Ed: Warning! This article necessarily contains a distressing image.
There is a proverb: “The jug goes to the well until it breaks”. The meaning is that even though you can use something, it may contain flaws that will lead it to ultimately fail. If you have read my short article on Pravda (March 12, 2022),you will understand that by ‘jug’ I mean ‘fake truth’.
As satellite photos unquestionably prove, the torture and mass killings of civilians in Bucha, the village north of Kiev, have been committed during the weeks of Russian occupation in March 2022. International experts have been called in to investigate and provide further evidence. Further atrocities have been perpetrated in Borodyanka and Kramatorsk. Others will no doubt be discovered as the conflict unfolds.
However the official Russian explanation of the horrendous killings in Bucha is that they:
“… have been staged by the ‘Ukrainian fascists’ after the withdrawal of the honourable Russian soldiers to falsely blame them for propaganda purposes …”.
This is just good old Soviet practice: The Kremlin decides what is truth and its cronies spread it to ‘inform’ audiences at home and abroad. As observers of recent Russian military campaigns – particularly in Chechnya (1999) and Syria (since 2015) – tell us, there is nothing new in recent Russian soldiers’ activities: committing war crimes against civilians has obviously become part of their strategy to “decisively subjugate the enemy”. At the same time the political leadership practices the cover-up, denies all wrongdoings and blames the victims – Putin’s propaganda machine just continues to fabricate its own Pravda.
The question is: how long can this go on? When will Russia’s ‘jug’ break?
After the break-up of Yugoslavia, as Serbian troops fought in Bosnia-Hercegovina, war crimes were also committed by various sides. Remember Slobodan Milošević, President of Serbia, and the Bosnian town of Srebrenica? After NATO’s military intervention had stopped the armed conflict, Wikipedia reports that “by early 2008 the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) convicted 45 Serbs, 12 Croats, and 4 Bosniaks of war crimes with the war in Bosnia”. In 2001 Milosevich, after having lost his presidential re-election, was extradited to the ICTY to stand trial for war crimes. After five years of trial Milošević died in March 2006, before the tribunal could reach a verdict.
Could Putin face Milošević’s fate? For the time being, this seems impossible. Russia has not lost the war in Ukraine, NATO (because of Russia’s nuclear arsenal) has repeatedly declared that it will not intervene to directly confront Russian troops in Ukraine. Therefore the ‘post-Yugoslavian scenario’ cannot be repeated.
There is only one hope: the collapse of Putin’s rule at home. Don’t expect any public uprising. After 21 years of suppression of potential opponents, there is hardly any alternative group left in Russia’s society. Putin’s dictatorship will probably only end like in Soviet times – from the very top! He might die in office, like his great model, KGB chief Yuri Andropov (1914-1984), or he could be toppled like Gorbachev was in August 1991, when opponents from the Politbureau made a (failed) coup attempt, and Boris Yeltsin managed to gain power.
Contrary to the Soviet model, Putin doesn’t rely on a party. His power base is the Secret Services of which there are several. Depending on the outcome of the Ukrainian war, the military leadership might or might not play a role. In my opinion, the most probable end of Putin, if he is still alive, is a coup from the leadership of one branch of the various secret services. Most probably Putin’s successor will not bring him to an international War Crimes Tribunal. The next ruler might rather grant Putin indemnity in retirement, as Yeltsin and his family were granted.
Russia’s international reputation, however, will be tainted for many years to come.