Putin may seem confident – but Russia’s future is bleak

How old will you be when Vladimir Putin’s next presidential term ends in 2030? Which of today’s world leaders will still be in office? By that time Putin will have been in power for 29 years, and just under half the population of the Earth at that time will have been born during his reign. On current form, Putin is set to see in at least two more US presidents – or more, if he chooses to stay in power until 2036. Putin has made a fetish of defending a Russian national sovereignty that no one had attempted to destroy When Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine in 2022 many

Permanent stalemate in Gaza suits Netanyahu

Jerusalem After midnight on Thursday is dead-time for the Israeli media. The weekend editions have gone to print (newspapers don’t come out on Shabbat) and the Friday night TV news shows have been pre-recorded. The country’s journalists are yearning for respite from a long week covering the war. Benjamin Netanyahu chose that black hole of news, 2 a.m. last Friday, to leak his ‘Day after Hamas’ plan for post-war Gaza. There was no speech. No briefings. Just a page and a bit, double-spaced, presented to his cabinet for discussion. The plan has not been designed to end the war in Gaza. It is about Netanyahu’s own political survival But the plan

Refugee lives: The Singularity, by Balsam Karam, reviewed

One Friday evening in a half-ruined, half-rebuilt city, where smart tourists dine out in restaurants next to refugees in makeshift shelters, a woman walks the streets. In torn clothes and slippers ‘worn ragged’, she hands out leaflets. On every piece of paper the same words are written: ‘Has anyone seen my daughter?’ On the same evening, in the same coastal city, which is ‘half obscured by skyscrapers’, another woman walks the streets with a different purpose, seeking to spend time away from her co-workers on a business trip. As she cradles her pregnant stomach, she watches as a female figure climbs over a clifftop railing and jumps, leaving behind a

Ukrainians can’t trust Putin’s hollow promises

Ukraine’s parliament will soon vote on much-needed conscription regulations which would draft an extra half a million recruits into the army. The categories of eligible men will be expanded, the draft age will be lowered from 27 to 25, and any man caught attempting to evade it will face harsh sanctions or imprisonment. Volodymyr Zelensky has stopped talking about victory coming any time soon. His New Year’s message was grim: everyone must either fight or help through work. Ukrainians are braced for another year of war. But talk of ‘peace’ or ‘compromise’ is still seen as code for a surrender which would reward rather than punish Vladimir Putin’s atrocities, cede

No one wants to talk about Ukraine any more

Apologies for this seasonal downer. Had the website such a listing, this column would surely soar to number one in The Spectator’s ‘Least Popular’ roster. For just now, few topics are a bigger turn-off than Ukraine. Following Russia’s invasion, I got caught up in the same waves of emotion that washed over most western publics, and I say that with no regret. After relentlessly battling the prevailing cultural winds these past few years, I was relieved to feel a sense of solidarity for once. Most of us were revulsed by the gratuitous aggression, allied with an underdog whose bite proved surprisingly fierce, thrilled by a former comedian’s unexpected rise to

Is this where world war three starts?

Daugavpils You can tell quite a bit about a place by the number of national flags on display. One or two on public buildings here and there is a healthy genuflection to a moderate and comfortable patriotism. But groups of the same national flag every five paces, on every building and festooning the parks and boulevards – well, there’s something going on, isn’t there? You’re in a place where trouble is surely just around the corner, a place where the national authorities may not feel entirely secure. What sort of trouble? Well, one wouldn’t want to be over-dramatic, obvs, but in this particular case, world war three. The Russian invasion

What Hamas promised to its electorate

Things you do not hear very often, number one: a pro-Palestinian protestor denouncing Hamas for the barbarity of its incursion into Israel on 7 October, appalled at the savagery of those attacks upon children, grandmothers, etc. It may seem as if, in saying this, I am stating the obvious – because support for that pogrom was, I would suggest, strong among some of those carrying Palestinian flags on marches through London and elsewhere. Six Arab language journalists were suspended by the BBC when it was discovered that they retweeted messages glorifying in that day’s murder. They were not members of Hamas. Ordinary Palestinians interviewed, cowering in the rubble of Gaza, were

