• An economic crisis in the Russian hinterland of Karelia, which exposes over-reliance on resource extraction and state jobs, is emerging as a microcosm of Russia’s woes
  • The rare spectacle of a banking chief behind bars is part of an unfolding crisis in the minuscule state of Andorra, wedged between France and Spain
  • Britain’s decision to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, seen as China’s answer to the World Bank, is a sensible decision – though not without risk, argues Martin Wolf
  • A former facial reconstructive surgeon turned bike gang leader has become a Russian patriotic leader, proponent of ultra-conservative views and vocal supporter of Vladimir Putin (Vice News)
  • How a slain Afghan woman became an unlikely champion for women’s rights (Washington Post)

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As the Trans-Pacific Partnership does or doesn’t approach completion, arguments for and against have had another airing, including the contention that the deal is worth doing for foreign policy reasons to enhance the US’s geopolitical standing in Asia.

This is an appealing fall-back for those who don’t like the deal’s content, but is at best one of the weaker arguments in favour. Whether or not agreements help strategic alliances, the intrusive and one-sided nature of pacts negotiated with the US can arouse resentment as well as cooperation. Read more

The progressive wing of the Democratic Party has been urging liberal firebrand Elizabeth Warren to run for president for months, in the hope of creating a challenger to presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton on the left.

With the Massachussetts senator repeatedly declining to heed their call, an influential group of activists has now shifted tack. Their new objective? Making Mrs Clinton more like Ms Warren.

More than 200 leading Democrats in Iowa and New Hampshire, two critical early states in the US presidential primary calendar, have signed a petition urging Mrs Clinton (and any other potential candidate) to campaign on some of the “big, bold, economic-populist ideas” that Ms Warren has championed, from cracking down on Wall Street to reducing the burden of student debt and expanding entitlement programmes. Read more

The death of Lee Kuan Yew, the founding father of modern Singapore, has focused attention on the economic miracle he helped to create.

In the three decades since Lee first became prime minister in 1959 until he stepped aside in 1990, per capita income in the city-state rose by a factor of 29, jumping from around $435 to more than $12,700. Nearby Malaysia only managed a ten-fold increase, from $230 to around $2400.

Yet economists remain divided over the causes behind this remarkable take-off.

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  • Lee Kuan Yew, the founder and patriarch of modern Singapore who has died at the age of 91, was one of postwar Asia’s most revered and controversial politicians
  • In a fight between whales, the shrimp’s back is broken, according to a South Korean expression that sums up the country’s struggle to balance its strategic relationships with China and the US
  • Can economic optimism return quickly enough in Europe to prevent the further rise of extremist political parties? asks Gideon Rachman
  • Despite brutal punishments under Saudi justice drawing comparisons to Isis, avenues for mercy are built into the system that allow reprieves (New York Times)
  • It is used by almost a tenth of the world’s population, gives a buzz equivalent to six cups of coffee and is a symbol of love. But the humble betel nut is also sending tens of thousands to an early grave (BBC)

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By Gideon Rachman
Europe is in a race against time. After six years of economic crisis, extremist political parties are well-entrenched across the continent. Set against that, the European economy is in better shape than for some years. The question is whether economic optimism can return quickly enough to prevent the bloc’s politics slithering over the edge.

Is Bild going soft on Greece? After weeks spent hammering Athens over its debt-fuelled profligacy, the top-selling German tabloid has laid out the welcome mat for Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras for his first visit to Berlin.

“Willkommen in Deutschland, Herr Tsipras,” said Bild in a front page banner headline published hours before the radical leftist was due to meet chancellor Angela Merkel over dinner later on Monday. And just to make sure the visitor got the message, the paper filled the bottom half of its front page reproducing the headline in Greek. Read more

Two decades after the Dayton peace agreement that ended the 1992-95 Bosnian war, EU governments have finally approved an association agreement with Bosnia-Herzegovina that puts the troubled state on track for eventual membership of the 28-nation union.

This is unambiguously good news for everyone who takes the view that democracy, prosperity and ethnic harmony will only take lasting roots in former Yugoslavia once all the states that emerged from its collapse, as well as neighbouring Albania, are full EU members.

But the EU’s decision to approve Bosnia’s association accord, taken on March 16, must be seen against the backdrop of the Ukraine crisis. With Russian-western relations in their worst shape since the end of communism, the Kremlin has made clear over the past year that it intends to ramp up its influence in the Balkans. The EU initiative is a signal that European governments are pushing back. Read more

It seems as if good news is gushing out of Spain these days like water from a Seville fountain.

