When Benjamin Netanyahu rises to speak in Congress later on Tuesday he will become the first foreign leader since Winston Churchill to speak before Congress three times. John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House, apparently intends to mark the occasion by presenting the Israeli prime minister, with a bust of Churchill.
Mr Netanyahu is probably vain enough to think that the comparison is appropriate. The Israeli prime minister believes that, like Churchill in the 1930s, he is a voice in the wilderness warning a complacent world against a “gathering storm” – in this case, an ambitious Iran that is intent on acquiring nuclear weapons.
But all politicians should be wary of comparing themselves with Churchill. George W Bush was also presented with a bust of Churchill, by the British government, which he kept in the Oval Office during the Iraq war. That didn’t work out too well. Beyond the threat of vainglorious self-delusion, the Netanyahu-Churchill comparison is dangerous for the Israeli leader himself, for a couple of reasons. Read more
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)
‘Jihadi John’: a graduate of my radical London university, a place where extremism can fester and Islamist views were prevalent (Washington Post) Read more
Just as talks between Iran and world powers to nail down a deal restricting Tehran’s nuclear programme enter a decisive phase, the Islamic Republic last week put on a show. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) placed a mock-up of a US aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Gulf, and then blew it out of the water. For the IRGC, praetorian guard of the Shia theocracy, it would not do to show flabby muscle tone at this juncture, to the US or its Gulf Arab neighbours.
In Washington, meanwhile, another form of triumphalism is on display. Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, is tomorrow due to address the US Congress – at the invitation of its Republican leadership – and is expected to say that the nuclear deal under discussion amounts to capitulation to Iran and will allow it to build an atomic bomb. As well as a brazen electoral stunt before Israel goes to the polls on March 17, this is a calculated snub to President Barack Obama. Mr Netanyahu is flaunting his ability to go around the White House to Congress, where ordinarily he enjoys the near unanimous support he could only dream of in the Knesset at home. Read more
The stable of fictitious beasts from Greek mythology acquired a new inmate this week, unveiled in the letter from the Syriza government proposing economic reforms to keep the country’s bailout going. Yanis Varoufakis, the finance minister, has bravely set off in search of that wondrous creature: “EU best practice across the range of labour market legislation”.
Presidential poll puts Nigeria to the test
Nigeria’s presidential election next month is the closest contest since the end of military rule in 1999 and is taking place against a worrying backdrop of civil conflict and economic trouble. Gideon Rachman is joined by Tom Burgis and William Wallis to discuss whether the country can hold together.
Opposition candidate Mohammadu Buhari at a campaign rally in the northern city of Maiduguri Getty.
The postponement of Nigeria’s presidential elections on security grounds has flushed into the open scenarios reminiscent of the dark days when the country’s democratic aspirations were stifled by a military cabal. The polls will take place against a backdrop of regional and ethnic tensions, with the ruling Peoples Democratic party up against a well organised opposition. A free and fair vote could lead to the country’s first constitutional transfer of power, an event that, if handled peacefully, would not only further Nigeria’s political evolution, but provide a fillip to democracy across the continent. Read more
A useful report on EU-Russian relations was published last week by the EU committee of Britain’s House of Lords, the upper house of parliament.
The report shows how London and other EU capitals badly misjudged Russian intentions last year, before the February revolution in Kiev, President Vladimir Putin’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and the Kremlin’s armed intervention in eastern Ukraine. In particular, the way that the British government allowed expert knowledge and experience of Russia to waste away in the UK foreign office after the Soviet Union’s demise is indefensible. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
Watching the Greek crisis unfold, I found myself torn between two equal and opposite thoughts. First, the euro cannot survive. Second, everything must be done to save the euro.
The election by parliament of Prokopis Pavlopoulos, a centre-right former cabinet minister, as Greece’s new president on Wednesday night has sparked criticism from members of the governing Syriza party’s far-left faction who wanted to see an “anti-austerity” politician in the largely ceremonial post of head of state.
Puzzled Syriza voters wondered how Mr Pavlopoulos could have been adopted as the candidate of a government that wants to get rid of outdated political practices, given his track record while in office. Read more
How strong is the Islamic State?
Islamist terrorists have grabbed headlines in the Arab world with horrific atrocities, but there are signs their influence may be on the wane. Gideon Rachman discusses the extent of their power with Borzou Daragahi and David Gardner.
Vladimir Putin with Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban
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
During Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests last year, chief executive CY Leung found himself the subject of many unflattering comparisons – from a vampire to Pinocchio to Adolf Hitler.
But his best-known alter ego is as “the wolf”. And now he’s seeking a more sheep-like population to govern. Read more
The scenes of chaos during President Jacob Zuma’s speech at the opening of South Africa’s parliament last week will be remembered as one of the darkest days of the post-apartheid era
Visitors from the Chinese mainland to Hong Kong are known as “locusts” and now a long-simmering resentment at their presence in the territory is boiling over into angry protests
Greece must impose capital controls or repeat the costly mistake of Cyprus, where emergency funding from the ECB was spirited out of the country, argues Hans-Werner Sinn
What Isis Really Wants: The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. Here’s what its beliefs means for its strategy – and how to stop it (The Atlantic)
Washington’s uneasy partnership with Tehran now extends to Yemen (Foreign Policy) 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.
If the Minsk II agreement reached between the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany can secure a ceasefire and save a few lives, then it is probably a good thing. But you would have to be fairly naive to believe that is the end of the matter.
Over the past year, President Putin has shown that he is a master of turning military pressure on and off to keep the Ukrainians and the west on the hop. And there are a couple of other reasons for suspecting that the fighting may soon restart.
First, the Russians have not yet achieved even the relatively limited goal of establishing a land corridor between Russia and Crimea. Until they do this, the economic situation in Crimea is likely to be very precarious. Second, while Russia’s denials that it is behind the fighting in eastern Ukraine are not credible (if so, why are they even negotiating a ceasefire?), it may well be true that Moscow is not in complete control of events. The Ukrainian side may also be unable to control some of the nationalist militias that are fighting in the east of the country. Read more
Should you find yourself in Baku, skip the Versace store and Emporio Armani. Go instead to the grand edifice with the Grecian columns that stands between them, overlooking the Caspian Sea with its fabulous oil and gas riches.
This building was constructed in 1960, when Azerbaijan was part of the Soviet Union, to mark Vladimir Lenin’s 90th birthday. It is a vastly different place these days, hosting the Museum of Azerbaijani Independence. If you’re in luck, as I was this morning, you will be the only visitor. Read more