By David Gallerano
♦ The Kremlin-backed candidate Sergei Sobyanin beats anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny and remains mayor of Moscow, although Navalny’s unexpected result looks like an alarm signal for Vladimir Putin.
♦ A school regional programme shows many families in Spain cannot provide their children with basic needs – namely, food and a balanced diet.
♦ Writer John le Carré discusses his life and recent events with Philippe Sands.
♦ While jihadists and al-Qaeda affiliates prepare on the Syrian mountains for the US attack (with the lessons of Iraq in mind), Syrian refugees are leaving the country and experiencing a hard time in Egypt, where they are now associated with the discredited regime of Mohammed Morsi. In the New York Times Nicholas Kristof outlines two options for the US – intervention or paralysis – and chooses the latter.
♦ The ancient practice of self-immolation – though relatively uncommon – is Chinese farmers’ ultimate protest. Chinese government will probably respond by increasing compensation for expropriated rural land.
♦ Iowa grants gun permits to people who are legally or completely blind. There is disagreement among advocates for the disabled and public officers on whether this endangers public safety.
♦ Brazilian TV network Globo reveals that the NSA spied on Brazilian Oil giant Petrobras, adding to the existing tensions between United States and Brazil. Read more
By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ Italy’s government often gets dismissed as being a mess, but Enrico Letta has made some notable achievements, writes Chris Hanretty, a lecturer in politics at UEA. However, the next 100 days will present some challenges, including the backlash from Silvio Berlusconi’s tax fraud conviction, and electoral and tax system reforms.
♦The staging of walkouts across the fast food industry is not about young entry-level workers wanting more money to pay for the movies on Friday – it is about the failure of the US economy to create reasonable middle-class jobs for older and more educated workers who now depend on low wage jobs to support their families.
♦ “Mugabe will leave power when he wants to – or when his body gives out,” writes Richard Dowden in his analysis of Robert Mugabe’s victory Zimbabwe elections, which he says is partly explained by rigged elections, but also mistrust of his opponent, and the sentiment that it is better not to “upset the Big Man.”
♦ Vladimir Putin is launching an amnesty program to release some of the 110,000 people imprisoned under his leadership for “economic crimes” – such as allegedly violating the copyright on leopard print – so that they can help him figure out how to turn around the languishing economy.
♦ The corruption and nepotism that surrounds China’s political elite gets a lot of press – but in the shadows of the spotlight looms a far more widespread system of families that dominate the villages and towns throughout the vast countryside. Read more
By Catherine Contiguglia
♦ An era of “digital hippies” answered the needs of crunched budgets with start-ups that focused on building communities where goods and services could be traded and shared. Their success has resulted in a regulatory backlash as traditional businesses and tax collectors look for their fair share.
♦ Obama has not been able to take control and “unwind” the “war on terror apparatus”, writes the FT’s Geoff Dyer, instead stoking jitters with increased security levels, vague warnings of Al Qaeda resurgence and lack of transparency regarding surveillance programs.
♦ Bank of England interest rates will remain at the historic low of 0.5 per cent until unemployment falls to 7 percent, new governor Mark Carney has pledged, saying that the economy has not reached escape velocity. It appears Carney is wary of removing stimulus measures too quickly, but will this forward guidance be enough?
♦ General Abdul Fattah Sissi, who led the coup to depose Mohamed Morsi, seems a popular choice to lead an increasingly divided country. Sissi is often cast as a modern Gamal Abdel Nasser, and though his western military training has not softened his views on the United States, he is seen as a leader that is dedicated to bringing liberal democracy to Egypt.
♦ The decision by US President Barack Obama to cancel talks with Russian president Vladimir Putin after NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden was granted temporary asylum is a sort of boiling point in a series of uncomfortable conversations between the two nations since Obama announced his plans to “reset” relations. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
Edward Snowden seems like a bright chap. So he will probably have noticed the irony of voicing his complaints about persecution by the US legal system from the confines of Moscow airport. There are few governments in the world that abuse the law, for political purposes, with the ruthlessness and cynicism of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
–Vladimir Yakunin speaking to Vladimir Putin (Getty)
For 33 minutes on Wednesday, it appeared that Vladimir Yakunin, the powerful head of Russia’s state railway corporation, and a close personal friend of president Vladimir Putin, was out of a job.
His resignation, apparently, had been demanded by prime minister Dmitry Medvedev, and all the signs indicated that a behind the scenes bureaucratic turf battle was underway – a number of Mr Medvedev’s associates have had their careers cut short recently by people from Yakunin’s hard-line faction, and this smacked of retribution. Read more
♦ The G8 leaders commit to shake up international corporate tax rules, and crackdown on tax evasion and the shadowy owners of shell companies. (If you want to know why it’s such a global issue, take a look through our Great Tax Race series.) They also agree to push for a Syrian peace conference – although Putin still won’t budge on Assad.
