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Russia’s indefatigable president stormed to victory for his fourth term on a wave of admiration — or by stamping out all opposition, depending on which way you look at it. But in his Sunday night victory speech, given in a frosty Red Square, Vladimir Putin talked about unity. He told a cheering crowd they were part of a ‘big national team’ who would realise his grand vision for the motherland and that he would not be guided by ‘daily political calculations’. Western observers might take some convincing while diplomatic rows rumble on over the deployment of nerve agent on the streets of the UK and the question of Russian interference in the last US election. 

But how dangerous is the Russian leader really? Perhaps less so than we imagine, says Gideon Rachman in his column. For while he is reckless, he is not irrational, and history suggests he can be deterred. It may be, argues Gideon, that Mr Putin is willing to take big risks when he believes that the west is not paying attention — Russia’s annexation of Crimea is a case in point. But when he meets clear resistance, he backs off.

While the president’s fans believe him to be a brilliant strategist who can get away with anything, the truth is that Mr Putin is prone to mistakes and makes calculations that often backfire. The result is that Russia is much poorer and more isolated than it should be, whatever the president’s grandiose rhetoric suggests.

Our digital cesspit: 
The allegation that Cambridge Analytica accessed the Facebook profiles of millions of US voters and targeted them with personalised messages to help Donald Trump’s chances of election show us how connected devices can be abused and polluted to manipulate their users, argues John Thornhill. But before we assign all the blame to internet platforms we should take a look at our own complicity in fanning false news and fuelling a market for stories that stoke disgust and fear.

Pulling strings:
The revolving door between EU institutions and the private sector shows the Brussels lobbying industry at its worst, writes EU ombudsman Emily O’Reilly. The problem is more noticeable as Brexit-related consultancy work is booming — the uncertainty around the negotiations provides lucrative opportunities for EU insiders with good networks. Brussels officials are particularly attractive for their detailed and technical knowledge.

Advice to disgruntled centrists:
The mood is dark among the UK Labour party’s moderate MPs, says James Kirkup. Exasperated by opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn’s apparent remaking of Labour in his leftist image, they whisper about the creation of a new centrist party. But they are not ready yet. A new party needs a new image, agenda and policies — especially economic ones — to sell to voters.

Best of the rest

Adapt or die: a new breed of trade union can save the fossils of old — John Harris in the Guardian 

Jordan Peterson and fascist mysticism — Pankaj Mishra in the New York Review of Books

How Russia meddled in its own elections — Alina Polyakova in the Atlantic

Donald Trump and the craven firing of Andrew McCabe — Jeffery Toobin in The New Yorker

And now, the Nancy Pelosi drama — Gail Collins in The New York Times

What you've been saying

Restrictive ownership hobbles audit industry— letter from Paul Boyle

In 2005 I noted that the restrictive ownership rules that apply to audit firms (in essence they need to be majority-owned by qualified auditors) made it effectively impossible for there to be a well-capitalised new entrant into the market. Had there been similar ownership rules in the airline industry (ie if airlines had to be owned by qualified pilots) then many of the disruptive new entrants would not have been able to get off the ground — literally.

Comment from ArmyMba on Gina Haspel, the undercover spy picked to head the CIA

This is the type of agency that needs a morally and ethically sound individual to lead it, not someone who has risen to the top via the grey zones that it operates in. She was an active participate in some of the dark work the agency did post 9/11 and then led the charge to white wash and cover the situation up. She may know “how that building works better than anybody” and “really knows her stuff” but she has not demonstrated that she has the character to make the morally tough decisions.

I can’t persuade Dropbox to take more of my money— letter from Christian Nielsen

You note that Dropbox’s revenue per subscriber has been flat for three years. That is unsurprising as I have for years been trying to give Dropbox more of my money without luck. It is quite simply not possible to purchase more storage once you hit the absurdly low limit of one terabyte. To start taking free money from existing customers might help the declining valuation.

Today’s opinion

G20 economies must push to invest more in infrastructure
A standard global financial contract could boost funding for transport and energy

Requiem for the dead French political right
Republican supporters bemoan the fragmentation of the centre-right party

The economic damage from a trade war
Economists are taught trade wars are almost always damaging. The question for investors is: how damaging?

Instant Insight: Facebook’s floundering response to scandal is part of the problem
As the Cambridge Analytica storm worsens, Mark Zuckerberg must lead from the front

Lex: Barclays bosses should not underestimate Edward Bramson
Any public fight between the veteran activist investor and the UK bank would be hot

A revolving door for Brussels lobbyists damages trust in the EU
There is a lack of scrutiny of those who move between the public and private sectors

Free Lunch: Why Italy’s Five Star Movement should embrace bank bail-ins
A ‘Nixon in China’ move would bring great rewards

After Cambridge Analytica, politicians must act to save the web
A wondrous informational resource is turning into a cyber cesspit

Vladimir Putin is not as scary as he looks
The danger comes when Russia’s leader miscalculates with interventions that backfire

Why I don’t have an electric car
To make it a practical choice there needs to be more than goodwill and targets

Centrists are not ready to take on Jeremy Corbyn
Challenging populists on the right and left requires a different agenda and new policies

Taming the sun, by Varun Sivaram
A road map to lead the solar energy industry to its brightest future

FT Alphaville: Giving stock away to staff doesn’t absolve share buybacks

Fresh blood: why everyone fell for Theranos
The cautionary tale of Elizabeth Holmes and her healthtech vision

FT View

FT View: Xi reforms will tighten his control over China
Administrative shake-up is about centralising rather than loosening power

FT View: Four simple questions Facebook should answer
The social network has great power, but takes little responsibility

The Big Read

The Big Read: Cyber attacks: the risks of pricing digital cover
With policies against online breaches to be worth $10bn by 2020, insurers rush to gain expertise

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