US foreign policy

By Gideon Rachman
Ukraine is a distraction. Syria is a distraction. For believers in America’s “pivot to Asia”, the centre of Barack Obama’s foreign policy must remain the region of the future – Asia. The pivoters will be delighted that this week – despite a raging crisis with Russia – the president is embarking on a four-nation tour of Asia, beginning in Japan.

John Paul Rathbone

The Associated Press has just released a fascinating piece of investigative journalism about US psy-ops in Cuba, the plan being to use a Twitter-like service to foment social unrest and weaken Havana’s communist regime.

The story is a must-read that shows how the world of espionage is changing in today’s internet-driven world, and how that espionage can fail for new reasons. It may also hand other governments, such as those in Turkey, Russia or Venezuela, an excuse to crack down on social media using the argument that the misinformation spread is all part of a terrible imperialist plot. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Any western leader negotiating over the fate of smaller countries in central or eastern Europe does so in the shadow of two bitter historical experiences: the Munich agreement of 1938 and the Yalta agreement of 1945. At Munich, the British and the French agreed to Adolf Hitler’s demands for the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia – without the participation of the Czech government, which was not represented at the talks. At Yalta, the British and the Americans made a deal with Josef Stalin that, de facto, accepted Soviet domination over postwar Poland and other countries under Russian occupation – again, without the participation of those concerned.

By Gideon Rachman

As US President Barack Obama and the leaders of the EU huddle together this week, they will strive to look united and resolved. The reality, as Vladimir Putin knows, is that they are divided and uncertain. The Russian president has moved with a speed and ruthlessness that has left western leaders floundering. Russia swallowed Crimea, in less than a week, with scarcely a shot fired. It has now massed troops on Ukraine’s eastern border – and all that the west has so far offered the Ukrainian military is a supply of US army ready-meals.

Here is an addendum to our post on Friday on what might come next for trade sanctions on Russia. I spent part of the weekend playing with the data on MIT’s brilliant Observatory of Economic Complexity. It is a fabulous place for visualisations of trade data. The underlying data are a few years out of date. But the overall trend still holds true and so these interactive charts on Russia seem worth sharing given the current debate. Read more

Gideon Rachman

Most people in Washington are dismayed about the turn of events in Ukraine. But there are two groups I have come across that seem pleased: lobbyists for the defence industry and specialists on Europe. At a conference on the future of Europe that I spoke at yesterday at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), one of the other speakers said firmly – “This should be the end of America’s pivot to Asia.” The remark was greeted with widespread approval. Read more

Gideon Rachman

How do we decide what matters in the world?

The question is prompted by the coincidence of the crisis in Ukraine and the third anniversary of the outbreak of war in Syria.

There is no doubt that it is Ukraine that is dominating the attention of world leaders and the media. John Kerry, US secretary of state, is meeting Sergei Lavrov, his Russian counterpart, in London today to discuss Ukraine, while Angela Merkel has been working the phones with Vladimir Putin to try to defuse the crisis.

The front-pages of newspapers blare about the build-up of troops on the Russian-Ukrainian border. My own work has reflected these priorities, with my last three FT columns on the Ukrainian crisis.

But are we right to be so focused on Ukraine rather than Syria? Read more

James Politi

Are Americans more on board with President Barack Obama’s efforts to clinch massive deals with the Pacific Rim and the European Union than most Democratic lawmakers give him credit for?

This week, the well-respected, bipartisan, NBC-WSJ poll found that 44 per cent of Americans were more likely to vote for a member of Congress who “favours new trade agreements with other countries”, compared to 20 per cent who said they were less likely to; 34 per cent said it made no difference, and 2 per cent were unsure. Read more

A few weeks ago, even Europeans were paying little attention to events in Ukraine. Now the whole world is watching. This is because the Russian incursion into Ukraine is widely seen as a direct challenge to the US-led world order. If President Vladimir Putin gets away with it then other governments, such as China and Iran, may decide defying America is getting less risky.

The international crisis over
Russian troops are in effective control of many parts of the Ukrainian region of Crimea and the United States is threatening Russia with isolation if it doesn’t back down. In this week’s podcast, Gideon Rachman is joined by Neil Buckley, East Europe editor and chief US commentator Edward Luce to discuss how this dangerous situation is likely to develop.