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Geopolitics

From Damascus To Crimea: Connecting The Dots Of A New Cold War

Damascus risks enduring the most immediate consequences of the new Cold War
Damascus risks enduring the most immediate consequences of the new Cold War

PARIS β€” Will Syrians pay for the Ukrainians? Will the millions of victims of a protracted and bloody conflict in Syria suffer the backlashes of the situation playing out in Ukraine? Sadly, the answer is yes.

Posed in these simplistic terms, the question might seem odd. But in reality, the growing hostility between Moscow and Washington over the events unfolding in Kiev and on the Crimean peninsula will have consequences elsewhere.

After Sunday's pre-ordained result of the Crimean referendum that calls for the region to pass from Ukraine to Russia, Washington is sure to respond with more sanctions (that have already been announced) against Russia, and Moscow will in turn take retaliatory measures (already announced as well).

Save for a last-minute diplomatic miracle, the hostility between Russia and the United States will grow deeper still. The Syrian conflict, where the two countries are fighting each other β€” via their respective allies β€” risks enduring the most immediate consequences.

In fact, that might already be the case. On Feb. 18, as Kiev was ablaze, John Kerry blamed the Russians for "enabling Assad to double down." The Secretary of State accused Moscow of undermining all possibility of a negotiated outcome by "contributing so many more weapons" to Bashar al-Assad.

Is it completely by chance that the program of dismantling Syria's chemical arsenal, on which Americans and Russians had agreed, has been at a standstill for three months?

Hostage situation

History appears to be repeating itself, like a new Cold War. Resolutions to regional conflicts in which Moscow and Washington are involved depend largely on the relationship between the Kremlin and the White House. And the rapport between Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin is ice cold.

On the Syrian front as well as in Ukraine, the U.S. and Russia are on opposite sides. But most observers reckon that the Syrian disaster will not end until the two can agree. And for now, the Russians are a stumbling block.

At the Geneva "peace conference" in February, Moscow let the Syrian delegation obstruct all dialogue with representatives of the rebellion β€” while at the United Nations, the Kremlin prevents all condemnation, even symbolic, of the massacres perpetrated by the regime.

It is a safe bet that the disagreement over Ukraine is reinforcing Russia's obstructionism on Syria. Bashar al-Assad, thus protected, is winning. He is planning a mockery of an election in June to proclaim himself president for another term.

Assad has managed to give the war the shape he wanted: that of a fight between the last bastion of secularism against a rebellion dominated by Sunni jihadism. The situation on the battlefield is, however, much more complex.

Still, the whole picture barely hides the reality in Syria, that of a regime, of a man, completely in the hands of its foreign godfathers β€” Iran's military management, some 6,000 fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Russians. The only room for maneuver Assad has is that they have granted him.

And so, from far away, Syrians have the great misfortune to be also be held hostage by the situation in Kiev and Sevastopol.

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Society

A Refuge From China's Rat Race: The Young People Flocking To Buddhist Monasteries

Unemployment, stress in the workplace, economic difficulties: more and more young Chinese graduates are flocking to monasteries to find "another school of life."

Photograph of a girl praying at a temple during Chinese Lunar New Year. She is burning incense.

Feb 20, 2015 - Huaibei, China - Chinese worshippers pray at a temple during the Lunar New Yeat

CPRESSPHOTO/ZUMA
FrΓ©dΓ©ric Schaeffer

JIAXING β€” It's already dawn at Xianghai Temple when Lin, 26, goes to the Hall of 10,000 Buddhas for the 5:30 a.m. prayer.

Still half-asleep, the young woman joins the monks in chanting mantras and reciting sacred texts for an hour. Kneeling, she bows three times to Vairocana, also known as the Great Sun Buddha, who dominates the 42-meter-high hall representing the cosmos.

Before grabbing a vegetarian breakfast in the adjacent refectory, monks and devotees chant around the hall to the sound of drums and gongs.

"I resigned last October from the e-commerce company where I had been working for the past two years in Nanjing, and joined the temple in January, where I am now a volunteer in residence," explains the young woman, soberly dressed in black pants and a cream linen jacket.

Located in the city of Jiaxing, over a hundred kilometers from Shanghai, in eastern China, the Xianghai temple is home to some 20 permanent volunteers.

Unlike Lin, most of them only stay for a couple days or a few weeks. But for Lin, who spends most of her free time studying Buddhist texts in the temple library, the change in her life has been radical. "I used to do the same job every day, sometimes until very late at night, writing all kinds of reports for my boss. I was exhausted physically and mentally. I felt my life had no meaning," she says.

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