♦ President Obama’s move to increase the public flow of arms to selected Syrian rebels is probably his worst foreign policy decision since taking office, argues Marc Lynch.
♦ To ordinary Russians, a defeat of the Syrian rebels is seen as a victory over the west, says Andrei Nekrasov, a Russian film and television director.
♦ Circassians are protesting against the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, 150 years after being expelled from there.
♦ The tiny emirate of Fujairah is emerging as an increasingly important global strategic oil and logistics hub.
♦ The Global Post experiments with the language used by US journalists to write about foreign countries, by using it to write about the US.
Russia’s role in world politics
Under the second Putin presidency, the Russian government seems to have become even harder to deal with, be it in seeking to forge international agreement on Syria, spy scandals, energy diplomacy, or neighbourhood diplomacy. Charles Clover, Moscow bureau chief, and James Blitz, diplomatic editor, join Gideon Rachman to discuss the best ways to understand the Russian government.
An audience with Vladislav Surkov, “grey cardinal” of the Kremlin and architect of Vladimir Putin’s “managed” democracy, is a rare thing. But little did those who saw him speak at the London School of Economics last Wednesday realise it would be his last public appearance as Russia’s deputy premier. A week later, he is gone.
His LSE comments may even have played a part in his departure. In particular, Surkov criticised Russia’s investigative committee, the powerful FBI-style agency headed by a Putin classmate that is increasingly becoming a law unto itself. He said the committee was wrong to sling mud about alleged corruption at Skolkovo, Russia’s answer to Silicon Valley that is premier Dmitry Medvedev’s pet project – and for which Surkov has been responsible for the past year.
That move was already a demotion after he appeared just a little too sympathetic to the middle-class Muscovites protesting over alleged vote-rigging in the December 2011 parliamentary election – ironically, the very system Surkov created. As Kremlin deputy chief of staff for a decade, he had been the puppet-master who pulled the strings of the parties and individuals permitted to perform in the political theatre he had created. Read more
Boris Berezovsky in August 2012 (Getty)
Police have found “no evidence” so far that anyone else was involved in the death of exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, but are retaining “an open mind”, according to one of the detectives working on the case. It’s hardly surprising that questions remain. While one friend told the FT: “In the last few months, he was very depressed, very low. He felt beset by all the issues that surrounded him”, another – Nikolai Glushkov, a fellow Russian exile – told the Guardian’s Luke Harding: “I will never believe in the natural death of Boris Berezovsky.” It may be a while before any certainty is reached [update: police said late on Monday that a postmortem found the cause of death was “consistent with hanging”] – but in the meantime, it’s worth reading up on the life of a man whose influence over his homeland will be felt for a long time to come.
- Owen Matthews recalls his first meeting with Berezovsky in 1998, at the “luxurious Logovaz Club, a restored prerevolutionary mansion in central Moscow”. In a piece full of pithy assessments (“Yeltsin may have made Russia free, but it was Berezovsky who made it for sale”; “Berezovsky was Dr. Frankenstein, whose monster was a poker-faced little KGB officer”), Matthews paints a vivid picture of the mathmetician-turned-kingmaker whose love of power contributed to his undoing.
- Writing for the FT, Ben Judah contrasts the Berezovsky of old – “they called him ‘the comet’, because he burnt so bright and talked so fast” – with the “insecure, self-doubting and anguished man” of recent months.
For a man who suffered the indignity of having to stand down after one term as president of Russia to make way for the return of Vladimir Putin, Dmitry Medvedev appears comfortable in his own skin.
Meeting the Financial Times and representatives of six other European newspapers this week, Russia’s prime minister seemed relaxed, sometimes jocular – in spite of the pressures many political observers believe he is under. Compared with the somewhat tense and nervous figure the FT first interviewed just after his election as president in 2008, he seems comfortable with the trappings of power – even if they are now diminished from what they were.
Today, a conservative or hardline faction in the Kremlin, emboldened by Putin’s return to the presidency, is seen as jostling to replace the more liberal Medvedev with its own premier. Putin, too, is thought ready to jettison Medvedev as a scapegoat in the event of a crisis such as an economic slowdown – and Russia’s economy has got off to a weak start this year.
For now, the premier remains in the same Gorky-9 compound he occupied as president, in which Boris Yeltsin spent his second presidential term, just off the chic Rublyovskoye Shosse 15km beyond Moscow’s outer ring road. Read more