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Germany

Is This German Scouting Ritual Child Abuse?

Though the country's major scouting associations say the practice of "Pflocken," in which children are tied down, isn't acceptable, the timeworn practice continues.

German boy scout undergoing "Pflocken"
German boy scout undergoing "Pflocken"
Markus C. Schulte von Drach

MUNICH — It's spring 2014 at a boy scout camp in southern Germany. Younger boys and adolescents are cavorting about, practicing, learning and generally having fun. Then word spreads that a boy named Mark is about to be targeted for "Pflocken," so the boys gather to watch what's about to happen. Mark, who's about 11, has done something wrong, "something bad," and he's going to be punished.

Group leaders set him down on a table and bind his arms and legs, which are spread out. Gummy snake candy is then stuffed into his mouth. "Almost everybody thought it was funny," say some of the kids who were there. But some boys didn't find it funny at all. They may have worried they would face similar treatment one day.

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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.

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