Rajan Menon

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Ukraine Is Advancing, and Russia Is Retreating, but President Zelensky Has a Big Problem

Despite the Ukrainian Army’s battlefield advances and Russia’s retreats, most recently from parts of Kherson Province, Ukraine’s economy has been left in tatters. A prolonged war of attrition — which seems likely — will subject it to additional strain. For the Kyiv government, the cost of prosecuting the war while also meeting the material needs of its citizens will mount even if the Ukrainian Army keeps gaining ground. Worse, winter looms and Russia, frustrated by the serial military failures it has experienced since September, seems bent on crippling Ukraine’s economy by taking the wrecking ball to its critical infrastructure. On Tuesday alone, an estimated 90 Russian missiles rained down across Ukraine.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘The longer the war proceeds, the greater the likelihood the west will lose some of its unity against Russia, especially as soaring energy prices, rising inflation, and worries about a recession lead western politicians to focus on the home front.’ Photograph: Eliot Blondet-Pool/Sipa/Rex/Shutterstock

Wars are a series of twists and turns. Momentum can shift and quickly alter fortunes on the battlefield, and intangible elements like leadership and motivation can shred the assessments of the most seasoned military analysts. Military campaigns that look promising initially can, over time, turn into quagmire, as mistakes accumulate, terrain changes and the adversary alters its tactics. The war in Ukraine is a textbook case in point.

During the war’s first two months, the Ukrainian army proved to be formidable, courageous and highly innovative against a better-armed Russian foe, which military experts had almost unanimously expected would prevail. A day after Russia’s invasion began, the US intelligence community was concerned that Russian forces would capture Kyiv in a matter of days.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Can proponents of regime change in Russia be certain that the denouement will be the one they have in mind and are confident about?’ Photograph: Adam J Dewey/NurPhoto/Rex/Shutterstock

Vladimir Putin’s full-blown invasion of Ukraine aimed at toppling the Kyiv government – based on the preposterous claim that it’s run by “neo-Nazis” – has produced Europe’s worst war in a generation, and it has taken a terrible toll on civilians. The Russian armed forces have hit hospitals, apartment buildings, a shopping center and a theater that was serving as a shelter. The immense suffering has been made worse by sieges, above all the one around Mariupol, large parts of which have also been reduced to rubble.

The war has also forced millions from their homes. The UN high commissioner for refugees reports that more than 3.7 million Ukrainians have fled their homeland and that another 6.7 million have been internally displaced.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, March 2022. Umit Bektas / Reuters

What terms should Ukraine accept to end Russia’s unprovoked, unjustifiable war? Some may consider this an impertinent question. In a war between democracy and autocracy, or good and evil, only a righteous victor’s peace is defensible. The right question, in that view, is what demands the United States and its partners, first and foremost Ukraine, should impose on Russia as punishment for its egregious aggression.

In reality, a satisfying victory is likely out of reach, at least for now. Russian President Vladimir Putin has run into unanticipated, stiff resistance from the Ukrainians and harsh sanctions from an unexpectedly unified West, but nothing suggests that he is about to retreat.…  Seguir leyendo »

After 22 months of civil war, in which an estimated 60,000 people have died, Syrian President Bashar Assad gave a defiant speech Sunday that ruled out negotiations with rebel fighters and made clear that he intends to remain in power as long as possible. Assad's words came as no great surprise. Seasoned diplomats, including former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, have tried and failed to broker a peace.

So why does the war drag on? One key reason is that neither side believes it is losing.

The opposition controls a significant amount of territory and has established a presence in large parts of Syria, especially the north and east.…  Seguir leyendo »

Just about everyone who's paying attention agrees that the prospects for a negotiated settlement in Syria are dismal, a consensus that's both depressing and an understatement. Depressing because the killing continues without letup. Between 10,000 and 17,000 people are estimated to have been killed so far, about 200,000 have fled to neighboring countries and more than 1 million are internal refugees. An understatement because the only real peace plan, that of Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary-general and now U.N. special envoy to Syria, is in tatters because of incompatible preconditions attached by Bashar Assad's Alawite-minority government and the armed opposition.…  Seguir leyendo »

Like savvy boxers with knockout punches, Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, and the Muslim Brotherhood have circled each other warily since the Arab Spring toppled President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. But after the SCAF-appointed election commission's banning last week of 10 candidates for the May presidential elections, including the Brotherhood's nominee, Khairat Shater, the phase of circumspection may be ending. Egyptians could be in for rougher times.

The SCAF abandoned Mubarak only after it realized that Egyptian protesters would not succumb to intimidation and force. But it feared the popular uprising and believes that its main consequence has been to empower the Brotherhood.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Taliban's on-again, off-again approach to negotiations on a political settlement appears to be on again. Or so it seems from the announcement that it will open an office in Qatar to have a secure "address" (this seems to be the prevailing diplomatic term of art) from which it can participate in talks.

Even those optimistic about the prospects for a deal robust enough to actually end the war in Afghanistan are treading warily, lacing prognostications with caveats. And rightly so in light of what has happened in the past.

In November 2010, for example, an impostor posing as a top Taliban emissary seeking to initiate a peace process with the Afghan government purloined a huge stash of cash earmarked to grease the skids and get things moving.…  Seguir leyendo »

The fighting in Libya has reached a stalemate: Moammar Kadafi has proved far more resilient than his adversaries anticipated, and he has also exposed the limits of what can be accomplished by war from afar. If NATO decides to end the standoff by attacking his forces with greater ferocity, there's only one nation (you guessed it) with the requisite power.

This much is evident. What remains unclear is the sort of political arrangement the anti-Kadafi campaign will produce.

Here's one possibility. Kadafi's forces, pummeled relentlessly by NATO, shrink. This sets off more high-level defections (Musa Kusa, Kadafi's foreign minister and former spymaster, who fled to London recently, proves to be a trendsetter) and a flood of desertions.…  Seguir leyendo »

If current demographic trends continue, within the next half-century Muslims will constitute a sizable part, perhaps even a plurality, of Russia's population; indeed, Moscow currently has more Muslim inhabitants than any other European city. And unlike those in Amsterdam or Paris, most of Moscow's Muslims are citizens, not immigrants — products of the Russian Empire's 19th century southward expansion. In the coming decades, Muslim peoples from Russia's North Caucasus and Volga regions, together with migrants from neighboring Central Asia and Azerbaijan, will continue to displace Russia's Slavic core and reshape how the country defines itself.

These shifts pose new challenges to Russia's stability.…  Seguir leyendo »

When Russian leaders speak of security threats, they tend to mention NATO expansion and the U.S. missile defense program in eastern Europe. But the unremitting violence in Russia’s North Caucasus region — a sliver of land sandwiched between the Black and Caspian seas and inhabited primarily by Muslims whose lands the Russian Empire conquered in the 19th century — shows that dire dangers lurk at home.

Over the past decade, Russia has experienced spectacular terrorist attacks, and the violence has either occurred in or emanated from the North Caucasus. The grizzly incidents have included a mass hostage-taking in a packed Moscow theater, the killing of hundreds of children at a school in southern Russia, the derailing of high-speed trains between Moscow and St.…  Seguir leyendo »