Letter from Baku: the City of Winds in the Land of Fire

By Tim Stanley, Market Director, Control Risks Russia

There’s something slightly unreal about arriving in Baku. The trip from the airport sets the scene. For starters, there’s the taxi fleet – London-style cabs painted regal purple, by decree of the First Lady. Faux medieval crenellations line the velvet-smooth airport highway; closer to town they yield to the fluid lines and gleaming white tiles of what looks like an Azerbaijani space centre but is, in fact, the Heydar Aliev Centre, a cultural complex designed by celebrity architect Zaha Hadid.

Surveying it all from posters and statues across the land is the silent-movie star visage of Aliev himself, the former President and founder of the modern state. This is Alice in Wonderland meets Ali Baba. [Read more...]

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Big Macs and Banh Mi

Dane Chamorro, Managing Director, South-east Asia, Control Risks

I walked past Paul, the French bakery, in Jakarta this past week and noted that at 5pm, it was packed to the gills with well-off Indonesians enjoying themselves. Granted, this was arguably Jakarta’s most upscale mall (a property owned by a notorious businessman), but it is emblematic of how Southeast Asia’s emerging economies are proving fertile ground for Western consumer brands.  [Read more...]

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BRICs, MINTs and the Winter Olympics

Charles Hecker, Global Research Director, Global Risk Analysis, Control Risks

Dissecting risk as a career brings with it certain professional pitfalls. One of them is to think that the world is constantly on the verge of calamitous change. This temptation must be held strongly in check. There are only so many times you can say the sky is falling. Most of the time, it’s not.  [Read more...]

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Super-hero politics – Britain’s search for a world role continues.

Earlier this week, I watched American television news break the story of the Iranian nuclear agreement. A few hours and a transatlantic flight later and I watched the same story reported in the British media. I had to stop and check that I was watching the same events. In the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry was alone in bestriding the globe bringing the possibility of peace in the Middle East a step nearer; only his lack of a mask and cape denying him full superhero status.  [Read more...]

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No Man is an Island.

In an idle moment this morning, I was browsing the sale particulars for the Isle of Wiay, a deserted island in the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. Pretty soon I was making mental plans of how I would restore the dilapidated croft, build a jetty and where I would position the wind turbine to avoid spoiling the extraordinary contours of the landscape.

This is what happens after a week in Shanghai. It is not just the scale of Shanghai that is overwhelming; it is the knowledge that this city is now just one of many mega-cities that have sprung up right across China. Just thinking about how this densely populated corner of this massive city is replicated across this vast land is exhausting and makes a depopulated island perched in the Atlantic on the edge of the European land mass seem quite alluring.

Each time I come here I am staggered by the sheer enormity of what it must take to run this country particularly because the stakes are so high. Keeping the Chinese economy growing, making major structural adjustments and meeting the material aspirations of the population is not just a domestic political imperative for the Chinese Communist Party. We all now depend on Chinese success given the extent to which China has become such an integrated and vital component of the global economy. [Read more...]

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All Spaced Out

I wonder what it felt like to be an astronaut aboard the NASA-managed International Space Station when the news came through that the US Federal Government was closing down due to the Congressional impasse over the budget.

“Don’t worry folks. Keep orbiting. Try not to break anything and we’ll be back in a week or two.” You hope these were not the parting words from the scientists at Mission Control as they along with thousands of other federal workers headed home while the politicians in Washington DC remain deadlocked in near-mortal combat.

This is not a good advert for democracy (or indeed space travel) and makes the task of promoting democratic values in the Middle East and elsewhere all the more difficult. With the Russians calling the shots over Syria and the president having to cancel a planned visit to the APEC Forum to stay home and try and sort out the mess, it has been a bad week for Brand America on the world stage. [Read more...]

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Running for your Life

David Rudisha is one of the greatest runners of all time. If you have never heard of him it is most likely because his chosen distance of 800 metres falls between the power glamour of the sprinters and the aesthetic elegance of the long-distance specialists. At the 2012 London Olympics he smashed his own world record to win the gold medal.

Not only was the race run in a staggeringly quick time, it was won with a deceptive ease that belied the hours and miles of gruelling training that came together in less than two minutes of athletic grace. Watch the race on YouTube and you will see an athlete at the peak of his abilities. [Read more...]

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Super Power Parlour Games

After a few blog-free weeks over the summer I am picking up my pen again. Thank you to all of my colleagues who have stepped into the breach with great pieces on China, Russia, Brazil, the trans-Siberian railway and more. In fact, the quality of writing has been dangerously high which is why I am rushing back into print before too many of you notice the quality differential.

If this blog has a theme it is probably about trying to shed some light on what a weird world we live in. Well, it does not get much weirder than what has been going on in the past two weeks.

A few days ago the Syrians were bracing themselves for a military attack from the United States with possible walk-on parts from France and Britain. The region was preparing itself for the repercussions. And then democracy happened. [Read more...]

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A Cup For All

Jackie Day, Vice President, Crisis & Security Consulting, Control Risks São Paulo

Dental-floss bikinis, carnival, samba, and soccer – that’s the façade Brazil typically presents to the world. After living in the country for more than three years, I can safely say that perception isn’t too far off, particularly when it comes to Brazilians’ love of “the beautiful game”. Like most, I saw the Confederations Cup as an opportunity for Brazil to prove its detractors wrong and show the world that it was ready to step into the limelight to host the upcoming major sporting events. What could be more important for the “spiritual home of soccer”? And while Brazilians aren’t renowned for being overly meticulous in their approach to planning, we were all fairly certain they’d manage to pull it off by gametime.  

The first sign that some Brazilians had a different take on things came the week prior to the opening match, when protests began in São Paulo in response to a 9-cent rise in bus fares. Isolated instances of heavy-handed police response blew that spark into an all-out blaze. Latent discontent erupted into protest in cities across the country. Suddenly, the focus turned to Brazil’s chronic economic and social issues, and to perceived government largesse in its spending for the upcoming major sporting events. Posters with the phrase “Cup for Who?” – helpfully translated into both Portuguese and English for international audiences – became a regular presence and rallying cry for the protestors, who had come to see both the Confederations and World Cups as symbolic of corruption and waste. [Read more...]

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Express dill-ivery (of the Trans-Siberian variety)

Henry Smith, Senior Analyst, Middle East and North Africa

A North Korean restaurant is not an obvious place for your first meal after a 5,752 mile train journey, particularly a two week jaunt through two continents and 87 stations. However, as reputedly one of the top places to eat in the Russian Far East, it seemed like a sensible choice, and after having every meal served with dill for the past fortnight, it felt difficult to go too far wrong. [Read more...]

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