Russian paratroopers (Image: stat.mil.ru)
The reactions to the international report that Russia was behind the shooting down of the Malaysian jetliner have been predictable, with the Kremlin lying and opponents of Vladimir Putin declaring this is the Kremlin leader’s Lockerbie, predicting that it will lead to his trial by international court, and saying that it will lead to tougher sanctions.
That the Kremlin has chosen to lie is nothing new – under Putin, it has rarely done anything else when confronted by unpalatable facts – and that his opponents hope that the West will at long last recognize the criminal nature of his regime and of Putin personally is also nothing new either.
All people of good will, of course, hope that the West will do so, even though the willingness of many Western leaders and commentators to put up with Putin’s crimes and his lies about them does not provide much hope that this time around, as horrific as the Kremlin leader’s actions are, will be different.
But as this back and forth continues – and everyone should remember that the Kremlin is counting on that in order to try to present the findings of the commission and its own false denials as nothing more than the latest propaganda exchange – no one should ignore what Putin is now likely to do both inside Russia and against other countries.
One expert who has avoided that trap is Arseny Sivitsky, the director of the Minsk Center for Strategic and Foreign Policy Research, who outlines his expectations and fears about what may come next – laying particular stress on his fears about what Putin may do to Belarus.
Sivitsky says that it is likely that “the results of this criminal investigation will have international legal consequences for the Russian Federation,” possibly involving specific criminal charges against both those who carried out the attack on the airliner and those in Moscow, including Putin and his defense minister Sergey Shoygu.
That in turn means, he suggests, that “pressure on Russia will be intensified,” adding that he “does not exclude” that broader sanctions will be imposed and Russia’s status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council will be questioned. But that will not be the end of the story, Sivitsky says.
In his view, “the stronger the pressure on Russia from the side of the West, the more aggressive will [Moscow] conduct itself not only in the international arena but above all in the post-Soviet space.” And the likely next target of that pressure, the Minsk analyst suggests, is Belarus.
“Russia now is in such a situation that very quickly it is isolating itself from the international community. Belarus in contrast is very quickly normalizing its relations with the West. And Kremlin strategists are very sharply reacting to this situation, since in the near term, this will lead to a reduction of the influence of Russia in Belarus – and even, possible, to Belarus’ turning away from Russia.
“Therefore, it seems to me,” Sivitsky says, “that in these circumstances, Moscow will act more harshly toward Minsk in order not to lose its influence on our country. And here, unfortunately, we are forced to consider the most improbable scenarios, including the use of force.”
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