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Supporters of Iran's presidential challenger Ebrahim Reisi
Supporters of Iran's presidential challenger Ebrahim Reisi
Roy Greenburgh

PARIS — In the final days of the recent French presidential campaign, one confrontation looked like it might turn the tables in favor of underdog Marine Le Pen. Angry workers facing the closing of a Whirlpool plant in the northern city of Amiens cursed and whistled at visiting frontrunner Emmanuel Macron, accusing him of being the candidate of global finance at the expense of the ordinary folk of France. The 39-year-old Macron, however, managed to hold his own and defend his ideas in the hostile confines, on his way to what turned out to be a resounding victory on May 7 against his far-right opponent. Vive la France. Vive la démocratie.

It turns out, on the very same day as the French election, democracy of a different stripe was heating up far away in Iran — with a scene that looked surprisingly similar to Macron's moment of truth at the shuttering factory. Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani had decided to visit the Zemestanyurt coal mine following an accidental explosion that had left dozens dead, sparking criticism about inadequate safety regulations. A video showing Rouhani's dark-windowed car surrounded by angry miners was soon circulated by his conservative opponents in an attempt to portray the reformist incumbent as detached from the people's problems.

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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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