In December 1979, Moscow launched Operation Storm-333, or the invasion of Afghanistan. Elite Soviet soldiers disguised in Afghan uniforms seized key targets in Kabul, as 100,000 Soviet troops rumbled into Afghanistan from the north.
U.S. officials saw the intervention in Afghanistan as part of a carefully orchestrated program of Soviet expansion. But in truth there was no master plan. The aging Politburo improvised the whole adventure. Moscow hoped that a quick and decisive show of force would create a friendly regime on the border, as it had in Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. But the makeshift invasion of Afghanistan soon spun out of control as a nationwide mujahideen insurgency emerged.
Today, many policymakers and analysts are convinced that Russia’s intervention in Ukraine is part of Vladimir Putin’s master strategy. As Mike Rogers, the House Intelligence Committee chairman, sees it, “Putin is playing chess and I think we are playing marbles, and I don’t think it’s even close.” According to Rogers, the Russian president wants to strengthen his country’s “buffer zones,” with Moldova as the probable next target. Stephen Hadley and Damon Wilson have concluded that Putin’s invasion is part of a larger strategy “to reconstruct what he could of the former empire but on a Russian model rather than Soviet.”
But what if there is no grand scheme? What if, like the Soviets in 1979, Putin is basically winging it?
Read more. [Image: Reuters/The Atlantic]
Maybe this is how the “war on terror” ends.
Since entering his second term, President Obama has signaled his desire to close out a foreign-policy era that he believes has drained America’s economic resources and undermined its democratic ideals. But it hasn’t been easy. Partly, Obama remains wedded to some of the war on terror’s legally dubious tools—especially drone strikes and mass surveillance. And just as importantly, Obama hasn’t had anything to replace the war on terror with. It’s hard to end one foreign-policy era without defining a new one. The post-Cold War age, for instance, dragged on and on until 9/11 suddenly rearranged Americans’ mental map of the world.
Now Russia may have solved Obama’s problem. Vladimir Putin’s military intervention in Ukraine doesn’t represent as sharp a historical break as 9/11 did, but it does offer the clearest glimpse yet of what the post-war on terror era may look like. To quote Secretary of State John Kerry, what comes after the war on terror is the “19th century.”
Read more. [Image: Reuters/Ina Fassbender]
Propping up yet another breakaway territory could drain Russia’s sluggish economy even further.
Read more. [Image: Thomas Peter/Reuters]
The faction that obsesses about maintaining American credibility does the most to risk undermining it.
Read more. [Image: Mikhail Klimentyev/RIA Novosti/Kremlin]
In fact, we’ve pushed U.S. power further east than anyone could have imagined when the Soviet Union collapsed.
Read more. [Image: Reuters/Baz Ratner]
Every Olympics since 1972 has had an official mascot. There’s your standard animal variety (Roni the raccoon in Lake Placid, Misha the bear in Moscow), and then there are outliers—everything from cartoon characters (Håkon and Kristin in Lillehammer) to droplets of steel (Wenlocke and Mandeville in London).
For the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia selected a trio of mascots: the hare, the polar bear, and the snow leopard. The polar bear seems to be the only one with a name (it’s Bely Mishka, by the way), but the leopardis definitely Vladimir Putin’s favorite. It’s a symbol, the Russian president contends, of a modern Russia interested in reviving the species and the country’s natural resources.
Now, being the object of Putin’s affection has its pluses and minuses. The Russian leader, it turns out, has a long and complicated history with wild cats—one explored recently by Bill Donahue in the the Natural Resources Defense Council’s OnEarth Magazine.
The central question in Donahue’s article is whether Russia’s “declared commitment to wildlife conservation … has any basis in reality,” and the snow leopard’s symbolic presence in Sochi offers a perfect lens through which to investigate.
Read more. [Image: Markus Schreiber/AP]
It’s a time-honored tradition: When a U.S. president gives his State of the Union address, interest groups pore over the carefully crafted remarks line by line, word by word, to assess the administration’s priorities and blind spots. The exercise plays out, if to a lesser degree, overseas as well: The day after President Obama’s sixth address, news outlets in Kiev, Beijing, and Tehran are picking apart references to their countries.
State of the Union addresses haven’t always been such a spectacle. U.S. presidents have delivered them since 1790, but until 1913 these addresses were submitted as annual reports to Congress. When Woodrow Wilson became president, he turned the constitutionally required update on the nation’s well-being to an in-person speech.
In Tuesday night’s State of the Union address, Obama named 13 nations: Afghanistan, Burma, China, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Mali, Palestine, Somalia, Syria, Tunisia, Ukraine, and Yemen. Each has been named in previous State of the Union addresses; one, Tunisia, was first mentioned in Thomas Jefferson’s 1805 State of the Union address for its role in Mediterranean piracy. This time around, the circumstances were just a tad different.
Which countries have presidents mentioned the most in their State of the Union addresses? Which regions of the world get the most attention? And what trends can we discern over time?
Read more. [Image: Larry Downing/Reuters]
Russian ‘kills friend in argument over whether poetry or prose is better’
Investigators say drunken literary dispute led to 53-year-old former teacher, who preferred poetry, killing friend with knife (via Russian ‘kills friend in argument over whether poetry or prose is better’)
Judging by 2014’s crowded election calendar, this will be a landmark year for democracy. The Economist estimates that an unprecedented 40 percent of the world’s population will have a chance to vote in national polls in 2014. We’ll see races in populous countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, the United States, and, most notably, India, where 700 million people are expected to cast ballots in what Fareed Zakaria has called the “largest democratic process in human history.”
But here’s the catch: The “biggest year for democracy ever,” as The Economist is billing it, follows a year that in many ways was characterized by the ascent of authoritarianism. In Syria, Bashar al-Assad, with the help of Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah, gained the upper hand in the country’s devastating civil war. In Egypt, the crucible of the Arab Spring, the Egyptian military overthrew the democratically elected Mohammed Morsi and launched a heavy-handed crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and other pockets of opposition. In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan silenced political opponents and stifled freedom of expression—at least, that is, until a corruption scandal and plans to redevelop a park sparked a backlash against his increasingly authoritarian governing style.
Read more. [Image: Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh]
Until this autumn, Volgograd was a relatively quiet Russian city, known best for its legacy as a World War II battlefield. But that changed in October, when a female suicide bomber blew herself up on a city bus, killing six passengers, most of them teenagers.
Now, two back-to-back suspected suicide attacks just ahead of New Year celebrations—a December 29 bombing at the city’s main train station followed by a December 30 trolleybus blast—have claimed more than 30 additional lives and left many to wonder why Volgograd has become an unlikely insurgent target.
With the Winter Olympics less than six weeks away, the security spotlight has been focused on host city Sochi, nestled uncomfortably close to Russia’s volatile North Caucasus republics and their ongoing Islamic insurgency.
Read more. [Image: Reuters/Sergei Karpov]