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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.
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.
By Gideon Rachman
The rise of Donald Trump has been accompanied by predictable murmurs of “only in America”. But the Trump phenomenon is better understood as part of a global trend: the return of the “strongman” leader in international politics.
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.
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)
By Gideon Rachman
When a government starts murdering its critics in the streets, it has crossed the line into barbarism. President Vladimir Putin of Russia is fond of accusing the administration in Ukraine of fascism. But it is the aggressive, self-pitying nationalism whipped up by Mr Putin — allied to the persecution and now murder of his domestic opponents — that is truly reminiscent of the politics of Russia and Germany in the 1930s.
Despite a collective show of mourning for the assassinated opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, the prospects for Russia’s anti-Putin movement remain bleak
In one of his last interviews days before he was murdered, Boris Nemtsov told the FT that Russia had become a “country of war, of humiliated, hypnotised people” and that Putin had “brought Nazism into politics”
The egregious anomaly of the non-dom status, where the wealthiest enjoy the privilege of UK residency without paying their fair dues to the exchequer, should be scrapped, says the FT
Anatomy of a Killing: How Shaimaa al-Sabbagh Was Shot Dead at a Cairo Protest (Vice News)
In the West, Vladimir Putin is often viewed as something of an international pariah. Shift your perspective, however, and it is quite striking how many international friends, the Russian president has cultivated.
Mr Putin, who enjoys posing bare-chested, is particularly good at making friends with other “strongmen”. His roster of special friends include Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the president of Egypt, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, and Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa. This week, Mr Putin has also been demonstrating that he is capable of finding pals even inside the “enemy camp” – the European Union. The EU may have imposed sanctions on Russia over Ukraine, but that has not stopped Viktor Orban, the prime minister of Hungary – and another self-styled strongman – from rolling out the red carpet for Mr Putin. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
A friend of mine from Moscow has a nice way of describing how her fellow citizens view the war in Ukraine. She calls it a “contest between the television and the refrigerator”. The television stirs Russian spirits with a story about a great patriotic struggle against a “fascist” Ukraine and a scheming west. But the refrigerator lowers the spirits, with its increasingly sparse and costly contents.
- A drought in Brazil, which depends on hydropower for 70 per cent of its electricity, is sparking fears of water rationing and energy shortages that could hit economic growth
- As public deficits rise, pressure to cut costly subsidies on fuel and other products is growing in developing economies. Morocco has shown other countries how the reform can work
- He is close to Vladimir Putin and has described the European Union as the modern heir to the Third Reich – so why is Viktor Medvedchuk negotiating on behalf of Ukraine in peace talks? (NYT)
- As China moves into the third year of its anti-corruption campaign, experts are worried that without the grease of bribes, projects are stagnating and the economy is taking a hit (Washington Post)
- Grow vegetables extensively! North Korea has unveiled a list of 310 new political slogans covering every conceivable topic (Agence France-Presse)
- Greece’s privatisation programme, ordered under the terms of its international bailout, was falling far short of targets even before the country’s new left-wing government vowed to scrap further sales of state assets
- Following Isis’ brutal execution by immolation of captured Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh, many in the country have called for a deeper military commitment against the jihadist group
- Foreigners are leaving Russia in unprecedented numbers, reflecting a worsening economic outlook as western sanctions bite
- The west’s inability to comprehend how Vladimir Putin sees the world means it has trouble thinking constructively about how to deal with him (The American Interest)
- A convicted al-Qaeda operative has claimed that more than a dozen prominent Saudi figures were donors to the terror group and that a Saudi diplomat discussed with him a plot to shoot down Air Force One (NYT)
- Greece’s new finance minister proposed a “menu of debt swaps”, which involve exchanging existing loans for growth-linked bonds, that fall short of a headline write-off of the country’s €315bn foreign debt
- The first installment of a two-part FT investigation into how the west failed to halt Russia’s march on Ukraine reveals why German leader Angela Merkel believes there will be no quick end to the conflict
- Russia-backed separatists announced plans to boost their ranks facing government troops in Ukraine’s breakaway east with a draft to mobilise 100,000 people after the collapse of ceasefire talks
