Simon Tisdall

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A portrait of Alexei Navalny at a monument in Saint Petersburg, Russia, 16 February 2024. Photograph: Reuters

Tyrants and dictators are accustomed to criticism, to being condemned and reviled. The cries of their victims are nothing to them. The curses and tears of families and friends whose loved ones have been taken, jailed, tortured, killed are accepted as a kind of sick, validating tribute to their power, cruelty and inhumanity.

What your average thuggish tyrant simply cannot stand is ridicule. And Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia and indicted, mass-murdering war criminal, is no exception to this unfunny rule. Putin takes himself very seriously indeed. He appears totally lacking in any sense of humour. Self-deprecation is as foreign to him as mercy is to a wolf.…  Seguir leyendo »

Min Aung Hlaing led a military coup in February that overthrew Myanmar’s elected leaders. Photograph: Reuters

Promoting democracy worldwide is an admirable ambition, unless of course you are a bloody-minded dictator and serial human rights abuser like Myanmar’s top general, Min Aung Hlaing. This coup leader and junta boss prefers brute force to ballot boxes.

While the US president, Joe Biden, hosts more than 100 countries at a virtual “summit for democracy” this week, Min Aung Hlaing and his Tatmadaw troops will be busy killing civilians for demanding democratic rights, launching merciless attacks on villagers they call “terrorists”.

The contrast between what the US state department says the summit aims to do – counter authoritarianism, fight corruption, promote human rights – and the international community’s inability to do any of that in Myanmar could not be starker.…  Seguir leyendo »

‘Many Tunisians – or at least the ones in the streets in the last few days – seem to have a more ambivalent relationship with democracy.’ Anti-government protests in Tunis, 25 July 2021. Photograph: Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images

Implicit in US and western support for pro-democracy movements and transitions around the world is an assumption that, given a free choice, a system of elected, representative government is what people will always naturally prefer. But what if this assumption is wrong? What if a majority believes democracy doesn’t work for them?

Emerging testimony from Tunisia, the latest country to face a crisis over how it is run, suggests many citizens welcomed the forceful suspension of a democratically elected parliament that had failed to address people’s problems and was widely reviled as a self-serving oligarchy.
Mohammed Ali, 33, from Ben Guerdane, seems to typify this view.…  Seguir leyendo »

A anti-government protesters march in Havana, Cuba, on Sunday, 11 July, angry over the lack of basic goods and foodstuffs. Photograph: Ismael Francisco/AP

Who betrayed the revolution? It’s a question exercising Cubans after last week’s harsh regime crackdown on street protesters marching for freedom. It’s also a conundrum for other erstwhile liberation movements now wielding power in places as far apart as South Africa, Nicaragua and Palestine. Too often, it seems, the new bosses behave little better than the old bosses they overthrew.

Those on the progressive left face an obvious dilemma when revolutionary causes backfire. In keeping with a simplistic American tradition, US president Joe Biden is busily dividing up the world into good and bad guys, democrats and autocrats. Attention has mostly focused on authoritarian rightwing leaders, as in Brazil, Belarus, Russia and Myanmar.…  Seguir leyendo »

An image of Myanmar’s detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi is projected on to a screen during a night-time demonstration in Yangon in March. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

In August 2011, Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s then foreign minister, made a “mercy dash” to Damascus. He appealed in person to Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, to stop killing his people and talk to his opponents after five months of anti-regime protests.

Davutoglu spoke for Turkey but also, indirectly, for the US and the west. He had conferred with Hillary Clinton, then secretary of state, before making the trip. His message: it’s not too late to call a halt; the alternative is civil war. But Assad turned him down flat.

At that early point in the crisis, about 2,000 people had died. Fearing worse to come, Davutoglu kept trying.…  Seguir leyendo »

Russian president Vladimir Putin attends a concert marking the seventh anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on 18 March. Photograph: Alexey Druzhinin/SPUTNIK/AFP/Getty Images

It had to happen sooner or later. Repeated Russian cyber-attacks, hacks, data thefts and disinformation operations aimed at influencing American elections have finally proved too much for Joe Biden, the US president to bear. Intolerable, too, are what Washington sees as the Kremlin’s malign power-plays in sensitive conflict zones, from Syria and Afghanistan to Ukraine and the Balkans.

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, also stands accused by western countries of waging war on his own people: witness the recent crackdown on opposition activist Alexei Navalny’s pro-democracy supporters. Putin’s regime is widely viewed as irredeemably corrupt. Britain last week dubbed Russia a “hostile state”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad is accused of a wide range of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Photograph: Sana/AFP/Getty Images

Ten years after it began, Syria’s horrific civil war has faded from the headlines. Reluctant to get involved, US and European politicians, and the western public, mostly look the other way. Russia plays a pivotal role, but on the wrong side. Interventionist regional states such as Turkey, Israel, and Iran prioritise selfish, short-term interests. The result is stalemate – a semi-chilled conflict characterised by sporadic violence, profound pain and strategic indifference.

