Thursday, September 29, 2016

MH17 Report May Lead Moscow to Use Military Force Against Belarus, Minsk Analyst Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 29 – 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 Lockerbee, 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 Arseniy 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 (krynica.info/ru/2016/09/28/ehkspert-iz-za-doklada-o-boinge-rossiya-mozhet-uvelichit-davlenie-na-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, Savitsky 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,” Savitsky says, “that in these circumstances, Moscow will act more harsly toard 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.”


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

DNR and LNR Preparing Young There for Annexation of Region by Russia, Gusarov Says



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 28 –Moscow continues to insist that it recognizes the Donbass as part of Ukraine and will seek its return to Kyiv’s control, but its agents in the unrecognized DNR and LNR are setting up special camps expanding patriotic instruction in the schools to prepare the young there for the annexation of the region by Russia, according to Vyachesav Gusarov.

            Gusarov, a reserve officer of Ukraine’s intelligence service and an expert in the Information Resistance Group, describes this system in an interview today with Kyiv’s Apostrophe news agency (apostrophe.ua/article/politics/2016-09-28/voyna-na-donbasse-v-dnr-i-lnr-detey-svozyat-v-voennyie-lagerya/7438).

            Both the DNR and the LNR, he says, organized youth camps this past summer and also sent young people from there to other camps in Russia. In addition, the two “republics” have introduced “patriotic education” courses in the schools and organized Soviet-style Pioneer organizations.

            And they have organized military training schools in the two oblasts, places which did not have such institutions in the past.  All of these things, Gusarov says, are intended to prepare the Russian-occupied area to become part of the Russian Federation. “There is no doubt of that,” he says, given what Moscow is doing in Moldova’s Transdniestr region.

            This is all part of Putin’s plan to extend Russian influence and control across the entire former Soviet and former Warsaw Pact space, something that represents a threat to all the countries in these regions. Ukraine might at some point become a leader that could unite these countries in an anti-Russian coalition. But for the present, it is too weak to do so.

            In other comments, Gusarov says that it is “not a very correct idea” to talk about Ukraine liberating Russian-occupied Crimea by military means. Ukraine isn’t ready for this, and Russia has created “a quite serious military sector which would be able to ensure serious resistance to any Ukrainian move.

            What makes Gusarov’s observations about the DNR and LNR actions with respect to young people there is that it suggests that Moscow is taking a long-term view and is creating a cadre of people who can be either a foundation for Russian expansion or a Moscow-organized fifth column should the Kremlin in fact hand the Donbass back to Kyiv’s control.

Eastern Europe Arming Itself because ‘No One Wants to Be the Next Ukraine’



Paul Goble

            Staunton, September 28 – In what many are calling “the Putin effect,” countries across Eastern Europe, including even Belarus, nominally Russia’s closest ally,  are now arming themselves even when they have to cut social welfare spending because, in the words of one commentator, “no one wants to be the next Ukraine.”

            This sacrifice makes them producers of security and not just consumers who rely on others, including NATO and the United States, whatever some Western politicians may say; and it is an indication of just how frightened they are that the Kremlin leader, however bogged down he may be in Ukraine, appears to them as a continuing existential threat.

            Some of the increases these countries are making in their defense structures are usefully surveyed today by the Belsat news agency (belsat.eu/ru/news/effekt-putina-strany-vostochnoy-evropy-rashiryayut-armii-i-pokupayut-oruzhiye/).

            Poland has done perhaps more than anyone else, beefing up its territorial defense and increasing the size of its military, including the development of a system of reserves modeled on the US National Guard and plans to purchase new weapons systems in the coming years (poland.pl/politics/home/new-territorial-defence-force-poland/). 

                The Czech Republic, Belsat says, has moved in “the very same direction,” approving a security and foreign policy strategy based on the proposition that Russia is now a major threat. It has increased defense spending, as has Slovakia for the same reasons (defensenews.com/articles/e-europe-boosts-defense-spending-armament-programs-amid-russia-concern).

            The three Baltic countries have increased the size of their forces and their spending on defense. Estonia plans to spend over the next four years more than Belarus does.  Latvia is raising its defense spending to two percent of GDP. And Lithuania is forming special forces and a trilateral force with Poland and Ukraine.  The Scandinavian countries are also increasing their defense capacity and links with NATO.

            Estonia, Belarus and Ukraine have retained the draft, and Latvia is thinking about restoring it in order to guarantee a sufficiently large defense force. Finland has a draft, and Sweden is now debating restoring obligatory military service.