2015: Tumultuous year of migrants, IS and Putin

Migrant boat rescue
Image caption Hundreds of thousands of people have crossed the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe in search of a better life

This has been, above all, the year of the migrant. But it has also been the year of so-called Islamic State (IS). And it has marked a major turnaround in President Putin's international position.

I have spent a lot of 2015 watching all these developments, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Russia.

The images of would-be migrants landing exhausted from boats or trudging along dusty roads in the hope of finding refuge and prosperity have tended to dominate our memories of this year.

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Media captionJohn Simpson meets some of the traffickers who have smuggled migrants across the Mediterranean

Yet not every refugee is fleeing persecution. In the Libyan capital, Tripoli, I visited a prison for captured migrants. They were men in their twenties and thirties, mostly from West Africa and Pakistan, who had been trying to get to Europe for work.

Alongside them were several people-smugglers whom the Libyans had captured. One I interviewed had been in charge of a boat which sank with the loss of 700 lives earlier in the year.

Now he faced a long prison sentence. "If you could see inside my heart," he said, "you'd see the pain and sadness there." Maybe he even meant it.

Much of my year was taken up with events in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the systems left by the Americans and British have been under increasing threat.

In May, the capture by IS of the Iraqi city of Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad, was deeply shocking, and demonstrated the savage effectiveness of the IS policy of butchering their prisoners: the Iraqi soldiers just ran for it.

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Media captionIraq's Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was optimistic about the future

Baghdad itself still seems completely secure, but nervous. The new Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, an impressive and active-minded man, was optimistic when I interviewed him immediately after the fall of Ramadi.

"I assure you we'll get it back soon," he said.

"What are we talking about - months?"

"No, no, I'm talking about days now." "Days?" "Yes."

Much of Ramadi has indeed been recaptured, with significant gains coming in recent days - but it is seven months since it fell.

Jihadist differences

In Afghanistan I watched the advance of the Taliban in Helmand province and elsewhere. Yet I was struck again and again by the differences between the Taliban and IS, which is getting a foothold in Afghanistan.

That has brought it into conflict with the Taliban, who have now sent some of their best fighters to combat them.

A senior Taliban figure, Manam Niazi, told me in September he was confident that Taliban fighters who had gone over to IS would soon return. That hasn't yet happened either.

In Libya the inability of the two rival governments, one in Tripoli and the other in Tobruk, to agree a coalition has also let IS in. There is as yet no sign that IS is taking the country over.

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Media captionJohn Simpson's view from the courtroom in Tripoli

But the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi in 2011 has opened the door to every form of instability. In July I watched the chaotic proceedings in Tripoli as nine of his followers were sentenced to death and others to long terms of imprisonment.

Still, Tripoli itself remains quiet, though kidnappings for ransom are on the rise.

Putin dominant

Almost exactly a year ago I travelled to Moscow for President Putin's annual press conference. It was a bravura affair lasting four hours, in which journalists could ask him anything, from his policies on Ukraine to how much he earns and who he is dating.

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Media captionRussian President Vladimir Putin: "Every country has the right to choose how to protect itself. Why shouldn't Russia do that?"

I asked a question that I hoped might show which way Russia would be heading in 2015. It did.

Would Mr Putin, I asked, take this opportunity to tell the West that he didn't want a new Cold War? Any Western leader would have used it as a chance to turn on the charm. Not so Vladimir Putin.

"Russia," he said sternly, "has indeed contributed to the tension that we're seeing in the world, but only in the sense that it's protecting its national interests more and more robustly…. It's all about protecting our independence, our sovereignty, and our right to exist."

Some of what has happened in 2015 was affected by Mr Putin's obsession with making Russia feel like a superpower again.

It became clear that his takeover of Crimea in 2014 is now permanent. I went back to Crimea in March, and found it was entirely quiet.

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Media captionPM Aksyonov insists the annexation of Crimea was democratic and "not an act of aggression"

Sergey Aksyonov, whose alleged gangland connections didn't prevent Russia from making him Crimea's prime minister, put it bluntly: "Crimea will never be part of Ukraine. The decision has been made once and for all."

People there do indeed seem to have accepted the switch from Ukrainian to Russian ownership.

International sanctions over Crimea are making life increasingly hard for ordinary Russians. But in 2015 Russia came back into the mainstream of international politics.

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Media captionRussian President Vladimir Putin attends talks in Paris as John Simpson reports

In October I saw Vladimir Putin brilliantly take control of a summit in Paris between France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine.

It was supposed to be about Ukraine, but it became a platform for Mr Putin to line up with Western countries in attacking IS in Syria.

It was a clever stroke - but will it help to destroy IS? In Iraq, in Syria, in Afghanistan, in Libya, IS has moved ahead this year.

But in spite of the chaotic responses there, I suspect that a new and often mutually hostile coalition that includes the West, Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia will start to make inroads into IS's achievements in 2016.