Anatol Lieven

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Russians in Switzerland protest against war in Ukraine in front of the European UN headquarters in Geneva. Photograph: Laurent Gilliéron/EPA

President Putin’s declaration of partial mobilisation is a sign of the utter failure of Russia’s Ukraine strategy since February’s invasion. That Putin waited so long before declaring mobilisation is partly because it involves an implicit recognition of this failure, and of the fact that the “special military operation” is in fact a full-scale war, which Russia seems to be losing. It is also because he feared – rightly – a backlash from the Russian public. His regime is now in serious danger. Another major defeat would most probably bring it down.

What could be much more dangerous than the mobilisation itself is the combination of this announcement with the decision to hold referendums in the eastern Donbas (recognised as independent by Russia in February), and the other territories occupied by Russian forces during the invasion.…  Seguir leyendo »

At the end of director Jean Renoir’s great anti-war film, La Grande Illusion, a German patrol opens fire on two escaped French prisoners of war. One German soldier shouts to another, “Stop shooting! They’re in Switzerland!”

I have often thought of this exchange in the context of the present debate on a treaty of neutrality for Ukraine. This is not just as an essential and unavoidable part of any agreement to end the present Russian invasion but one that may have prevented the invasion happening (since it was first on Russia’s list of demands). A declaration of neutrality has generally been treated, both in the West and in Ukraine itself, as a colossal and dangerous sacrifice by Ukraine.…  Seguir leyendo »

If you believe many of the commentators and policy makers in Washington, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is an expansionist on the march. He’s had one great success after another: First, he annexed Crimea and fueled a destabilizing conflict in eastern Ukraine. Then he intervened in the Syrian civil war and rescued his client, the government of Bashar al-Assad, in its moment of need. Last month, Ashton B. Carter, the secretary of defense, indicated that he believed that Russia is the world’s greatest threat to American national security, ahead of a nuclear-armed North Korea and the jihadists of the Islamic State.…  Seguir leyendo »

Since the latest terrorist attacks in Paris, President Obama and a range of other Western leaders have agreed that ISIS must be crushed, Syria and Iraq stabilized, and the flow of refugees reversed. If ISIS, Al Qaeda and their supporters are the greatest enemies of the West, then we must respond accordingly, by focusing on destroying them while making unpalatable compromises with others where necessary. The successful waging of war requires concentration, ruthlessness, prioritization and a willingness to abandon old shibboleths and seek new allies.

We must remember that in this war with Islamist extremism, Russia is not an enemy but an ally, and Turkey under its present government is at best an extremely equivocal “friend.”…  Seguir leyendo »

The Afghan Taliban’s acknowledgment of the death of their leader Mullah Omar and the ensuing secession struggle between supporters and opponents of peace efforts presents an opportunity that should be seized upon by the United States, Afghanistan’s neighbors, and the Afghan government itself.

Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansour, who has been chosen as the new leader (in very murky circumstances) by the Taliban political leadership, favors peace efforts. His opponents, including the top military commander Mullah Abdul Qayuum Zakir, oppose any settlement. Mullah Zakir had in fact supported Mullah Omar’s son, Mullah Yaqoub, who is said to have opposed peace efforts. Mullah Yaqoub, according to Afghan media sources, has been killed.…  Seguir leyendo »

The progress of the conflict in eastern Ukraine is utterly predictable. Since the rebellion began with Russian backing five months ago, it’s been obvious that the Kremlin would not allow the rebels to be crushed by force. So deeply is President Vladimir Putin’s prestige invested in his Ukrainian strategy, and in the image of Russian strength, that to allow a Ukrainian military victory would threaten the stability and even the existence of his own regime.

As many observers have been writing from the start of this conflict, there was never a chance of the Ukrainian government being able to win militarily.…  Seguir leyendo »

By defying Washington and delaying his signature on the bilateral security agreement with the United States to continue financial and military aid for Afghanistan after 2014, President Hamid Karzai is being both very astute and supremely foolish — astute in a personal and Afghan context, foolish in an American one.

Mr. Karzai is clearly trying to garner nationalist support, especially among his fellow Pashtuns. He may also hope that withholding his signature may give him some leverage over Washington during next April’s Afghan presidential elections — which he may well need, since these elections are extremely unlikely to proceed according to strict Western democratic rules.…  Seguir leyendo »

The need for an immediate U.S. response in Syria to discourage the further use of chemical weapons does not change the fundamental dilemma of U.S. policy, which is that for very good reasons, the United States does not want either side to win this war. Victory for either side would mean dreadful massacres and ethnic cleansing, as well as an increased threat of international terrorism.

