Smart Reads

  • The hum of US drones is becoming more familiar over African skies as US military presence increases on the continent.
  • Russia has doubled the number of its battalions near the Ukrainian border and could launch a cross-border incursion with little or no warning.
  • The New Yorker considers the experience of the US ambassador to Russia and how he saw the promise of democracy come and fade.
  • Ben Judah takes a look inside the bullet-proof bubble of Vladimir Putin, the “latter-day dictator”.

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• Squeezed between government forces and Russian-backed separatists, civilian casualties in east Ukraine continue to mount, diminishing the chances of postwar reconciliation.

• Meanwhile in Russia, President Vladimir Putin is feeling the chill from the struggle for Ukraine as he attempts to appease both business tycoons and nationalists.

• The Guardian’s Shaun Walker tracked down the feared rebel leader Igor Bezler- thought to be behind the MH17 crash and regarded as something of a loose cannon, even by other rebels. The encounter ended with Mr Bezler threatening to execute the interviewer.

• Europe is bankrolling Al Qaeda by paying ransoms. An investigation by The New York Times found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken in at least $125m in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which $66m was paid just last year. Read more

  • The Calvert Journal looks inside the world of korobka, the rough-and-ready football played in courtyard cages in Russia.
  • Iraqi antiquities officials are calling for the Obama administration to save Nineveh and other sites around jihadist-occupied Mosul.
  • “I’m not sure if we’ve learned all the lessons about what we did wrong after July 7 – and I am even less sure that other countries have learned from our mistakes” says Dr. H.A. Hellyer, a non-resident fellow at Brookings.
  • Everything is expensive by historical standards. Neil Irwin explains why.

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  • Edward Luce examines EU-US drift: “Without US leadership, the transatlantic alliance will not spring back to life.”
  • Philip Stephens argues that London’s Heathrow airport has turned its “manifest failings into a potentially golden asset” by convincing travellers that “the only way to improve the dismal lot of passengers is guarantee Heathrow still higher profits”.
  • David Pilling asks: what is the real point of GDP and can it ever be accurately measured?
  • Smart view: the French government hopes that its package of business reforms will encourage investment – the FT’s Michael Stothard sees whether France’s business community is convinced.
  • The conflict between China and Vietnam in 1979 lasted less than a month, but the legacy of ferocious fighting permeates the sour relations between the two countries even now.

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  • Isis’s PR department is pushing its vision of an Islamic state.
  • Industrialisation has left China with soil pollution that is damaging health and livelihoods across the country. The government had declared soil pollution data a “state secret”, but officials have slowly started acknowledging the issue.
  • The US Navy’s most sophisticated warship is designed to be operated by video gamers – the young sailors who crew their ships have, after all, been raised on video games.
  • Neil McArthur, a philosopher, asks if humans will ever be liberated from basic biological needs when it comes to sex.
  • Steve Negus in The Arabist details how Iraq has been mismanaged by the Maliki goverment.

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  • Fuel shortages and power outages are putting pressure on the Islamist insurgents who seized control of Mosul last week.
  • Their military offensive has been matched by a digital offensive of equal prowess.
  • Moderate Islamists are being eclipsed by their extremist counterparts, while jihadists are on the march, roving unchecked across broad sections of North Africa and the Middle East.
  • Hong Kong is undergoing deepening tensions over its political future as a self-governed territory under Chinese sovereignty.

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  • Argentina is playing a game of chicken with NML, saying: we are prepared to go as far as the possibility of default not to pay you. Given that, how are we going to settle this case?
  • Oil majors including ExxonMobil and BP started evacuating staff from Iraq as Sunni militants battled for control of the north’s main oil facility.
  • China has been moving sand onto reefs and shoals to add several new islands to the Spratly archipelago, in what foreign officials say is a new effort to expand the Chinese footprint in the South China Sea.
  • Anti-Brussels sentiment in Hungary is manifesting itself in a fight over home-brewed palinka.

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  • China’s increased border security and pressure on Nepal to turn away Tibetans has reduced the flow of Tibetan refugees to a trickle.
  • Germany, the previous Darth Vaders of football, are keen to put an end to being beautiful losers and become beautiful winners.
  • Richard Lloyd Parry, Asia editor for the Times, writes about class war in Thailand and the story of Thaksin Shinawatra.
  • Nouri al-Maliki has made mistakes, but the real culprits in the present upheaval are the faultlines running through Iraq, contradictory Western policies and the predatory approach of Iraq’s neighbors
  • The seizure of 160 computer flash sticks has revealed how Isis came from nowhere and having nothing to possessing Syrian oil fields and control of Iraq’s second city.

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  • Ahmed Rashid argues that Pakistan desperately needs a ground offensive by the army, which aims to retake the territory the state has lost to the Taliban and the elimination of the group’s leadership.
  • Despite blows to his authority, Nigeria’s President Jonathan Goodluck is still the man to beat in the general election next February.
  • A second Chinese army unit has been implicated in online spying and, according to research, used yoga brochures to infiltrate systems.
  • Bloomberg has built a prototype of its data terminal hooked up to the virtual-reality headset Oculus.

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  • The US president’s thicker skin and conviction that he can transact little business with Congress means he is using his executive authority to shape policy – and his legacy.
  • The next king of Spain will need to work hard to restore faith in the Bourbons, says the FT’s Tobias Buck.
  • Not one of the ECB’s new measures addresses the problem of low inflation directly, says Wolfgang Münchau.
  • This week’s Ofsted report that is expected to warn of hardline Islamist teaching creeping into a handful of British schools will revive the debate on whether a much broader push is needed to combat extremism in the UK.
  • Even before the bribery allegations concerning Qatar’s World Cup bid emerged last Sunday, the young emir of the gas-rich state had reason to believe the world was turning against his country.

Football interlude:

  • Young prodigy Cassiano de Jesus has captured the footballing world of Brazil where the sport is one of the few equalisers in one of the planet’s most unequal countries.
  • Four years after the last World Cup, residents of South Africa are still waiting to see its legacy.
  • Lionel Messi “rejected the advances of Spain’s national team to choose Argentina, the land of his birth, only to find that he could never really come home.”

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