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Geopolitics

Where Is My Cousin? As ISIS Retreats, Syrians Await News On Prisoners

The so-called Islamic State has been driven from most of its territory in Syria, but the fate of the thousands of civilians captured by extremists remains largely unknown, writes Chatham House fellow Haid Haid, whose cousin was kidnapped by ISIS.

Anti-ISIS fighters in Raqqa in August.
Anti-ISIS fighters in Raqqa in August.
Haid Haid

Back in August 2013, the so-called Islamic State group kidnapped my 29-year-old cousin Samar Saleh. Since then, I have been waiting for the day that ISIS prisons are liberated. Despite the recent seizure of the group's last strongholds in the eastern provinces in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor, the fate of my cousin, and thousands of other detainees, remains unclear. The long anticipated feeling of joy and relief for the crushing of the group was simply overpowered with mixed emotions of emptiness and anxiety.

Where is she? What happened to her? Is there still hope to see her? No answers have been given to put my mind at ease.

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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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