Ukraine

• 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

Gideon Rachman

After a frenetic period of travel involving 10 separate trips overseas in the past three months, I am trying to catch my breath, shake off the jet lag and make sense of what I have seen. Leaving aside the big geopolitical themes, one tentative conclusion I have reached is that world leaders and hotel lobbies do not mix.

This first struck at the Ritz Hotel in Madrid as I waited to greet Mariano Rajoy, the Spanish prime minister, who was the guest-of-honour at the FT’s Spain Summit. On one side of the lobby was a bank of photographers and TV crews. I was standing on the other side with a couple of FT colleagues and the hotel management. Rajoy’s limo drew up and we could see him and his entourage heading towards the entrance. Just at that moment, a party of elderly Americans came out of the lift, clad in their trademark tracksuit bottoms and fluorescent visors, and began to totter across the lobby, demanding loudly, “Where’s the coach?” The hotel manager froze — torn between the desire to shove the Americans out of the way and his duty to be courteous. He just about pulled it off but it was a close-run thing. Read more

Tony Barber

Which of the eurozone’s 18 member states will be the weakest performing economy in 2015?

Italy, which has recorded no economic growth since 1999? Cyprus, which is still reeling from its financial sector collapse in 2012-13? Or some other hard-pressed southern European nation? No. In all probability, the sick man of the eurozone will be Finland.

The Finnish economy is in its third consecutive year of contraction. Any growth in 2015 will be not much bigger than a snowflake. The country will hold a general election in April. The question is whether the dark outlook will benefit The Finns, a populist-nationalist party which was known as the True Finns when it shocked Europe by coming third in the 2011 election with 19 per cent of the vote. Read more

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Marina Silva, a political outsider who is threatening to end the 12-year reign of Brazil’s powerful centre-left Workers’ party, is quenching Brazilians’ thirst for change.

Qatar’s foreign minister has rejected claims Qataris are funding Isis in Syria and tells the west to back moderate Sunni fighting the Assad regime.

• Islamist extremists such as Isis are exploiting the conventions of X-rated movies in their own hardcore film productions, writes The Atlantic.

• Russian academic Sergey Karaganov argues that the delusions of a west that has become a directionless gaggle are responsible for triggering the conflict over Ukraine.

• An independent Scotland would face running a gauntlet to gain admission to the EU. Read more

Rising tensions over war in Ukraine
The war in Ukraine, the rising tensions between Russia and the West, Vladimir Putin’s objectives, and how ordinary Russians and Russia’s other neighbouring states see the conflict. Neil Buckley, the FT’s eastern Europe editor and Jack Farchy, Moscow correspondent, join Gideon Rachman.

(Getty)

By Christian Oliver and Richard Milne

Europe’s leaders are preparing for a trade war with Russia by mapping out the battlefields on which they see the highest risk of casualties.

In data released on Friday, the European Commission identified the agricultural exporters most vulnerable to Moscow’s trade embargo on EU produce. Spanish peaches, Dutch cheeses and Polish apples find themselves squarely on the front line.

Polish fruit exports to Russia were valued at €340m last year and win the dubious honour of being the most exposed crops. The Poles have launched an impassioned public campaign to try to switch to more domestic consumption with their “Eat an apple to spite Putin” slogan.

The Netherlands (with dairy exports to Russia of €257m in 2013) and Finland (€253m) are at most risk on the milk and cheese front. Spain and Greece are vulnerable in relation to citrus, with stoned fruit such as peaches and nectarines also being described by farmers as being at crisis point in terms of storage overload and no market to go to. Read more

  • The hum of US drones is becoming more familiar over African skies as US military presence increases on the continent.
  • Russia has doubled the number of its battalions near the Ukrainian border and could launch a cross-border incursion with little or no warning.
  • The New Yorker considers the experience of the US ambassador to Russia and how he saw the promise of democracy come and fade.
  • Ben Judah takes a look inside the bullet-proof bubble of Vladimir Putin, the “latter-day dictator”.

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• Squeezed between government forces and Russian-backed separatists, civilian casualties in east Ukraine continue to mount, diminishing the chances of postwar reconciliation.

• Meanwhile in Russia, President Vladimir Putin is feeling the chill from the struggle for Ukraine as he attempts to appease both business tycoons and nationalists.

• The Guardian’s Shaun Walker tracked down the feared rebel leader Igor Bezler- thought to be behind the MH17 crash and regarded as something of a loose cannon, even by other rebels. The encounter ended with Mr Bezler threatening to execute the interviewer.

• Europe is bankrolling Al Qaeda by paying ransoms. An investigation by The New York Times found that Al Qaeda and its direct affiliates have taken in at least $125m in revenue from kidnappings since 2008, of which $66m was paid just last year. Read more