Britain should back a ceasefire

Six weeks ago, I invited Ahmed Alnaouq, a young diplomat who recently joined the Palestinian mission in London, to stay for a cricket weekend in Wiltshire. He resisted all entreaties to play the game but was in every other way a delightful guest. On Sunday, Ahmed learnt that his family in Gaza has been wiped out by an Israeli bomb. His father, siblings, and more than 15 nieces and nephews had all been killed. Twenty-three dead, no injuries. Another brother was killed by an Israeli bombing in 2014. His mother died three years ago because, he says, Israel denied her medical treatment. When I sent him a text message saying that

Toby Young

Why I don’t trust the BBC’s Trusted News Initiative

You almost certainly haven’t heard of the Trusted News Initiative (TNI), although you probably should have. It’s a BBC-led consortium of the world’s most powerful news, social media and technology companies that seeks to cleanse the internet of ‘disinformation’. It carries out this mission by doing its best to discredit sites that challenge the prevailing narrative on topics like lockdowns, Covid vaccines, electoral fraud, the Ukraine war and climate change. It was founded in 2019 by Jessica Cecil, a senior BBC executive who, in 2021, was part of the Counter Disinformation Policy Forum, a shadowy group of ‘experts’ convened by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to monitor criticism

No one should trust the camera in the age of AI

This war is being fought with pictures more than words. The poignant shots, often selfies, of families, children, even babies, who were to become victims of Hamas butchery, the wailing mothers and children on stretchers in Gaza, the missile strikes and collapsed concrete buildings. We know politicians on all sides lie, but photography is a mechanical process; these pictures must, surely, be the truth? Almost all these photos have been taken with mobile phones. To a rough approximation, everybody now has a smartphone. There are said to be seven billion smartphones in use around the world – there are only eight billion people. (Sales of what we used to know

An Israeli ground assault would be devastating for Gaza

On a patch of scrubland outside the Zikim kibbutz earlier this week, I came across a platoon of Merkava 4 tanks positioned among the trees. One of the tank commanders recognised my colleague and we exchanged a few words. ‘This is our Yom Kippur,’ he told us. ‘We haven’t even begun to grasp the implications of this.’ Yom Kippur, in this context, isn’t a reference to the annual Jewish day of atonement. Rather, it recalls October 1973, when Israel was surprised by an attack on two fronts from the forces of Egypt and Syria. The Hamas assault on Israeli Jewish communities around the Gaza Strip came exactly 50 years and a day after what Israelis

What Iran gains from the conflict in Israel

A little more than a week before Hamas carried out its Operation Al-Aqsa Flood, the US National Security Advisor, Jake Sullivan, said: ‘The Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades.’ Sullivan was expressing a consensus view, one apparently shared by the Israeli government. Then came the attacks of last weekend and, as the Israeli President, Isaac Herzog, said, ‘Not since the Holocaust have so many Jews been killed in one day.’ The surprise attacks have been called Israel’s 9/11, its Pearl Harbor, and so the question Israelis are asking is: how could this happen? And of more consequence, perhaps: who was really behind it?

Should Ukraine hold a general election next year?

In the months before Russia invaded Ukraine last year, Volodymyr Zelensky was fighting for his political life. The former comedian was elected in 2019 on a pledge to end the war in Donbas by an electorate exasperated with its political class. Zelensky initially set out to negotiate with Vladimir Putin – but achieved nothing. He appeared naive and out of his depth. However, Zelensky’s transformation into a wartime leader captured the world’s imagination and rallied his allies. Yet some of those allies are beginning to ask whether, if this war is really about the free world versus autocracy, as Zelensky claims, Ukraine should hold a general election next year. Many