The economy is expanding at its fastest rate in seven years, leaving behind France, Germany and Italy. The government predicts Spain’s return to growth will create half a million jobs this year. A commercial airline (Ryanair) is going to fly in and out of Castellón airport, the unused, €150m facility near Valencia that was a symbol of wasteful expenditure in Spain’s pre-crisis years.

To cap everything, researchers say they have found, under a Madrid convent, some of the remains of Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote and Spain’s most revered literary figure.

If only Greece could boast similar successes – a healing economy, a society recovering from the euro crisis, and the discovery of Homer’s skull under the patio of an Athens taverna.

Without wanting to turn a sprinkler on Spain’s parade, I think a few words of caution are in order. Read more

Brazil president’s troubles multiply
The popularity of Brazil’s president Dilma Roussef has plummeted only months after she was re-elected in the face of a floundering economy, mass street protests and a corruption scandal. Gideon Rachman discusses what went wrong with Jonathan Wheatley and Samantha Pearson.

In his Budget speech to parliament on Wednesday, the UK chancellor George Osborne indulged in the traditional needling of his opponents on the opposite bench. Whether it was a dig at Ed Miliband, Labour leader, for his two kitchens, or at the party’s recent electioneering in a “women-friendly” pink van, his jokes at the opposition’s expense met with the usual roars of raucous approval from his own benches.

But the second biggest target of his needling was rather more surprising – our friends across the Channel. Read more

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The spectre of deflation is seldom something to fear, according to economists at the Bank for International Settlements who argue that evidence which shows how price falls persistently cause economic havoc is weak.

The risk of a vicious bout of falling prices is viewed as the biggest threat to the global economic recovery by many of the world’s top economic policy makers. Earlier this year, fears of years of weak price pressures led the European Central Bank to unleash a €1.1trn landmark quantitative easing package in the face of fierce resistance from the German economic and political establishment. Read more

Even some of his bitter enemies would now have to concede that Benjamin Netanyahu is a giant on the Israeli political scene. The results of Israel’s elections mean that the Likud leader is now likely to serve a record fourth term as prime minister, making him his country’s longest-serving prime minister ever. More than ever, “Bibi” is now confirmed as the international face of Israel. Read more

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By Gideon Rachman
The story of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is turning into a diplomatic debacle for the US. By setting up and then losing a power struggle with China, Washington has sent an unintended signal about the drift of power and influence in the 21st century.

When Zlatan Ibrahimovic was caught on camera calling France a “shitty country” as he ranted against a match official after his team Paris Saint Germain lost against Bordeaux, Marine Le Pen saw it as a shot on open goal.

Speaking to French radio on Monday, the leader of the far-right National Front minced no words in saying that “those who consider that France is a shit country can leave it”. This was a clear reference to the Swedish-born footballer, who has landed a multimillion contract in France after playing, among others, for Juventus, Inter, AC Milan and Barcelona.

Ms Le Pen was not the only one attacking the PSG star. Patrick Kanner, France’s sports minister, called the remarks “insulting” and other Socialist party members have also been critical of the striker. Still, Ms Le Pen was the one who made the most of Ibrahimovic’s immigrant status – no surprise, perhaps, for a leader who wants France to leave the EU so that it is able to pull up the drawbridge against foreigners. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

The British are used to syrupy American tributes to the “special relationship” that binds the US and the UK together. But this week, the Brits heard rather different noises coming from Washington: growls of frustration at the direction of UK foreign and security policy. Read more

By John Thornhill in Cernobbio

Fresh from his appearance in the glossy pages of Paris Match as a model of militant chic, Yanis Varoufakis pitched up at the luxurious lakeside Villa D’Este this weekend to spread his gospel of radical reform to Italy’s capitalists. Read more

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush arrives for a stop at Integra Biosciences Friday, March 13, 2015, in Hudson, N.H.

  © AP

It has been 15 years since Jeb Bush has been in New Hampshire for a political campaign – and then it was for his brother.

As he makes his first swing through the “Granite State” for a series of events this weekend ahead of the expected announcement of his own candidacy for the presidency, Mr Bush had a message for voters in the crucial early primary state: I’m a grown-up. Read more