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

Judging from Moscow’s dark warnings over the threat of civil war in Ukraine, and its war of words with the west over the crisis engulfing its neighbour, one would assume that president Vladimir Putin would be under considerable stress.

But on Thursday, the Russian leader was on top form. In the marathon televised question-and-answer session in which he holds court once a year, Mr Putin appeared at ease, well prepared, and, most importantly, very satisfied with what he has recently achieved. Read more

  • Ivan Krastev in Foreign Affairs looks at why Putin threw caution to the wind: “to bring about a constitutional crisis that will remake Ukraine into a confederate state with a very weak centre”.
  • Neil Buckley critiques Putin’s classic performance as he broke his silence on Ukraine.
  • Money flows from power in China: the richest members of China’s parliament saw their average wealth increase more than four times over the past eight years, compared with an increase of under three times for the 1,000 wealthiest people identified in the country. Those who wanted to leave the country however, were less lucky – a group of wealthy Chinese are threatening to sue over Ottawa’s abrupt cancellation of its Immigrant Investor Scheme.
  • “Mandarinisation” is making people in Hong Kong indignant.
  • As the European Central Bank prepares to conduct stress tests and asset quality reviews of hundreds of banks across the eurozone, there is particular worry among some European regulators about Italy’s banks.

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The manoeuvre was vintage Putin. After answering journalists’ questions for four hours and five minutes in an annual press conference – which had already included a question about Mikhail Khodorkovsky – the Russian president chose to slip the main news into a casual comment to a group of journalists afterwards. Russia’s most famous political prisoner, and arguably one of the most famous in the world, will be pardoned after ten years in jail “in the shortest time”.

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♦ China’s growth still contributes more to global demand than that of any other economy The FT looks at how rebalancing will generate winners and losers in different sectors.
♦ Turkey’s decision to raise its overnight lending rate for the first time in nearly two years underscores the dilemma facing developing economies as the end to US monetary easing draws near: focus on inflation or growth?
♦ Inflation has defied all predictions in the US during the past five years and it is making life complicated for the Federal Reserve.
♦ Haïdara Aïssata Cissé, the only woman standing for president in Mali’s upcoming elections, is an outsider, but she has improved her chances by going on walkabouts.
♦ Shaun Walker at Foreign Policy thinks Russian President Vladimir Putin should be worried about Alexei Navalny, especially as people start to compare him to Mandela and Lenin. Read more

♦ Detroit became the largest US city to file for bankruptcy. Time magazine looks at the decay of the city. The Washington Post’s Ezra Klein points out Detroit is not alone.
♦ Sunday’s election for the upper house of Japan’s parliament is expected to give Prime Minister Shinzo Abe a stronger platform from which to shoot the “arrows” of his radical economic reforms, but some fear he may also strike a more nationalistic tone.
♦ Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was freed on bail Friday after being sentenced to five years in prison on embezzlement charges the day before. Our Charles Clover examines how his jailing tells you a lot about how political repression has evolved in Russia over the years. Masha Lipman looks at how the Putin government chose to eliminate their political opposition the hard way.
♦ The Guardian’s Patrick Kingsley examines the shooting of Muslim Brotherhood supporters outside the Republican Guards’ club in Cairo and finds that it was a coordinated assault on largely peaceful civilians.
♦ Marc Lynch at Foreign Policy argues that Washington should make a “much broader, more vigorous effort to engage publicly and privately across all Egyptian political groups and segments of the population” – but now is not the moment, with so much anti-American rhetoric swirling around.
♦ They were the irreplaceable loot from the art heist of the century. But to Olga Dogaru, a resident of a tiny Romanian village, burning them was the only way to save her son from prosecution. The problem is that he is the man charged with orchestrating the brazen theft last October of works worth hundreds of millions of dollars from the Kunsthal museum in Rotterdam. And the works were masterpieces by the likes of Picasso, Monet and Gauguin. Read more

There was something poignant about Alexei Navalny‘s speculation that he might get a suspended sentence on trumped-up charges of theft and embezzlement. The Kremlin does not do subtlety and it does not do mercy. Mr Navalny, who coined the phrase “party of crooks and thieves” to describe Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, knows that better than most. And, in the event, the sentence announced today was five years in prison. More than enough to take Mr Navalny out of politics, and to send a clear message to anybody who dares to try to challenge Vladimir Putin. Read more

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From ghost towns to rooftop farms, here are our picks for today:

Ukrainian opposition activists clash with riot police on July 4. SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/GettyImages

Ukrainian opposition activists clash with riot police on July 4. SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/GettyImages

Barely had supporters’ chants at the Euro 2012 final in Kiev’s Olympic Stadium on Sunday died out, before politics as usual returned to Ukraine. Tuesday night and Wednesday morning have seen violent clashes between riot police and demonstrators protesting against a law that would upgrade the role of the Russian language in the former Soviet state.

The law was rammed through parliament in a second reading at short notice on Tuesday, after being similarly rammed through a first reading a month ago – just before Euro 2012. It now needs only to be signed by president Viktor Yanukovich to take effect. Read more

A storm of protest has broken out in Russian political circles over, of all things, protesting. A new law sharply raising fines for unsanctioned political demonstrations, effectively criminalising them, was passed this week by both houses of parliament, and awaits signature by President Vladimir Putin. But is it fair? Read more

AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

An opposition activist during a protest on May 31. AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky

Vladimir Putin’s popularity ratings are likely to be causing a bit of concern in Russia’s ruling circles, as a March election bump in his approval scores appears to be evaporating – and the president’s rating has fallen back to territory seen early in the last decade.

On Thursday, the Public Opinion Foundation, a respected polling agency that works for the Kremlin, published figures showing the number of Russians answering “Do you trust Vladimir Putin?” with ‘Yes’ stood at 48 per cent at the end of May, down from 55 per cent March when he won re-election with 63 per cent of the vote.  Read more

'Pussy Riot' perform in Red Square on January 20. Denis Sinyakov/Reuters

Late last week, a member of the Russian punk band Pussy Riot agreed to chat with the Financial Times on Skype.

Famous for pulling stunts such as performing the song “Putin wet his pants” in the middle of Red Square, and “Holy Mother, Blessed Virgin, Expel Putin!” next to the altar at Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the band has recently gone to ground after several members were arrested this month. Two are in jail awaiting trial for alleged “hooligan behaviour” in the cathedral stunt; a third member of the group was arrested on Friday, according to their lawyer.

So who are Pussy Riot? Read more

AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev

AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev

We’ve all been there. You’re on stage outside, you’ve just secured an impossible victory forgotten to wear a hat, and an icy wind is blowing in your face.

Suddenly you’re blinking away tears.

We’ll never really know what was going on when Russia’s freshly-reinstated president Vladimir Putin appeared to weep during his victory speech on Sunday night. Was it simply a physical reaction to the bitterly cold wind, as his spokesman later claimed? Some well-timed eye-drops? Or a natural emotional response at the end of a long week?

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A Russian Channel One undated television grab shows a man identified as Adam Osmayev, one of the suspected militants alleged to have conspired to kill Russian PM Vladimir Putin. Photo AFP/Getty

If you’re planning to bump off a world leader, then doing so in the middle of an election campaign is a good guarantee of maximum impact. But in Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s case, assassination “plots” seem to crop up so regularly around election time there is reason to be suspicious. Read more

A pro-Putin rally. Photo AP

One round or two? For all the protests against Vladimir Putin, that has long been the only real question surrounding Russia’s presidential election, now just 10 days away. Will he get more than 50 per cent of the vote in the first round on March 4, with or without a little “massaging”, or will he be forced into a run-off with another candidate three weeks later? Read more