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.

By Gideon Rachman
Muslims have replaced Hispanics as the focus of verbal attacks on the US campaign trail with Donald Trump shifting his anti-immigrant focus to people of the Islamic faith.

Ukraine faces battles on two fronts
Rising violence in eastern Ukraine has prompted the leaders of France, Germany and Ukraine to convene an emergency summit to try to halt the fighting; at the same time Kiev’s negotiations with its creditors are reaching a critical point. Ben Hall discusses the twin crises with Neil Buckley and Elaine Moore.

Nato renews its commitment to collective defence
Defence ministers from the Atlantic Alliance’s 28 members are meeting in Brussels to discuss the reinvigoration of the alliance in the face of Russian aggression. The US is to make the biggest reinforcement of its forces in eastern Europe since the fall of the Soviet Union. Ben Hall discusses the development with Geoff Dyer and Sam Jones.

  • Greece cannot lose by rejecting this week’s final offer from international creditors – and leaving the eurozone would achieve a better outcome for its economy, argues Wolfgang Münchau
  • Foreign companies are finding ways of circumventing economic sanctions on Russia, enabling the provision of goods and services like banking to blacklisted entities
  • As the government in Athens fast runs out of money – and nervous depositors pull cash from the country’s banks – there is growing talk of the extraordinary use of capital controls in Greece
  • A documentary shows how the poorly-trained and equipped Kurdish peshmerga forces are the international coalition’s only reliable boots on the ground in northern Iraq (Vice Media)
  • A Chinese entrepreneur who took just 19 days to build a 57-storey tower says he has triggered a construction revolution. And his dreams soar far, far higher (BBC)

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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

The birch forests and heaths across Estonia are echoing with gunfire, explosions and the heavy crump of artillery as the tiny Baltic state holds the largest war games of its independent history

South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma is mired in scandals that have tarnished his and the ANC’s reputation, as a recent wave of xenophobic violence puts his record under fresh scrutiny

South Korea is facing a dilemma over Jehovah’s Witnesses, who conscientiously object to military service but have hope of a softening judicial stance towards their boycott

A team of Syrian investigators have risked their lives to collect secret government documents that provide evidence of war crimes by Bashar al-Assad and his regime. Will an international court ever hear their cases? (Guardian)

The most surprising event of this political era is what hasn’t happened. The world has not turned left despite the financial crisis and widening inequality, writes David Brooks in the New York Times  Read more

  • As the US moves closer to a nuclear deal with Tehran that could end decades of estrangement, it simultaneously finds itself scrambling to curb Iran’s influence in the Middle East
  • The contours of Russia’s new national ideology have become clear in the Ukraine crisis; its foundations are nostalgia for a glorious past, resentment of oligarchs, materialism and xenophobia
  • Despite being engulfed in news about corruption, Latin America is showing advances in strengthening institutions and holding the powerful to account
  • Uzbekistan president Islam Karimov has upgraded his country from pawn to rook as central Asia’s chess master uses the rivalry between China, Russia and the US to its advantage (Foreign Policy)
  • The provision of an hallucinogenic drug to inmates in the middle of the rain forest reflects a continuing quest for ways to ease pressure on Brazil’s prison system (New York Times)

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  • An economic crisis in the Russian hinterland of Karelia, which exposes over-reliance on resource extraction and state jobs, is emerging as a microcosm of Russia’s woes
  • The rare spectacle of a banking chief behind bars is part of an unfolding crisis in the minuscule state of Andorra, wedged between France and Spain
  • Britain’s decision to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, seen as China’s answer to the World Bank, is a sensible decision – though not without risk, argues Martin Wolf
  • A former facial reconstructive surgeon turned bike gang leader has become a Russian patriotic leader, proponent of ultra-conservative views and vocal supporter of Vladimir Putin (Vice News)
  • How a slain Afghan woman became an unlikely champion for women’s rights (Washington Post)

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Remarks by the president of Chechnya have sparked theories that Boris Nemtsov, the assassinated Russian opposition politician, fell victim to infighting in an opaque regime

Policy makers in some of the world’s largest economies have devalued their currencies in a bid to boost export-led recoveries, but there is evidence lower exchange rates do not always work

An unprecedented environmental protest movement in a remote part of Algeria has disrupted the country’s multibillion-dollar shale programme, and is making political waves across the region

Four years after a nuclear disaster, Fukushima’s farmers are struggling to sell their produce despite decontamination efforts as the region tries to stand on its own two feet (WSJ)

Win or lose in Tikrit, Isis can only be defeated in Iraq by the Sunnis, writes Hassan Hassan (The Guardian)  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.”

Who killed Boris Nemtsov?
Gideon Rachman is joined by Kathrin Hille and John Thornhill to discuss the murder of Russian opposition activist Boris Nemtsov. How has his death been handled by the Kremlin and the Russian media and to what extent is the prevailing atmosphere of war psychosis to blame?