• Bulgarian Arms Fueling Conflict in the Middle East

    In October last year, plane spotters noted with some excitement that Boeing 747 jumbo jets marked Saudi Arabian Cargo had begun landing at the airport of the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. “A Saudi cargo plane had never come here… for the past 20 years,” explained Stephan Gagov, a veteran Bulgarian plane spotter. The flights became so frequent that Gagov started a thread on an online plane-spotting forum about them, using the phrase “the regular route” in the title. Spotters reported seeing the planes land twice in late October, once in November, four times in December and once each in March and May this year. – Balkan Insight

  • What does Putin Want?

    After Russian President Vladimir Putin took over Crimea, and then sent his little green men not-so-stealthily into Eastern Ukraine in early 2014, I thought I understood his objectives. It seemed a clear strategy of post-1990 revenge: Moscow would expand its control of the “near abroad,” as in Georgia, and dominate, if not reconstitute, as much of the former Soviet Union as reasonably possible. Now, one more frozen conflict and an unprecedented military intervention of Syria later, I am scratching my head and wondering: what is Putin thinking; what does he want? While no one has ever accused Putin of being an economist, the combination of $40-per-barrel oil and Western sanctions have crippled the already beleaguered Russian economy, expected to shrink nearly 4 percent this year with 15 percent inflation and a shriveled ruble — all with no end in sight. – Foreign Policy

  • Zimbabwe and China make Nice

    Yuan becomes the latest currency to be approved for public transactions in Zimbabwe, as the southern African nation seeks to increase trade with Beijing. Zimbabwe has announced that it will make the Chinese yuan legal tender after Beijing confirmed it would cancel $40m in debts. “They [China] said they are cancelling our debts that are maturing this year and we are in the process of finalising the debt instruments and calculating the debts,” minister Patrick Chinamasa said in a statement. – How Africa

  • One million migrants enter Europe this year

    LONDON — The number of migrants and refugees who have entered Europe by sea and land this year has passed the one million mark, a long-expected but symbolically significant capstone to a year in which displaced people flocked to the Continent. The huge influx — the largest movement of people on the Continent since World War II — has strained the resources of Germany, which has been the ultimate destination for most of the migrants; prompted a right-wing backlash there and in much of Europe; and exposed the European Union’s inability to coordinate an effective response. – The New York Times

  • Sy Hersh on the tangled web that is Syria

    Barack Obama’s repeated insistence that Bashar al-Assad must leave office – and that there are ‘moderate’ rebel groups in Syria capable of defeating him – has in recent years provoked quiet dissent, and even overt opposition, among some of the most senior officers on the Pentagon’s Joint Staff. Their criticism has focused on what they see as the administration’s fixation on Assad’s primary ally, Vladimir Putin. In their view, Obama is captive to Cold War thinking about Russia and China, and hasn’t adjusted his stance on Syria to the fact both countries share Washington’s anxiety about the spread of terrorism in and beyond Syria; like Washington, they believe that Islamic State must be stopped. – London Review of Books

[Featured image: Getty Images]