All of this is well known to policy makers in Washington, which explains President Obama’s praiseworthy caution. What the administration now needs to do is to start thinking seriously about the real contours of a Syrian peace settlement, and to turn the Syrian crisis into an opportunity to rethink its overall strategy in the Middle East.…  Seguir leyendo »

Talks between the United States and the Taliban are overdue by many years.

On the U.S. side, it has long been recognized that the Pashtun conservative groups that the Taliban represent cannot be destroyed militarily, and therefore will have to be accommodated politically at some stage and in some form.

At least some of the Taliban also realize that the strength of the forces opposing them means they too will sooner or later have to reach a political accommodation with other groups. One of the first goals of the planned talks must be to test how far this perception is shared by Mullah Muhammad Omar and the top military leadership of the Taliban.…  Seguir leyendo »

President Obama has been correct in one part of his response to the killing of 16 Afghan civilians by an American soldier on Sunday: Such disasters must not lead to a panic-stricken “rush for the exit” by America and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

If the United States is to emerge from this conflict with some honor, and if Afghanistan is to have any chance of avoiding future civil war, it is essential that Obama stick to his promise.

A flight by the United States would be seen purely as a response to Western losses, reflect callous disregard for the plight of the Afghan people, and lead to justified feelings of triumph on the part of the Taliban and their allies.…  Seguir leyendo »

If Pakistan's chief justice, Iftikhar Chaudhry, manages to press his charges of corruption against the president, Asif Ali Zardari, he will bring down the existing Pakistani government. If he extends his anti-corruption campaign to the political elites as a whole, he will bring down the entire existing political system – and replace it, his critics say, with a dictatorship made up of an unelected (and equally corrupt) judiciary.

The corruption charges against Zardari date back to the governments of his late wife, Benazir Bhutto, in the 1990s. Charges against him, the present prime minister, Yusuf Raza Gillani, and other leading politicians and former officials were dropped under the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) of 2007: the product of a deal – allegedly brokered by the Bush administration – between the then military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, and Bhutto in late 2007, which allowed her to return from exile and take part in elections.…  Seguir leyendo »

The affairs of Afghanistan and Pakistan are becoming the biggest test of whether the United States and China can cooperate to maintain global peace and stability in the 21st century.

They are an even bigger test of this than the Korean Peninsula, for the security equation there is largely frozen, whereas in Afghanistan and Pakistan it is very volatile indeed, as circumstances surrounding the death of Osama bin Laden have emphasized.

The future of Afghanistan is also a test of other great-power relationships that will largely define the 21st century in Asia: Of whether China and India are doomed to mutual hostility or can find areas of cooperation; and of whether the Chinese-Russian relationship will become a true partnership that will seek common solutions to key problems.…  Seguir leyendo »

Washington’s military strategy in Afghanistan now aims to avoid the appearance of defeat for America, but for Afghanistan it is a recipe for unending civil war.

In essence, it is a version of the strategy pursued by the Soviet Union in the second half of the 1980s: to build up the Afghan army to the point where it can contain the insurgents without the help of outside ground forces, while seeking to win over individual insurgent commanders and their supporters.

This strategy may create forces that can defend key cities against the Taliban. But it is unlikely that Afghan security forces will be able to do this on their own.…  Seguir leyendo »

News reports that senior U.S. commanders in Afghanistan want to expand Special Operations ground raids into Pakistan’s tribal areas may well have been leaked deliberately in order to increase pressure on Pakistani military leaders to take tougher action against Taliban fighters seeking refugee in their country.

However, if American generals genuinely want to increase such raids, then it needs to be stated emphatically that this is not just a lunatic idea, but one that demonstrates how far senior American (and British) commanders have become obsessed with the war in Afghanistan at the expense of the struggle against terrorism as a whole.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Pakistani Government and Army have finally decided to heed the words of a former ruler: “No patchwork scheme — and all our recent schemes, blockades, allowances etc are mere patchwork — will settle the Waziristan problem. Not until the military steamroller has passed over the country from end to end will here be peace.”

Did Pervez Musharraf, the former President, say that? No, it was Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, more than 100 years ago. And for both strategic and humanitarian reasons Curzon added: “I do not want to be the person to start the machine.”

The inhabitants of Waziristan have resisted outside conquest since time immemorial.…  Seguir leyendo »

Few tears will be shed for Baitullah Mehsud, except among the Taleban militants. He took responsibility for the slaughter of hundreds of ordinary Pakistanis, quite apart from attacks on the army and police.

But the Pakistani public will take some convincing that he really is dead. Pakistanis tend to treat most US statements as automatically false, and are sceptical about the claims of their own Government. Many, too, believe in feverish conspiracy theories that attribute terrorism, not to the Taleban, but to agents of India, or even the US.

Among more sensible Pakistanis, the question will be how much difference Mehsud’s death will make.…  Seguir leyendo »