- Details about Hezbollah leader’s assassination could intensify shadow war with militant Lebanese group (Washington Post)
- Europe’s carbon-trading market was supposed to be capitalism’s solution to global warming. Instead, it became a playground for gangsters and international crime syndicates (Foreign Policy)
- An escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine in recent days has once again left western governments trying to understand the strategies of pro-Russian rebels and their supporters in the Kremlin
- Greece’s newly-elected leftist prime minister handed top economic posts to a former communist politician and a popular leftwing blogger, with the defence post going to the leader of his right-wing coalition partner
- South Korea is invoking a cold war-era law to crack down on “anti-state” activities, such as voicing support for the North, as governments across Asia ratchet up pressure against dissent
- The election of a left-wing Greek leader could boost Vladimir Putin’s fight against fresh western sanctions (Foreign Policy)
- Why the Islamic State wants to free forgotten female suicide bomber Sajida Rishawi (Washington Post)
- After the rouble plummeted as much as 20 per cent against the dollar yesterday and many Russians exchanged their money into foreign currency, the country’s central bank was left facing massive criticism
- An unusual deal by banks to lend $11bn on favourable terms to Russia’s largest oil company, Rosneft, seems to suggest Moscow’s priority is not fighting inflation or stabilising the rouble – and has increased risks in the banking system
- The Taliban assault on a school in Pakistan that left more than 120 children dead was unique only in the sheer number of child victims. Will the atrocity spur a popular outcry of ‘enough’ from the silent majority?
- The nationalist BJP government in India has promised to rebuild the temple of Ram, a fiery point of contention for Hindus and Muslims. But it’s not doing so for a surprising reason. (Foreign Policy)
- The Obama administration overturned a ban preventing a wealthy, politically connected Ecuadorean woman from entering the United States after her family gave tens of thousands of dollars to Democratic campaigns (NYT)
Almost exactly 15 years ago, on December 29, 1999, Vladimir Putin – then Russia’s prime minister and on the verge of promotion to the presidency – published a 5,000-word “mission statement” that summed up what he saw as the enduring values of the Russian people.
With the rouble dropping like a sack of Volga valley potatoes and the increasing threat to the Putin era’s social contract – “I make you wealthier and let you travel abroad, but I stay in power indefinitely and you don’t demand political freedom” – it is worth taking another look at the so-called Millennium Message. Read more
- The cancellation of the South Stream gas pipeline deals a blow to Serbia’s efforts to attract Russian investment, yet the country still treads a narrow path as it courts both Moscow and Brussels
- The flow of Opec petrodollars into global financial markets is set to dry up as the collapse in the oil price delivers a $316bn hit to the cartel’s revenues, removing a pillar of support from the global system
- The latest collapse of an investment firm offering high returns highlights financial risks lurking in the outer margins of China’s shadow banking system – and confusion over who regulates such companies
- A deadly epidemic caused by superbugs resistant to antibiotics is responsible for tens of thousands of newborn baby deaths in India, and it poses an overseas threat (New York Times)
- U.S. and allied forces have reportedly killed dozens of civilians in airstrikes while bombing the Islamic State. But the Defense Department refuses to take responsibility (Foreign Policy)
- Following the military coup and counter-revolution, Egypt’s main problem is the restoration of the security state, which is using the judiciary as one of its arms to stifle dissent and ringfence the army’s privileges
- Russian president Vladimir Putin cancelled construction of a strategically important gas pipeline following opposition from the EU and sanctions, but Moscow will instead develop a gas hub to southern Europe via Turkey
- Lines of frustrated shoppers have replaced socialist rallies and posters of Hugo Chavez as the most ubiquitous images of Venezuela, with the situation set to worsen after Opec resisted Caracas’s calls to boost the oil price
- The booming trade in jade in Myanmar – like blood diamonds in Africa – is turning good fortune into misery, as the spoils remain in the hands of the military and Chinese financiers who collude to smuggle the gemstone (NYT)
- Jihad isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, say disgruntled Isis recruits from France, who complain of iPods not working, being forced to do the dishes – and threats of execution if they attempt to flee (The Independent)
By Gideon Rachman
For centuries European navies roamed the world’s seas – to explore, to trade, to establish empires and to wage war. So it will be quite a moment when the Chinese navy appears in the Mediterranean next spring, on joint exercises with the Russians. This plan to hold naval exercises was announced in Beijing last week, after a Russian-Chinese meeting devoted to military co-operation between the two countries.