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Society

Manuel Valls: How A 'Sarkozy Of The Left' Rose To Be French Prime Minister

Tough on crime and blatently ambitious, Valls was plucked by President Hollande to lead a new government after Sunday's disaster in local elections. It's a risky choice, for many reasons.

Manuel Valls, appointed French prime minister on April 1, 2014
Manuel Valls, appointed French prime minister on April 1, 2014
David Revault d'Allonnes

PARIS It was a bit less than five years ago, just after an electoral washout: Already Manuel Valls was there, ready to step forward before the others. On June 29, 2009, in a Parisian theater, the 46-year-old Socialist parliament member and mayor of Evry, a town in the suburbs of Paris, announced his candidacy to be president of the French Republic.

Valls was, and is, nothing if not straightforward. “It would not be a ridiculous idea that the mayor of Evry should succeed to the mayor of Neuilly,” he declared in front of a few dozen friends. It was a blunt reference to then President Nicolas Sarkozy, who had also been a mayor of a Parisian suburb, though from the political right.

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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.

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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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