War

By Gideon Rachman
When the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Moscow stock market did not crash. That is because there was no Moscow stock market. By contrast, the news that Russian troops have taken effective control of Crimea was greeted, on Monday, by a 10 per cent collapse in shares on the Russian market.

Vladimir’s Putin’s decision to send Russian troops into Ukraine and seize control of Crimea has thrown the spotlight onto the peninsula.

Located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, Crimea has strong historical and cultural ties with Russia. It was Russian territory until 60 years ago, and one of the pretexts for Russia’s military invasion has been to defend its citizens and interests in Ukraine, especially in Crimea.

Yet Crimea’s strategic importance to Russia goes much further. The Crimean port of Sevastopol, home of the Black Sea fleet, is vital to Russia’s naval power in the Mediterranean and beyond. Read more

The Syrian armed forces that took control of the Homs province town of Deir Balbi in 2012 wanted to show the locals they meant business and avoid attacks by approaching rebel units. So they forced children out of their homes, and allegedly placed them as human shields between their tanks and soldiers to dissuade the rebels from attacking.

The incident is described in a harrowing report issued by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary-general, chronicling the devastating effects of the Syrian civil war on the country’s children, and adds fresh urgency to efforts to end the war. At least 10,000 children have died as casualties or combatants of war or under torture in Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s prisons, the report estimates. Read more

Prospects for peace in Syria
World powers are gathering in Switzerland in an attempt to find a diplomatic solution to Syria’s three-year civil war, which has cost more than 130,000 lives drawn in regional powers to fight a proxy sectarian war. The conference nearly fell apart before it began when the UN invited Iran to participate. But what chance of success remains? Roula Khalaf, foreign editor, and Borzou Daragahi, Middle East correspondent, join Ben Hall to discuss.

David Gardner

Anyone who thought references to the Assads’ “killing machine” in Syria’s civil war was hyperbolic metaphor should read a horrendously literal report that has just surfaced, detailing the “industrial scale” killing of about 11,000 detainees in the regime’s dungeons. It provides harrowing confirmation of what organisations from the UN to Human Rights Watch had partially documented: the systematic liquidation, usually by or after torture, of those who question or combat the Assad tyranny.

The report is based largely on evidence assembled and smuggled out on a memory stick by a Syrian military policeman, codenamed Caesar to protect him and his family from reprisals, whose job it was to photograph the dead bodies, often up to 50 a day. The evidence has been examined by lead prosecutors for the war crimes tribunals of Sierra Leone and the former Yugoslavia and top international forensics experts, commissioned by a London law firm on behalf of Qatar, which has been a leading supporter of Syria’s rebels. They found it to be credible evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes that would stand up in a court of law. Read more

Gideon Rachman

(Matt Cardy/Getty Images)

“A spectre is haunting the world: 1914.” So writes Harold James, a professor of history at Princeton in the latest edition of “International Affairs”. Professor James is certainly right that newspapers and learned journals are currently full of articles comparing international politics today with the world of 1914. I have written a few articles on that theme myself. Now, perhaps inevitably, there is a backlash. Joseph Nye, a professor at Harvard, has just published a piece on the 1914 analogy for Project Syndicate that notes: “Among the lessons to be learned from the events of 1914 is to be wary of analysts wielding historical analogies, particularly if they have a whiff of inevitability.”

So does the 1914 analogy actually make sense? Read more

By Richard McGregor in Washington

After sensitive details of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden began leaking, an infuriated Robert Gates, then secretary of defence, stormed into the office of Tom Donilon, the national security adviser.

“Why doesn’t everybody just shut the f*** up?” said the incensed Pentagon chief.

 Read more

By Gideon Rachman
Can thinking about the past improve the way you handle the present? If so, this year’s centenary of the outbreak of the first world war could do the world a great service by persuading modern politicians to spend more time thinking about Sarajevo, and less time worrying about Munich.

Gideon Rachman

At the end of every year, I attempt a first draft of history by listing what seem to me to be the five most significant events of the past twelve months. Some of my picks for 2013 also featured in 2012. I hope this is not because of intellectual laziness, but simply because the war in Syria, and the turmoil in Egypt remain defining events of our era. I probably should also once again include the tensions between China and Japan – but they are still simmering and have not yet boiled over. So I’ll give the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands a rest this year.

So let me start the list for 2013 with a genuinely new event that has global significance: Read more

A suburb of Damascus after it was recaptured by regime forces (Getty)

On a recent trip to Damascus, an acquaintance surprised me by announcing his plans to leave the country. Concerned friends have been trying to get him to move to Lebanon for the past two years, but he always refused. Like many Syrians, he felt that even with a civil war raging, Damascus had a soulfulness and integrity that Beirut lacks. Now he’s had enough.

“Its not the shelling,” he explained. “It’s the greed.” Read more