What is Putin's end game in Syria?

  • 23 September 2015
  • From the section Europe
Rebel fighters fire a heavy machine gun during clashes with Syrian pro-government forces Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Rebel fighters clash with Syrian pro-government forces

With Western policy on Syria in a state of flux could the timing of Russia's military move into that country be more perfect?

The operation to move dozens of combat aircraft and hundreds of troops to the aid of President Bashar al-Assad must have been given the green light some weeks ago, but think of what's been happening during the past 10 days as reports emerged of the Russians appearing at an air base near the Assad stronghold of Latakia.

With American policy stalled and arguments about the degree to which its bombing campaign has blunted Islamic State (IS), the president's envoy, retired General John Allen, and several other senior officials have decided to step down. Gen Allen was known to believe the US should harden its position on the overthrow of President Assad, and in the need for a safe zone in the north of Syria - instead the prospect seems to be slipping away of either happening.

Last week the US general running Central Command, the Pentagon's Middle East arm, went through humiliating testimony in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee in which he had to admit that the number of Syrian rebels trained under a $500m (£325m) US programme who had actually made it into the field could be counted on the fingers of one hand, and that plans for a safe area in northern Syria to protect civilians would be meaningless without ground troops, but he could not recommend the commitment of US soldiers on such a mission.

As for Britain, last week the National Security Council was considering ambitious proposals to commit forces to help protect civilians in northern Syria.

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Five new reflections on Europe's migrant crisis

  • 17 September 2015
  • From the section UK

I'm just back from reporting on the European migration crisis in Berlin. In my last blog I offered some initial impressions from my time there. Here are a few more.

Syrians are a small minority of those seeking refuge in Germany

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption German police officers lead refugees through the Schoenefeld railway station near Berlin

While the tragedy of those fleeing Syria's terrible civil war has caught the popular imagination, such people formed just 20.1% of those seeking asylum in Germany from January to August 2015.

Read full article Five new reflections on Europe's migrant crisis

Five reflections on Europe's migrant crisis

  • 4 September 2015
  • From the section UK

I'm in Berlin reporting for Newsnight at the moment on the crisis engulfing Europe. Here are a few of the wider issues I think it's worth reflecting on.

People Are Seeking a Better Life

Image copyright Getty Images

Read full article Five reflections on Europe's migrant crisis

Sergeant says most detainees 'set free' in Afghanistan

  • 7 August 2015
  • From the section UK
A US Marine unloads ammunition from a rifle magazine into his helmet after arriving in Kandahar

The British campaign in Afghanistan was hampered by problems with the handling and prosecution of those it picked up on the battlefield - that much was clear to those of us who embedded with troops in Helmand province. But the scale of some of these issues has now been exposed by Colour Sergeant Trevor Coult who has made serious allegations to Newsnight.

Shockingly, he says that soldiers became so exasperated by seeing arrested insurgents returning quickly to their own communities that they became, "reluctant to detain" them, and, "in preference they would rather shoot them on the ground to save the taxpayer money and to save soldiers being killed".

Read full article Sergeant says most detainees 'set free' in Afghanistan

Turkey: The erratic ally

A Turkish soldier stands guard at a border crossing with Syria

If you're sitting in the Pentagon or State Department there's good news and bad news.

The good news is that Turkey is embracing the struggle against the Islamic State group with a vigour it has never shown before; bombing them; allowing US aircraft to use Turkish air bases for the same purpose; arresting hundreds of suspects in Turkey, and tightening security on the Syrian border.

Read full article Turkey: The erratic ally

Iran nuclear deal: A 10-point primer

Iran's president Hassan Rouhani
Image caption Iran's president Hassan Rouhani

World powers have reached a deal with Iran on limiting Iranian nuclear activity in return for the lifting of international economic sanctions. What are the main takeaways? Here's a quick rundown.

1. It curbs Iran's nuclear programme, it doesn't stop it. They will still have nuclear plants, and the ability to re-process and enrich their own uranium fuel - the US gave up on the goal of stopping that two years ago.

Read full article Iran nuclear deal: A 10-point primer

Budget 2015: Defence breathes a sigh of relief

Merlin helicopter on the flight deck of HMS Illustrious

With hindsight you might say there were hints from Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, and briefings from those around George Osborne that defence would escape the worst effects of what was widely expected to be an austerity budget.

But even so, today's announcement - that the forces' budget would meet the 2% of GDP Nato target until 2020 - caught many Whitehall insiders by surprise.

Read full article Budget 2015: Defence breathes a sigh of relief

Virgin Galactic flight trials face delay after crash

Images of Virgin Galactic crash
Image caption In an accident last year, the Virgin Galactic craft separated from the carrier aircraft and broke apart

Virgin Galactic's planned commercial space service may still be years away from taking flight, and its chief executive admits, "we've got work to do, that's for sure", in a Newsnight report on the project.

Flight testing suffered a tragic setback last October when Virgin's Enterprise spaceship broke up in flight over California's Mojave desert, killing one of its test pilots.

Read full article Virgin Galactic flight trials face delay after crash

Is the West losing its edge on defence?

  • 14 April 2015
  • From the section Europe
F/A-18F fighter landing on USS Carl Vinson

Speak to those who are in charge of the West's defence or have recently stepped down, as I did for Radio 4's programme The Edge, and you will find a very worried group of people.

They speak at length about the decline of their own forces, explain the growth of those of their challengers, and worry about the long term consequences for stability in many parts of the world.

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How many Russians are fighting in Ukraine?

  • 10 March 2015
  • From the section Europe
Pro-Russian separatist fighters near Debaltseve
Image caption Pro-Russian separatist fighters have captured Debaltseve

Western arguments about how to counter President Vladimir Putin's support for east Ukraine separatists are leading to clashes over the question of how deeply involved Russia's military is in the conflict.

The latest salvo between Nato allies came in a German government briefing to Spiegel magazine that accuses the alliance's supreme commander (American Gen Philip Breedlove) of disseminating "dangerous propaganda" on the extent of Russian military involvement, trying to undermine a diplomatic solution to the war.

Read full article How many Russians are fighting in Ukraine?