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SYRIA DEEPLY

What's Really Driving Assad's Assault On Aleppo

When the Syrian regime drops bombs on the country's largest city the other target is the negotiating table in Geneva.

A Syrian government soldier stands in the snow in central Damascus.
A Syrian government soldier stands in the snow in central Damascus.
Lara Setrakian and Karen Leigh

In the past three weeks the Assad government has escalated its aerial assault on Aleppo, dropping “barrel bombs” that have killed more than 500 people. Meanwhile, on the ground, rebel groups have been fighting each other, pushing internal refugees into rebel-held areas.

The regime offensive is part of a strategy to gain a stronger foothold in the city, which has been split into regime and rebel sides since fighting escalated in July 2012. Since then the battle for Aleppo has been at a stalemate. The goal for each side, analysts say, is to grasp as much territory as possible before the start of peace talks in Switzerland, scheduled for Jan. 22.

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Geopolitics

The Days After: What Would Happen If Putin Opts For A Tactical Nuclear Strike

The risk of the Kremlin launching a tactical nuclear weapon on Ukraine is small but not impossible. The Western response would itself set off a counter-response, which might contain or spiral to the worst-case scenario.

An anti-nuclear activist impersonates Vladimir Putin at a rally in Berlin.

Yves Bourdillon

-Analysis-

PARISVladimir Putin could “go nuclear” in Ukraine. Yes, this expression, which metaphorically means “taking the extreme, drastic action,” is now literally considered a possibility as well. Cornered and humiliated by a now plausible military defeat, experts say the Kremlin could launch a tactical nuclear bomb on a Ukrainian site in a desperate attempt to turn the tables.

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In any case, this is what Putin — who put Russia's nuclear forces on alert just after the start of the invasion in late February — is aiming to achieve: to terrorize populations in Western countries to push their leaders to let go of Ukraine.

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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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