Why the US will decide Ukraine’s fate

As Ukraine marked its 32nd national holiday since independence, news from the front lines and the wider world appeared better than perhaps in any week since the recapture of Kherson in November. In Zaporizhzhia, the hard-fought front lines moved a few miles forward. In Crimea, a missile strike took out a Russian S-400 anti-aircraft complex and a team of Ukrainian commandos briefly raised their yellow-and-blue flag on the peninsula for the first time since Russia’s 2014 annexation. A Russian Mi-8 helicopter pilot defected to Ukraine with a load of jet engine parts. Near-nightly waves of drone strikes deep inside Russia blew up two Tu-22M long-range bombers, four Il-78 transport aircraft

Russian military chief lets slip the cost of invasion

When it comes to disclosing the true cost of the war in Ukraine for Russia, the Kremlin has rarely, if ever, chosen to be honest. But occasionally, things slip out. Last Wednesday, Mikhail Teplinsky, commander-in-chief of the Russian Airborne Forces, congratulated his troops on the anniversary of the division’s founding. He said how proud he was of the ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine and reeled off the number of soldiers honoured as ‘Heroes of Russia’, as well as the 30,000 who had received other honours from the state. A video of his speech, below, was posted to the Russian ministry of defence’s social media channels and website. But the video

The Ukrainian war is coming to Moscow

A few hours after Ukrainian kamikaze drones struck the proud towers of the Moscow City business centre, a Muscovite friend received a cold call from her insurance company. Would she like to upgrade her home insurance to include drone attacks, a chirpy salesman asked. Another couple of friends, out for a walk in the woods not far from Vladimir Putin’s country residence at Novo-Ogaryovo, were surprised to discover a pair of Pantsir-S1 mobile anti-aircraft batteries parked by the edge of a field, their warheads pointing warily towards Ukraine. A Muscovite journalist shares a new listing for bed space in an underground garage that he has converted into a bomb shelter.

The death of sportsmanship

Now that Wimbledon is over, a few thoughts about youthful brains showing traces of horse tranquillisers, angel dust and cannabis, the ingredients that spell ‘moron’. I mean those sporting idiots who booed Victoria Azarenka after she lost the tiebreak 11 to 9 in the third set to the charming Ukrainian Elina Svitolina. Here’s Vica – a woman, a mother, a wonderful player and, through no fault of her own, a Belarusian – being booed for going along with the decision of Ukrainian players not to shake hands with Russian or Belarusian opponents. When a Ukrainian player refused to shake hands during the French Open last month, the public booed her,

The strange allure of disaster tourism

Some people call me a disaster tourist. I’ve been to Afghanistan, Somalia, North Korea, Syria and Ukraine, to name just a few. I’ve been threatened by kidnappers and have been shot at, but it’s never seriously bothered me. A taste for danger is just part of who I am. That’s why I respect those five men who perished in the Titan submarine last week. They were prepared to descend into the crushing depths of the North Atlantic in a tiny submarine to look upon the most notorious shipwreck in the world, the Titanic. They wanted to experience a place so dangerous that only a handful of people on earth would ever

Why the economic war against Russia has failed

There was much mirth in the West this week when Vladimir Putin’s Victory Day parade through Red Square included just one tank, itself a relic from a museum. The inference was that Russia has lost so much military kit in Ukraine that it is a shadow of the military superpower the Soviet Union used to be. Russia has certainly borne heavy losses (although any country conducting a foreign war would presumably have its military hardware on active duty rather than on ceremonial parade). But we should avoid being smug. The truth is that the war is not going well for the West either – at least in one respect. When

In Kyiv, tech start-ups are thriving

What better cocktail to try in Kyiv than ‘Lesya Ukrainka’s Dream’? Born in 1871, Ukrainka was a fierce feminist, poet, titan of Ukrainian literature and the angel-faced symbol of independent nationhood. In this time of war, writers like Ukrainka and Taras Shevchenko, the great 19th-century poet persecuted by the Russians, a man who has come to define Ukrainian national identity and liberation, are all the rage. The last verse of Ukrainka’s poem ‘Contra Spem Spero’ (‘I hope against hope’) captures the national mood: Yes, I will laugh despite my tears, I’ll sing out songs amidst my misfortunes; I’ll have hope despite all odds, I will live! Away, you sorrowful thoughts!