Yet this epic failure to halt the war continues to have far-reaching, negative consequences for international security, democratic values and the rule of law, as well as for Syria’s citizens.…  Seguir leyendo »

Ethiopian refugee children who fled the Tigray conflict wait in a line for a food distribution by Muslim Aid at the Um Raquba refugee camp in Sudan. Photograph: Yasuyoshi Chiba/AFP/Getty Images

Seyoum Mesfin, Ethiopia’s long-serving former foreign minister, was one of the foremost African diplomats of his generation. He was gunned down this month in Tigray by the armed forces of a lesser man – Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister and Nobel peace prize winner. Some suggest it was the Eritrean military, Abiy’s allies, who killed Seyoum, although their presence in Tigray is officially denied. The circumstances of his death remain murky.

As with much of the unreported, unchallenged murder and mayhem currently occurring in northern Ethiopia, murky is what Abiy prefers. When he ordered the army’s assault on the breakaway Tigray region in November, he blocked the internet, shut out aid agencies and banned journalists.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Ethiopian army’s assault on Tigray province marks a serious backwards step by the country’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, who has been feted internationally as a moderniser and Nobel peace prize winner. Abiy calls it a “law enforcement operation” – but he risks being blamed for an expanding refugee emergency and a burgeoning region-wide crisis.

An even bigger fear is the break-up of Ethiopia itself in a Libyan or Yugoslav-type implosion. The country comprises more than 80 ethnic groups, of which Abiy’s Oromo is the largest, followed by the Amhara. Ethnic Somalis and Tigrayans represent about 6% each in a population of about 110 million.…  Seguir leyendo »

Narendra Modi is trying to stifle Amnesty in India. Photograph: Sanjay Baid/EPA

Speaking truth to power has ever been a fraught and dangerous occupation, as Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was recently reminded after he narrowly survived a poisoning plot he says was directed from the Kremlin.

Uncounted Kurdish activists languish in jail for challenging Turkey’s modern-day sultan. In Iran, human rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh is punished mercilessly for championing women’s causes. In Zimbabwe, Catholic clergy who condemn abuses by Emmerson Mnangagwa’s regime are accused of treason.

When China jailed Ren Zhiqiang, a noted communist party critic who ridiculed emperor-president Xi Jinping as a “clown”, much of the world shrugged. What else to expect from an authoritarian dictatorship sustained by gulags and mass surveillance

But when supposed democracies behave in similar fashion, alarm bells ring.…  Seguir leyendo »

More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees fled to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, after the army crackdown in Myanmar in 2017. Photograph: Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

The persecution, ethnic cleansing, and attempted genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state is an affront to the rule of law, a well-documented atrocity and, according to a top international lawyer, a moral stain on “our collective conscience and humanity”. So why are the killings and other horrors continuing while known perpetrators go unpunished?

It’s a question with several possible answers. Maybe poor, isolated Myanmar, formerly Burma, is not important enough a state to warrant sustained international attention. Perhaps, in the western subconscious, the lives of a largely unseen, unknown, brown-skinned Muslim minority do not matter so much at a time of multiple racial, ethnic and refugee crises.…  Seguir leyendo »

Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, speaks to Donald Trump during the G7 meeting in Quebec, 2018. Photograph: Reuters

Making his celebrated return from exile in April 1917 to take up the reins of the Russian revolution, Vladimir Lenin caught a ferry to Sweden from Sassnitz, a small Baltic coastal town in north-east Germany, before taking the train to Finland station in Petrograd, the city that became Leningrad and is now St Petersburg. Sassnitz’s moment in the historical spotlight was fleeting. Now, thanks to Donald Trump’s blundering buddies, it’s back there again.

A trio of Republican senators – Ted Cruz, Tom Cotton and Ron Johnson – are threatening to wreak terrible punishment on Sassnitz, its elected officials and residents who make their living from the port.…  Seguir leyendo »

Italy’s deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini and Poland’s interior minister Joachim Brudzinski in Warsaw. Photograph: Andrzej Iwanczuk/REPORTER/REX/Shutterstock

It could simply be a coincidence. Or perhaps the decision to exhibit Edvard Munch’s most famous work, The Scream, at the British Museum in April, closely following Britain’s scheduled 29 March exit from the EU, is an artful piece of deliberate subversion. Either way, the Norwegian painter’s celebrated depiction of extreme pain occasioned by high anxiety, mental instability, grief, loneliness and separation seems especially well-suited to the times.

