Russia’s New Nationalism with Gideon Rachman.

By Gideon Rachman

The fate of Angela Merkel’s “open door” policy on refugees has assumed global significance. Nationalists from Russia to the US are pointing at the German chancellor’s policies as a symbol of the failure of an out-of-touch liberal elite. In the most recent US presidential debate, Donald Trump denounced Ms Merkel, adding: “Germany is a disaster right now.” Even within the EU, many leaders, particularly in the east, echo that sentiment.

Some of the thousands of refugees and migrants queuing at the Greek-Macedonian border

Rarely has the EU needed Turkey so badly. And rarely has Turkey looked like such an unattractive partner.

The EU’s strategy to end its “migrant crisis” hinges on an effort to persuade Turkey to stop the flow of would-be refugees heading from Turkish shores to Greece. That plan will be the focus of an EU-Turkey summit in Brussels on March 7th. So it is particularly unfortunate that the Turkish government should have chosen the days before the summit to raid and effectively take over the country’s largest opposition news group in an apparent bid to end its critical coverage of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

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Russia’s foreign policy resurgence
Russian air power has changed the course of the civil war in Syria and its annexation of Crimea remains largely unchallenged. Gideon Rachman talks to Neil Buckley, FT East Europe editor, and Sam Jones, defence and security editor, about Russia’s renewed confidence on the global stage and whether this is justified.

By Gideon Rachman

Why is the Middle East in flames and Russia on the rampage? In both Europe and the Middle East, it is common to hear the blame placed on Barack Obama. The US president, it is charged, is a weak and disengaged leader who has allowed international events to get out of control.

What happens if Aleppo falls?
Syrian government forces backed by Russian air power are on the brink of encircling the northern city of Aleppo, a stronghold of the moderate rebels in what could prove to be a decisive moment in Syria’s murderous civil war. Ben Hall discusses the implications with Erika Solomon, FT Middle East correspondent, and Geoff Dyer, FT US diplomatic correspondent.

By Gideon Rachman
In 2015, a sense of unease and foreboding seemed to settle on all the world’s major power centres. From Beijing to Washington, Berlin to Brasília, Moscow to Tokyo — governments, media and citizens were jumpy and embattled.

By Gideon Rachman
I have a nightmare vision for the year 2017: President Trump, President Le Pen, President Putin.
Like most nightmares, this one probably won’t come true. But the very fact that Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen are running strongly for the American and French presidencies says something disturbing about the health of liberal democracy in the west. In confusing and scary times, voters seem tempted to turn to “strong” nationalistic leaders — western versions of Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

Can world powers make common cause against Isis?
France has been courting US and Russian support for a war on Isis in the wake of the Paris terror attacks. But while Russia and Turkey, a Nato member, claim to be fighting the same foe, they themselves saw armed combat this week when Turkey shot down a Russian jet on its border with Syria. Mark Vandevelde asks Gideon Rachman and Geoff Dyer whether world powers are capable of making common cause against Isis.

By Gideon Rachman
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, two pictures sent a powerful message about how international politics are changing. One was of Barack Obama hunched in discussion in a hotel lobby with Vladimir Putin. The frosty body language of their previous meeting at the UN had given way to something more businesslike.

If Vladimir Putin is looking for a way out of his estrangement from the west over the Ukraine crisis, he sometimes has an odd way of showing it.

Two days after Russia’s president met his US counterpart Barack Obama at the UN Security Council last month and called for an international coalition to fight Islamist terrorism, Russia gave the US just one hour’s notice that it would launch air strikes in Syria. It delivered the message via a Russian general who turned up on the doorstep of the US embassy in Baghdad.

Addressing the annual Valdai Club conference on Thursday, Mr Putin reiterated his appeal for co-operation in Syria – but only after running through a typical litany of complaints about US policy and behaviour.

Yet this was a different Mr Putin from the sour figure who, at the same meeting with foreign journalists and academics a year ago, delivered arguably his bitterest anti-US diatribe since his combative “Munich speech” of 2007.

By shifting the military theatre from Ukraine to Syria – however big a gamble Russia’s military intervention there may be – Mr Putin seemed to feel he had seized the initiative. His acid wit and self-assurance were back. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
In the 1930s, the Spanish civil war sucked in outsiders, with Nazi Germany backing the nationalists, the Soviet Union backing the Republicans and foreign idealists flocking to the country to fight on either side of the conflict.

George W Bush famously said that he had looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and “got a sense of his soul”. Maybe he did – for the former US and current Russian presidents are beginning to look like soulmates, when it comes to the idea of a “war on terror”. Like President Bush, President Putin has decided to deploy his country’s military in the Middle East, as part of a war on terrorism. And like President Bush, the Russian leader has argued that he is engaged in a struggle on behalf of the whole civilised world, while appealing for global support. Read more

Russia raises its profile in the Middle East
Russia has moved fighter jets, tanks and troops into a base in Syria, meanwhile Vladimir Putin, Russian president, is gearing up to make a major speech at the United Nations. What are the Russians up to? Gideon Rachman discusses this question with Neil Buckley and Geoff Dyer.