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Man wearing a Puerto Rico T-shirt in NYC
Man wearing a Puerto Rico T-shirt in NYC

SAN JUAN — The Puerto Rican Senate's approval of a bill last week to hold a referendum to give voters a stark choice between statehood or independence looks like it may settle the island's status once and for all. Leading Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo Día reports that the vote, set for June 11, will be the first in the island's history to offer citizens a binary choice between becoming the 51st U.S. state or declaring independence, excluding the option of retaining its current status as an American territory. The vote will be the fifth time Puerto Ricans have been called to the polls to decide their status since the island came under U.S. control in 1898.

In every previous referendum the most popular option was remaining a commonwealth except for the last vote in 2012 when voters opted for statehood — although more than half a million blank ballots were cast, prompting Washington to ignore the result. The Senate's decision last Thursday to move forward with the vote this year has generated intense controversy, with the opposition Popular Democratic Party (PPD) announcing it would appeal to the federal Department of Justice to prevent it from occurring.

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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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