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Japan

Japan: Scenes Of Devastation And The Silence Of The Missing

A 26-hour journey across the decimated region between Tokyo and Sendai finds villages drowned in mud, message boards to search for loved ones and the earth still moving.

Left in the tsunami's wake (Yurichiro Haga)
Left in the tsunami's wake (Yurichiro Haga)
Régis Arnaud

SENDAI - The journey from Tokyo to Sendai usually takes an hour and forty minutes on one of Japan's high-speed Shinkansen trains. Today, it would take you 26 hours. The bullet trains are no longer running, the motorway is barred to everyone but the emergency services, and on the back roads from Tokyo to Sendai the earth does not stop shaking.

The whole world knows that last week Friday, March 11th at 2.46pm, the biggest earthquake in Japan's history struck, rattling Tokyo in a way it had never experienced. The temblor measured 8.9 on the Richter scale. Yet, it is still hard to convey what this nation is going through now, the extent to which Japan's Pacific coast has become - for those living on it - like a gigantic floating vessel constantly negotiating a terrible, unfathomable swell from the depths of the earth.

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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.

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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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