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Tehran's Molavi Bazaar
Tehran's Molavi Bazaar
Ahmad Shayegan

A Rafsanjani return?
The former diplomat and Tehran-based commentator Sabah Zanganeh wrote in an item published Dec. 22 in the reformist daily Aftab-e Yazd that the former president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, considered Iran’s great "pragmatist" politician, could help engineer a rapprochement with regional rival Saudi Arabia, for the "trust" he inspired among Iranian and Saudi officialdom.

Zanganeh was writing in response to unconfirmed reports that Rafsanjani might visit Saudi Arabia. Zanganeh wrote that "undoubtedly" relations between Iran and the Saudi monarchy had further deteriorated in recent years, after first beginning to sour with the fall of Iran’s monarchy in 1979. Clashing ideologies and interests had since fueled proxy confrontations in such countries as Iraq, Syria and Bahrain. The rise of a new generation of princes in the kingdom he added, had led the kingdom to harden its stance toward Iran. This he added, coincided with the radical Iranian governments led by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005-2013.

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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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