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While many of us are immersed in the Olympic drama in Rio or enjoying a summer vacation escape, a photograph from Aleppo has brought a jarring reminder of the horrific war still raging in Syria.


The image shows a dazed five-year-old boy, covered in dust and with an open head wound, sitting in an ambulance after surviving a military attack on a rebel-held area in Aleppo. Syria's second-largest city is living through a months-long siege that the German daily Die Welt recently compared to the 1995 massacre in Srebrenica. Hospitals have been bombed, there have been chemical attacks, and it seems there is no end to Aleppo's suffering in the face of global apathy.


Can a photograph of the most innocent of victims shock the world into action? It was nearly one year ago when the image on the shoreline of the drowned Syrian refugee boy Alan Kurdi shook the public consciousness. While the victim in this latest photograph has survived, he strikes us in a similar way as the image of little Alan: the juxtaposition of something so horrible with the familiar outline of a young child's body. That boy could be anywhere in the world, maybe sitting next to you on the local bus — or on an airplane coming back from summer vacation.

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Geopolitics

Russia's Military Failures Are Really About Its Soldiers

No doubt, strategic errors and corruption at the highest ranks in the Kremlin are partly to blame for the Russian military's stunning difficulties in Ukraine. But the roots run deeper, where the ordinary recruits come from, how they are exploited, how they react.

Army reserve soldiers go to Red Square to attend a Pioneer Induction ceremony

Anna Akage

To the great relief of Ukraine and the great surprise of the rest of the world, the Russian army — considered until February 24, the second strongest in the world — is now eminently beatable on the battlefield against Ukrainian forces operating with vastly inferior firepower.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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After renouncing the original ambitions to take Kyiv and unseat the Ukrainian government, the focus turned to the southeastern region of Donbas, where a would-be great battle on a scale comparable to World War II Soviet victories has turned into a quagmire peppered with laughable updates by Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov on TikTok.

The Russians have not managed to occupy a single significant Ukrainian city, except Kherson, which they partially destroyed and now find difficult to hold. Meanwhile, Ukrainian civilians are left to suffer the bombing of cities and villages from Lviv to Odessa, with looting, torture and assorted war crimes.

The reasons for both the poor performance and atrocities are many, and include deep-seated corruption and lack of professionalism up through the highest ranks, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who had never served in the army, and arrived in his position only because of his loyalty to the No. 1 man in the Kremlin.

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Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

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