Putin: opportunist or master strategist?

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.

By Gideon Rachman

“A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.” Stalin’s famous statement is often taken as the epitome of inhumanity — the very opposite of the humane and liberal values cherished in the democratic west.

Turkey’s Syrian gamble

Turkey sent tanks into Syria on Wednesday, as part of a major offensive ostensibly against Isis – but also to contain Syrian Kurds. The move follows a recent coup attempt against President Erdogan and a deadly terrorist attack in the southern Turkish town of Gaziantep. Andrew England, the FT’s Middle East editor, speaks with Turkey correspondent Mehul Srivastava and former Turkey correspondent Daniel Dombey.

Russia and Ukraine: a new crisis?

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.

The battle for Aleppo

The battle for Syria’s second city is both a grave humanitarian crisis and a potential turning point in the country’s long civil war. The FT’s Erika Solomon and David Gardner join Gideon Rachman.

Iraq and Syria fall apart
Iraq and Syria are coming apart, divided into warring factions that seem unable to reach an accommodation. Gideon Rachman talks to FT Middle East experts David Gardner and Erika Solomon about fading hopes for peace and what this means for the fight against Isis.

By Gideon Rachman

Last week, as President Obama entertained the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner and Britain indulged in a bizarre debate about whether Hitler was a Zionist, more than 200 people were killed in a brutal bombardment of Aleppo. The breakdown of Syria’s fragile ceasefire promises yet more suffering in a five-year long war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and created millions of refugees.

Russia’s foreign policy resurgence
Russian air power has changed the course of the civil war in Syria and its annexation of Crimea remains largely unchallenged. Gideon Rachman talks to Neil Buckley, FT East Europe editor, and Sam Jones, defence and security editor, about Russia’s renewed confidence on the global stage and whether this is justified.

What happens if Aleppo falls?
Syrian government forces backed by Russian air power are on the brink of encircling the northern city of Aleppo, a stronghold of the moderate rebels in what could prove to be a decisive moment in Syria’s murderous civil war. Ben Hall discusses the implications with Erika Solomon, FT Middle East correspondent, and Geoff Dyer, FT US diplomatic correspondent.

By Gideon Rachman
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans populated the world. Now the world is populating Europe. Beyond the furore about the impact of the 1m-plus refugees who arrived in Germany in 2015 lie big demographic trends. The current migration crisis is driven by wars in the Middle East. But there are also larger forces at play that will ensure immigration into Europe remains a vexed issue long after the war in Syria is over.

By Gideon Rachman
When the House of Commons set out to debate military intervention in the Middle East this week, the technical issue at stake was whether the UK should extend its bombing of Isis from Iraq into Syria.

Kurdish Peshmerga forces detain suspected members of Isis on November 16

What should we call the world’s deadliest terrorist group? Should it be Isil, Isis, Islamic state, so-called Islamic State, or Daesh?

Like other news organisations, we at the Financial Times have debated which name to use and whether it matters. Politicians too have grappled with the question. France has settled on Daesh. David Cameron, British prime minister, now recommends the same.

 Read more

Donald Trump – would not rule out the idea of a database to track Muslims in America

Watching the debate on terrorism from the US this week has been a bizarre experience. The attacks took place in France – but it seems to be the US where the political demands for ever-tougher border controls are taking hold. On November 19th (Thursday), the House of Representatives passed the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act (SAFE – get it!) which would stop resettlement of Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the US indefinitely. By contrast, President Hollande has just reaffirmed that France will take 30,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years. Read more

If Vladimir Putin is looking for a way out of his estrangement from the west over the Ukraine crisis, he sometimes has an odd way of showing it.

Two days after Russia’s president met his US counterpart Barack Obama at the UN Security Council last month and called for an international coalition to fight Islamist terrorism, Russia gave the US just one hour’s notice that it would launch air strikes in Syria. It delivered the message via a Russian general who turned up on the doorstep of the US embassy in Baghdad.

Addressing the annual Valdai Club conference on Thursday, Mr Putin reiterated his appeal for co-operation in Syria – but only after running through a typical litany of complaints about US policy and behaviour.

Yet this was a different Mr Putin from the sour figure who, at the same meeting with foreign journalists and academics a year ago, delivered arguably his bitterest anti-US diatribe since his combative “Munich speech” of 2007.

By shifting the military theatre from Ukraine to Syria – however big a gamble Russia’s military intervention there may be – Mr Putin seemed to feel he had seized the initiative. His acid wit and self-assurance were back. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
In the 1930s, the Spanish civil war sucked in outsiders, with Nazi Germany backing the nationalists, the Soviet Union backing the Republicans and foreign idealists flocking to the country to fight on either side of the conflict.

• Syria’s young girls are facing assault, early marriage and being forced into prostitution as the refugee crisis spirals. The IRC, selected by the FT for its 2014 seasonal appeal, is seeking to protect and empower them

• A motley crew of ex businessmen, academics and pro-Russia activists has seized control in Ukraine’s rebel republics Read more

Turkey’s role in the war against Isis
Gideon Rachman is joined by David Gardner and Daniel Dombey to discuss Turkey’s role in the unfolding war against the jihadist movement Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Does Turkey share western war aims or is the government of President Erdogan more interested in crushing the Kurdish movements that are fighting Isis?

Hugh Carnegy in Paris

France, Prime Minister Manuel Valls told parliament on Wednesday, has never faced a greater terrorist threat than that posed by homegrown jihadis who have fought alongside Islamist militants in Syria and IraqRead more

The Gaza strip was not the only place where civilians were suffering and dying last week. There were (and are) several other lethal conflicts underway. Take the fighting in eastern Ukraine. The current edition of The Economist reports that: “Ukraine’s offensive already seems to have featured pretty indiscriminate use of artillery. By July 26th 1,129 people had been killed in eastern Ukraine, 799 of them civilians, the UN has reported … shells have already begun falling in the centre of Donetsk: the potential for things to go lethally wrong is great.”

Civilians are also dying in large numbers in Iraq. Just yesterday over 50 people were killed in car bombs in Baghdad, while 60 were killed in an Iraqi government air-strike aimed at a Sharia court, set up by Isis in Mosul. Read more

What would an Erdogan presidency mean for Turkey?
Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced he will run in the country’s first every directly elected presidential contest next month. Ben Hall is joined by Istanbul correspondent Daniel Dombey and FT columnist David Gardner to discuss how is the turmoil across the border in Syria and Iraq is changing the political dynamics ahead of the election, and whether an Erdogan victory would mean breaking the grip of Turkey’s old elite, or just another step towards authoritarian rule.