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Vitaly Portnikov: There Is Only One Chance To Bring War Criminals To Justice

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Vitaly Portnikov: There Is Only One Chance To Bring War Criminals To Justice
Vitaly Portnikov

Will Putin and Lukashenka fall under a tribunal?

When could the war in Ukraine end? Will the offensive of Lukashenka's army start? Will war criminals be brought before a tribunal? The Charter97.org website talked about this with the prominent Ukrainian journalist and publicist Vitaly Portnikov.

– The West supplies more and more weapons to Ukraine today, although there were a lot of talks about "red lines" at the beginning of the war. What has changed in the minds of Western politicians?

– The main idea of Western politicians was to demonstrate to Putin that he was wrong when he believed that the West would not support Ukraine in its desire to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity. The Russian president will think not about how to continue this conflict, but how to end it with each new supply of weapons. Therefore, weapon deliveries have acquired and are acquiring an increasingly massive and modern character.

But it is quite obvious that the West has no choice but to continue deliveries and increase their range since Putin draws directly opposite conclusions from these weapon deliveries.

– There is much talk about the upcoming mobilization in Russia and a new offensive. In your opinion, will the war in Ukraine last for a long time, or do you see scenarios in which it will end earlier?

– I see scenarios where it could end sooner. First, it is the disappearance from the political scene of Russian President Putin in any way. In this situation, the war may end earlier..

Secondly, this is such a serious depletion of Russia's resources, that it simply will not have the real ability to continue the war. However, it should be both human and material resources. Russia should not have enough manpower for further waves of mobilization and should not have enough military equipment that would allow either to advance or continue missile attacks on Ukraine.

In this case, we can assume, if not the end of the conflict, then the freezing on certain conflict lines. Thirdly, the complete expulsion of the Russian armed forces from Ukraine.

Another possibility of ending the war is political and social changes in the Russian Federation. Such changes will lead to the collapse of the current KGB command structure. In this case, we can also believe that the war will end earlier.

I do not see clear preconditions for the real implementation of one of these scenarios. Of course, anything can happen at any moment. Putin may get sick, the economy may collapse due to some wrong decisions, and people may lose their patience due to social problems, but these are all things that cannot be objectively predicted.

Objectively speaking, we are on the verge of a long-term, exhausting and difficult conflict. I emphasize, only on the verge. I think that the first year of this war is the beginning of those events that can turn into a long-term conflict along the Yugoslav scenario.

– Do you see scenarios in which the war could go beyond the borders of Ukraine? Last week, for example, they discussed a note by an American general on the need to prepare for a war with China. We see what is happening in Iran. Is it possible that a world war will break out?

– These are concurrent processes that are not directly related to each other. Is a war between the US and China possible over Taiwan? Maybe, but in this case, the Russian Federation will take almost the same position that the People's Republic of China takes today regarding the war between Russia and Ukraine. Russia will express support for China, declare that it respects China's territorial integrity, and accuse the West of escalating the conflict, but nothing more.

It will not be a war like World War II, when China and Russia will have some kind of coalition, like Germany and Japan of those times.

Is an Iran-related war possible? Yes, it is. Iran may receive some military technology from the Russian Federation as a result of its supply of drones and missiles to Russia, which will allow it to carry out an attack. More like against Saudi Arabia than Israel. After all, we see that Iran is hardly ready to enter a real fight with Israel.

Do not forget that the main political component of the current dictatorships - they are the dictatorships of "peacekeepers".

We are not in the situation of the Second World War, when Germany, Japan and Italy admitted their participation in the war and did not hide it at a certain stage. Russia is not waging a war against Ukraine from the point of view of its leadership. However, it is engaged in a "Special Military Operation” to destroy forces that “threaten its security” and “terrorize its own people”. In their opinion, this is not a war, and if any other dictatorship supports Russia, then it should emphasize that Russia "is not at war with anyone".

China will not wage a war with anyone in the same way. It can conduct a "special operation to restore its territorial integrity" or "reduce the danger" posed to it by the "Taiwanese militarism".

Russia simply will not have the opportunity to intervene in a non-existent war. Just like China cannot interfere in a non-existent war. We are talking about "some kind of conflict", about a "special operation". Russia "strives for peace", China will "strive for peace". There are “special operations to enforce peace” here. This is on Orwell. Special operations are developing into wars, and only the participants in the wars do not recognize this.

It's possible for me to draw not quite the right parallels with World War II, because even there the Nazis were always defending themselves from someone. Either from the Czechs, "terrorizing the German people", then from the Poles, who "arrange provocations in Germany", but at the end they declared war. France and Great Britain officially declared war on Germany. Germany officially declared war on the United States after its involvement in the war with Japan. Nothing of the sort is going on in our case.

– Is it possible that Putin will officially declare war on Ukraine in order to "militarize" the country and mobilize the population?

– I don't see any need for this. Putin has every opportunity to "militarize" the country. They are following the mobilization order. The Kremlin claims that it does not need to be canceled. Therefore, Putin has no need in any additional movements to step up efforts to fight Ukraine.

– Is there a chance that Lukashenka will still have to join the war or, let's say, he'll be “joined”?

– Of course, there is such a likelihood. We don't know what the real level of Lukashenka's autonomy is at this stage. But I do not think that Lukashenka's entry into the war has any serious significance for the future development of the situation in the theatre of operations.

The Belarusian army is small and non-effective. Its entry into the war may have an exclusively political, and not a military-technical character.

