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China

The Heartbreaking Toil Of The Yellow River's Grim Reaper

A farmer from northwest China makes a living scouring the Yellow River to recover dead bodies, most of whom were poor migrants, often women and children. A modern Chinese tragedy.

An unidentified man on the banks of the Yellow River
An unidentified man on the banks of the Yellow River
Jordan Pouille

LANZHOU — We've spent more than half an hour trekking in the sandy mountains of northwest China, whose summits have been curved by erosion. "Don't stop, we're almost there!" Every time we slow down just a bit, this man with a sunburned face tells us to keep going.

Wei Peng is 55 years old, with dirty hair and bushy eyebrows, and he's jumping from one rock to another without showing the slightest sign of breathlessness, despite smoking two packs of cigarettes a day. He only stops to wait for us. His jacket is threadbare, his pants stained, but his pride is intact.

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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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