David Blair

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When Vienna was an imperial capital, the Habsburgs would occasionally call their realm the “Danubian Monarchy”. In the interests of appeasing the subject peoples, it sometimes made sense to pretend the empire wasn’t an empire after all.

If only the diplomats who are now gathered here in Vienna to settle the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear programme could also avoid calling a spade a spade.

Skilled negotiators often seek to bridge the most unbridgeable divides by the time-honoured methods of fudging and renaming. The IRA never disarmed: instead it “decommissioned” its weapons and put them “beyond use”. The reason why these talks are deadlocked is that America and Iran have both allowed themselves to be impaled on one issue that remains defiantly beyond fudge.…  Seguir leyendo »

When is an invasion not an invasion? No Russian tanks have rolled across Ukraine’s eastern frontier and no spearhead infantry units are ravaging the post-industrial wastes of the Donbas, yet the Kremlin has still managed to seize de facto control over a string of towns inside its neighbour.

This shadowy operation in eastern Ukraine reveals much about the temperament of President Vladimir Putin. Ordering a conventional military invasion – a sort of Operation Barbarossa in reverse – would have been far too obvious for this KGB graduate. While Nato’s high command fretted over the presence of between 35,000 and 40,000 Russian troops on Ukraine’s border, he chose a more subtle method of coercing his neighbour.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ukraine’s winter was harsh enough to stop Hitler’s tanks in 1941, but not the mass protests now sweeping central Kiev. As I write, tens of thousands of people are packing Independence Square — where the current temperature is minus 13C — for a series of passionate speeches denouncing Ukraine’s leaders.

This unfolding revolution in a great European capital summons images of Paris in 1789 or Vienna in 1848. All around me, volunteers are manning giant snow-clad barricades, made with sacks filled by ice. Squads of protesters are fortifying Ukrainian House, an exhibition centre that became the latest public building to fall into their hands early on Sunday.…  Seguir leyendo »

John Kerry has many faults, but poverty of ambition is not among them. In the first half of 2014, the US Secretary of State has placed two items at the top of his “to do” list. One: secure a final peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, preferably by April. Two: settle the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear ambitions once and for all, hopefully before August. Then, with both of those Gordian knots safely cut, Mr Kerry might turn his hand to other tasks, like curing cancer, or exploring mining opportunities on Mars.

In truth, the easy jibes are unfair – for Mr Kerry really has decided that his mission is to settle the most poisonous and intractable conflicts the world has to offer.…  Seguir leyendo »

There is a dreadful symmetry to the terrorist atrocity in Kenya. The outrage in Westgate shopping centre shows not only the enduring ability of al-Qaeda’s brethren to kill and maim in the teeth of the biggest counter‑terrorism campaign in history, it reminds us that Nairobi was the place where Osama bin Laden’s network first demonstrated its lethal potency.

Almost exactly 15 years ago, a truck bomb exploded two miles from the site of the Westgate mall. The heavily fortified US embassy was the nominal target, but a vulnerable nearby tower block bore the brunt of the blast. For a terrible instant, the sky above the crowded streets of central Nairobi rained shards of jagged glass, blinding scores of bystanders.…  Seguir leyendo »