Yet while Britain heads for a potentially spectacular nervous breakdown, an agitated Europe is not in much better shape. Nervousness abounds about the EU’s prospects and cohesion, with the focus on European parliament elections on 23-26 May.…  Seguir leyendo »

An uncomfortable phenomenon underlies the numerous existential dilemmas facing world leaders gathered at this weekend’s Munich security conference: it is the scary sight of three superpowers – the US, Russia and China – all behaving badly, all at once.

In the past, presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers attending the annual meeting could focus on a single, common threat. During the cold war, the Soviet Union was the obvious worry. Post-Soviet Russia continues to present big security concerns. So does an expansionist China. Its rapid rise, economic and military, is throwing up a range of challenges to the global order.

What has changed is that the US is becoming a problem too.…  Seguir leyendo »

Barack Obama's visit to London this week may be his final curtain call as U.S. President. It's likely to be the last time he dines with the Queen at Windsor Castle.

But Obama's brief drop-by, on his way to Germany from Saudi Arabia, will be remembered not for its pomp or pageantry, but for his extraordinary appeal to British voters not to leave the European Union in June's national referendum.

The nerve of the man! Many Euroskeptic Britons have already expressed dismay, and not a little anger, at Obama's anticipated intervention in what they say is a domestic issue.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London and a possible successor to prime minister David Cameron, called Obama a "hypocrite."…  Seguir leyendo »

Has the post-war dream of a grand union of democratic states been shattered beyond repair? North American observers might be forgiven for thinking so, given the unprecedented tidal wave of public recriminations, personal insults, and dire predictions spewing forth from the European Union's panicky and divided leaders.

The principal cause is the imminent climax to the crisis over Greece's undeclared, de facto bankruptcy. The country is €323 billion ($352.7 billion) in debt -- more than 175% of its GDP. It cannot pay what it owes to other European countries and the European Central Bank. Its next big loan repayment, of €1.6bn to the International Monetary Fund, falls due at the end of this month, and may be missed.…  Seguir leyendo »

Presumably out of courtesy and as a matter of diplomatic protocol, Barack Obama called Binyamin Netanyahu on Thursday night to tell him the nuclear pact with Iran that Israel’s prime minister had so bitterly resisted was a done deal. It must have been a difficult conversation.

Not only was the US president informing Netanyahu of something he already knew – that he had lost the battle, though not the war, to maintain the isolation and demonisation of Iran. Obama was also making a political point: Netanyahu’s brazen attempt to undermine presidential authority by conspiring with his Republican opponents had failed miserably.…  Seguir leyendo »

Why stop now? This must be the question Vladimir Putin is asking himself as he considers the latest European pleas for peace in Ukraine, to be discussed at a crisis summit in Minsk on Wednesday.

Since invading and annexing Crimea almost one year ago, the Russian president has been running rings around the European Union, NATO and the Obama administration.

It is not that Putin is particularly clever -- on the contrary, his behavior suggests he is paranoid, impulsive and insecure. But he has benefited from the greater weaknesses of his opponents.

So as he considers his response to Europe's ideas for a new cease-fire and a "comprehensive settlement" in eastern Ukraine, what will Putin be thinking?…  Seguir leyendo »

Russia's annexation of Crimea, and what many fear is its apparent threat to invade Ukraine, has riveted international attention since the crisis erupted with February's revolution in Kiev. Excitable talk has proliferated as fast as North Korean missiles.

Pundits obsess about a new Cold War, a showdown with "mad bad Vlad" Putin, and the resulting need to boost military spending (always a Pentagon favorite). The talk is all Ukraine, Ukraine. Politicians and diplomats have put everything else on hold.

Including Syria, which is a big mistake. Far more than an argument over an obscure shard of territory on the edge of Nowhere-on-Don, the catastrophe now taking place in and around Syria ranks as a fundamental challenge and threat to the current world order.…  Seguir leyendo »

Whatever U.S. and European leaders may say, it seems clear a majority of the residents of Crimea were only too happy to abandon Ukraine and join the Russian Federation. The referendum held there on Sunday was illegal according to Ukrainian constitutional law and took place under duress, following the large-scale incursion of "pro-Russian forces" -- and voters did not have the choice to say "no" to severing ties with Kiev.

But these failings aside, it appears plain that most of Crimea's population, with the exception of the Tatar minority and some ethnic Ukrainians, was content to return to what it regards as its ancestral home.…  Seguir leyendo »