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Father Paolo Dall'Oglio SJ, founder of the Community al-Khalil in Deir Mar Musa, Syria, among a growing number of hostages in Syria
Father Paolo Dall'Oglio SJ, founder of the Community al-Khalil in Deir Mar Musa, Syria, among a growing number of hostages in Syria
Ahmet Insel

Syria is an apocalypse: dozens of disparate armed groups clash, alliances change weekly, the death toll has reached 100,000, and some two million Syrians have fled the country. Meanwhile, all sides are trying to gain an edge before the second round of Geneva talks to be held next month.

Indeed, a recent increase in the number of kidnapped foreigners seems to be part of the strategy of some to sit at the table with more aces in the hole. Especially the jihadist organizations, which are supported by Saudi Arabia and some of its allies. They are constantly adding to a hostage stockpile, with the thinking that foreigners can be useful someday as a bargaining chip.

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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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