Perhaps, if a decision is made in Moscow on a new offensive in the North, not even with the aim of capturing Kyiv, but capturing the Rivne Nuclear Power Plant or blocking the delivery of weapons from West to East, then the Belarusian army can be useful. For example, to protect the railroad tracks seized by the Russians, to prevent the Ukrainian troops from breaking through, or simply to ensure railway safety.

However, I could not say this with certainty. There are no sufficient forces for such a breakthrough from Belarus. There is a concentration of troops that could distract Ukrainian forces from the main battles of the war, which may soon unfold in the eastern and southern axes.

– Recently, Lukashenka said that Ukraine allegedly offered him some kind of non-aggression pact. Zelensky condemned these words. Could you, please, tell us, what is the attitude towards Lukashenka in Ukraine today? Are any separate negotiations or deals possible? Do they believe him?

– I have nothing to say about this. I don't know what are the real moods and perceptions of reality among the Ukrainian leadership. It is better to ask them.

I think that we, political analysts and the political leadership of Ukraine, are in completely different worlds. This was the case until February 24, 2022, and now the gap is light-years long. It's an important thing when we are talking about a real situation.

I could hardly imagine that the Ukrainian political leadership, if it really lives in the real world, would trust Lukashenka or believe that it is possible to settle some kind of independent agreements with him. I don’t really imagine that the Ukrainian political leadership could take any steps that are not coordinated with the Western allies. I would like to remind you that both our military supplies and the country's budget, in terms of economic survival, are almost completely dependent on the support of the Western civilized world.

It would also be strange to imagine any steps that are not coordinated between the US and the EU. More than once we have seen that anything is possible in politics now. I will not guarantee you that I understand what exactly one could imagine in the foreign policy bloc of the Office of the President of Ukraine or in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.

– The European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voted to create a tribunal on aggression against Ukraine for Putin and Lukashenka. Is it a real option or will it all remain just words?

– There are several scenarios for any real tribunal.

The first scenario: the state that unleashed the aggression is defeated and occupied by the victorious troops, who want to restore order and bring to justice those responsible for the aggression. They arrest them and put them on trial in this hybrid justice system. This is the Nuremberg Trials, which we consider to be the starting point in terms of punishing the warmongers.

The second scenario: the aggressive state is not occupied, but wants to become part of the civilized world. It is ready to cooperate with the international tribunal and even hand over to its own citizens guilty of war crimes. This is a kind of international tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which, by the way, was recognized by both the aggressors and the victims. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, the famous Croatian General Slobodan Praljak and former Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi were on the tribunal bench.

All combatants agreed that the tribunal was legitimate. In the case of Russia, we will not see the occupation of its territories. The main task of Ukraine is the liberation of its own territories, and we do not know how long it will take to fulfill it and when we will see it.

In any case, even if we assume an ideal scenario for Ukraine, the liberation of Ukrainian territory and the admission of the country to NATO, which means that the possibility of a repetition of war in the near future is excluded (I am absolutely sure that if Ukraine does not receive security guarantees, then this war, whenever it ended, will be a prelude to the next), Russia still does not recognize any international tribunal.

Moreover, I am absolutely sure that as soon as the international tribunal starts, on the same day a network of international “tribunals” for “crimes of Ukrainian and Western war criminals” will appear in Moscow. Then one tribunal in The Hague will try Putin, Shoigu and Lavrov, and another tribunal in Moscow or Rostov, or, if all the territories cannot be liberated, Zelensky, Zaluzhny and Biden will be tried in Donetsk or Simferopol. I assure you, the sentences will be exactly the same.

I have no doubt that the only chance for us to bring war criminals to justice is to change the political situation and democratize Russia.

In this case, there is a chance not even that Russia will extradite its citizens to an international tribunal, I don’t even count on it, but that the future justice of the new Russia will be able to judge them.

There are no objective political prerequisites for this in the coming decades. Moreover, there are prerequisites that even in the event of a defeat in the war, Russian society will experience it as one of the most important historical tragedies of the 21st century, and perceive the perpetrators of the defeat as heroic victims, not criminals. This also could happen.

– What will happen in the case of Lukashenka and Belarus? Is this the same scenario? Do you see different scenarios?

– As for Lukashenka and Belarus, much depends on the developments in Russia. Belarus is a state that is really deprived of its sovereignty. In fact, this is a country occupied by the Russian army. If we assume that Russia will suffer a serious defeat and it will be connected with the need for its return to the civilized world and the rejection of further expansionist aspirations, then this may also affect the fate of the Belarusian regime.

If this does not happen and Russia remains strong enough, then the very existence of the Belarusian state, like other former Soviet republics, will be called into question. No one says that Russia, defeated in Ukraine, will not be able to annex and occupy Belarus or Kazakhstan. Or, let's say, to create some kind of “union state” with these countries while maintaining their formal status as subjects of international law, so as not to lose their votes in the UN. This can happen too.

Moreover, such an alliance, even carried out by force, can become compensation for the Russian people for the fact that, I emphasize, it has not yet been possible to return Ukrainian territories to historical Russia. It will be considered that such a new “union state”, where the resources of other former Soviet republics will be combined, will help to prepare more effectively for a new, decisive, already big war for Ukraine. I emphasize - war.

Then it will be clear that it is necessary to go to Ukraine with a war, and not with some kind of military special operation. They will need an operation for a total cleansing of the territory from the disloyal population. This “union state” will be getting ready particularly for such a big war for the complete destruction of Ukraine. It is clear that then the Belarusian territories will become an important springboard for a future offensive. Such a scenario is also possible.

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