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Lebanon

Next Door To Syria, Fears In Beirut Of "Total War" Scenario

Though Russia's proposed diplomatic solution casts doubt over a U.S. military strike in Syria, Lebanese fear being caught in the middle if the fire spreads across the entire region.

Aftermath of a car bomb in Beirut on July 2013
Aftermath of a car bomb in Beirut on July 2013
Hélène Sallon

BEIRUT As night was falling, a police siren rang throughout the streets of Beirut’s rich neighborhood of Achrafieh. The police car opened the way to a convoy of cars in the middle of which, in a luxurious black Mercedes, a young just-married couple were waving to the few onlookers still striding along Independence Avenue that time of the day. Under heavy security surveillance, the Lebanese capital has gradually managed to return to near-normal life since President Barack Obama announced Aug. 30 he would ask the U.S. Congress to vote on strikes against the Syrian regime.

The Lebanese, glued to their televisions, welcomed the adjournment of strikes with surprise, thinking they would be imminent once UN experts finished their mission and left Syria. After a few days of astonishment, residents here eventually went back to their daily routine. Traffic jams reappeared all across town, and people rushed back to the cafés and bars. Beirut recovered a part of the sweet and casual life that makes its reputation in the whole region.

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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.

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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