BBC BLOGS - Newsnight: Mark Urban

Archives for August 2008

19th century attitudes still at work in Russia

Mark Urban | 22:40 UK time, Tuesday, 26 August 2008

For the past two weeks I have been watching events in the Caucasus from the balmy safety of a family holiday in Spain. There are times for a correspondent when missing out on the action can be a frustrating experience, but there can be others when the chance to reflect upon important happenings without reporting on them blow by blow has its own rewards.

To me one of the extraordinary things about Russia is how its nineteenth century attitudes seem to have been frozen when the Tsar was deposed and de-frosted after the Soviet empire fell apart in 1991. Reporting on the collapse of the hardliners coup in that year, and then on the failure of the rightist putsch against Boris Yeltsin in 1993, I was amazed to see so much of old Russia emerge, apparently untouched.

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American presidents and their top brass

Mark Urban | 22:42 UK time, Thursday, 7 August 2008

BOSTON - Talking to Admiral William Fallon here, it is striking how politicised America's military campaigns in the Middle East have become. This has big implications for whoever takes over in the White House.

fallon_203.jpgAdm Fallon stepped down in March as the head of Central Command - that most turbulent of the USA's military fiefdoms, taking in Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and much of Central Asia. It was widely reported that he had argued with the White House about the need for subtlety and engagement n dealings with Iran rather than megaphone diplomacy or sabre rattling.

Some painted Adm Fallon as a knight errant, slaying the dragon of another neo-con misadventure (ie in Iran). In fact, talking to him at length it is evident that his views are much harder to categorize and that in many respects, like so many senior military men, his is conservative with that small "c", whatever his personal politics may be.

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