Russian President Vladimir Putin has achieved his goal. He has entered the history books as a head of state who has committed “crimes of historic proportions.” This is exactly how the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, described the bombing of east Aleppo in Syria. The official did not directly name the country responsible for the actions leading to these crimes. But he urged the major powers of the world to turn over the investigation of the tragedy in Aleppo to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. The UN Human Rights Council voted to conduct a special international investigation of the crimes in Aleppo. Russia and its shameless allies voted against it. Because they had no doubts that the bloody footprints would lead investigators to the office of Vladimir Putin.
Actually, such a course of events was not difficult to predict. It was predictable even when the Russian military began the occupation of Ukrainian Crimea on Putin’s direct orders. Putin likes to say that this occupation was “bloodless” even though two Ukrainian soldiers were killed, followed by the murders and torture of Crimean Tatars and other activists. But, of course, this did not impress the world as much as the bombing of Aleppo does now. And Putin became intoxicated with impunity.
The Donbas war was the next phase in his crimes. Here people were already dying by the hundreds, thousands were left homeless, and millions were forced to flee. But aviation was not used during the conflict and Russian propaganda tried to create the impression of a “civil war” where the Kremlin was acting as the protector of a mythical category of Ukrainian citizens — the Russian-speaking population.
The destruction by the Russian military of the Malaysia Airlines passenger jet on territory controlled by Moscow was a serious miscalculation by Putin. However, investigations of these kinds of accidents usually take a very long time. And Putin found the time for a new adventure — the Syrian one.
Many experts in the West now claim that the Russian army in Syria has been more efficient than had been expected at the beginning of the campaign. Perhaps this is the case from the military point of view. In Afghanistan, the armed forces of the Soviet Union were efficient as well. But it is impossible to win when practically the entire nation is fighting against you, and when the army of the dictatorship is unable to overcome its opponents. As a result, several tens of thousands of Soviet soldiers died. And more than a million of Afghans were killed. But the Soviet Union had no other way to save the puppet regime of Babrak Karmal than by carrying out the mass destruction of Afghans. That is why it was Afghanistan and not Hungary or Czechoslovakia, with many fewer victims of the Soviet invasion, that became the grave of the communist regime.
Now the same situation is being repeated in Syria.
Putin has no other way of supporting Bashar al-Assad than by killing hundreds of thousands of Syrians. However, he still will fail to achieve victory; he will simply destroy people and cities.
But now is not the age of Afghanistan. There are completely different information technologies. There are completely different internet and television capabilities. There is a completely different attitude toward Russia. Putin’s country is not the USSR with its “protection of workers and peasants,” and Moscow will no longer be able to deceive anyone with slogans.
Every day the world can see horrifying images from Aleppo on its TV screens. Images of Putin’s crimes. Crimes of historic proportions.
But Putin has limited options. He cannot stop the massacre of Syrians because that would condemn Assad’s regime to a quick collapse. He cannot continue the bombing because each new shelling worsens his relationship with the civilized world and creates a gap between that world and Russia. For the time being the pro-Russian lobby in the West can still defend his interests, block the introduction of new sanctions, talk about the need for dialogue. But all this will end soon. Russia’s isolation is a matter of time. And the reason for this isolation is war crimes. Crimes of historic proportions.
The Russian president mistakenly thinks that he will not be held responsible. He will be. The day will come when he and other Russian leaders will be handed over to the International Tribunal by their own countrymen. Putin has simply failed to realize that with his Syrian actions he has crossed the line that separates the politician who seeks to protect his own interest from the common serial killer.
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