Smart Reads

• Putin is proving his skills as Russia’s great propagandist, with his use of Soviet-era symbolism alarming those fearful for the country’s democracy.

• The Ukraine stand-off offers Beijing a broader role on the global stage.

• The FT’s series on the Fragile Middle continues, with a look at how India‘s petty entrepreneurs face an uncertain future.

• About to take over a crisis-ridden company with a demoralised workforce? Look no further the Vatican under Pope Francis for a case-study in how it should be done.

• As forests of empty new housing towers fill the horizon in Chinese cities, yet more state sanctioned construction would amount to yin zhen zhi ke – “drinking poison to quench one’s thirst”.

Mukhtar Ablyazov, a former banker accused of fraud and one of the Kazakh president’s main political opponents, says the UK is being manipulated by a kleptocratic dictator after London decided to revoke his asylum status. Read more

Malaise in Brazil highlights how Latin America’s middle class could fall into poverty if growth stalls. The latest in the FT’s Fragile Middle series.

• Italy is embracing change as women are appointed to the top jobs in the country’s largest state-controlled companies.

• Oligarchs in Ukraine deny that they are siding with separatists and trying to use the threat of breakaway areas as a negotiating chip with Kiev.

• Six ways that Europe’s financial sector has changed – or at least is supposed to change.

• The New York Times shows how the five-year economic collapse in Greece has spawned a new burst of creative energy that has turned Athens into a contemporary mecca for street art in EuropeRead more

♦ Almost a billion people in the developing world are at risk of slipping out of the ranks of a nascent middle class, according to FT analysis, raising questions about the durability of the past 30 years’ march out of poverty.

Weeks after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the growing unrest in eastern Ukraine appears to be following an eerily similar script.

♦ Eurozone policy makers aim to make it less attractive to hold euros.

♦ The power of the US cable barons must be challenged, says Edward Luce.

♦ As the US grows older and less white, the political messages and messengers will have to adjust, writes Chris Cilliza in The Washington Post. Read more

♦ Twenty years on from the Rwandan genocide, the savage events of 1994 remain pivotal to efforts to build a post-ethnic nation, reports Katrina Manson

♦ As India, the world’s largest democracy, embark on one of its most hotly contested national polls in decades, this interactive graphic explains what is at stake Read more

Afghanistan steps into the unknown: With Karzai heading for the exit and Nato winding down its troop presence, the country is entering a new era – and many Afghans fear renewed violence and foreign interference.

The US is playing the crooked lawyer in an Israeli-Palestinian drama, says David Gardner.

Anger over the economy simmers in Cyprus even though Brussels and Berlin have judged the island’s bailout to be a success.

♦ A South Sudan rebel leader with a satellite phone, a touch-screen tablet and a copy of “Why Nations Fail” ponders the next step in a young country’s civil war. The New York Times reports.

♦ A middle class job no longer supports a middle class life. The Washington Post explores the high price of middle class membershipRead more

• Twenty years ago Rwanda descended into the madness of genocide. UN peacekeepers were stretched to breaking point, but one man stood out, taking huge risks to save hundreds of lives.

• Beijing’s military build-up is generating a new Asian arms race as China’s neighbours seek to counter its growing might. Read more

• The flag of modern social democracy flies again in Europe but times are tougher for Blair and Schröder’s heirs.

• Critics argue that the migrant labour system in South Africa’s mines threatens the stability of gold and platinum producers.

• Tensions have emerged at the heart of the British government over David Cameron’s decision to order an inquiry into the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group, to see whether it should be classified as a terrorist organisation.

• Is China different? Or must its borrowing binge, like most others, end in tears?

• New governments – same old problems. The New York Times explores government by patronage in the Central African Republic, Mali and Ivory Coast. Read more

  • “When a man becomes a high official, even his chickens and dogs go to heaven”, but a Chinese corruption investigation means the route for Zhou Yongkang, his chickens and his dogs might well lead somewhere else.
  • Hollande’s drubbing is not a blank cheque for France’s mainstream right
  • Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s former premier and now a presidential candidate, urges the west to bolster the country’s military defences and impose “immensely strong” economic sanctions on Moscow.
  • Meanwhile a visit to Donetsk shows how private donations are helping Ukraine’s underfunded army with everything from food to funds to create a ‘Maginot line’ to halt Russia.
  • The Middle East Institute tracks the history of terrorism in Egypt’s Sinai with an interactive graphic.

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♦ Thousands of young Muslims are being radicalised through social networks and propelled towards violence in Syria.

Latvia‘s ‘second class’ Russian residents are arguing for better rights, making many locals nervous amid the Crimea crisis.

Ukraine‘s ‘Kamikaze’ economy minister has one of the world’s toughest public administration jobs as he battles to deliver on unrealistic expectations.

♦ The rise of a US oligarchy amid widening inequality is threatening democracy, with both parties up for rent to wealthy lobbyists.

♦ ECB arch hawk Jens Weidmann often finds himself in a minority of one. But the appeal of being the person who is convinced everyone else is wrong seems to have waned. Read more

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