“…to pretend vast Secrecy where there is nothing to conceal; to shut yourself up in your Chamber, and mend your Pen or pick your Teeth ... – this … is the whole mystery of Politics, or I am an Idiot.”
Pierre-Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais, The Marriage of Figaro
Pondering over events causing people’s death and what happened afterward is risky. You can easily be accused of “dark journalism.” The fact remains that the MH17 tragedy in the summer of 2014 is, above all, a political phenomenon that has political consequences. I will try to analyze them.
Russia has been accused of blowing that Malaysia Airlines flight out of the sky [with a Buk surface-to-air missile]. This may serve as proof of what Georg R.W. Hegel wrote about quantity eventually turning into quality. One can accumulate a lot of money and weapons, including nuclear arms. One can act aggressively, spreading false but effective propaganda across the world. In the end, such quantitative changes, having accumulated, will become quality ones. It is also true that such changes are hard to predict.
The Netherlands and Australia officially accused Russia of downing MH17, a passenger jet with some 300 people on board, on Friday. Their accusations were later supported by the US and EU (the latter’s stand should be noted separately – more on this later below). It would surprise few if a claim was presented to the International Court of Justice [in the coming weeks or months].
The MH17 case has reached a crescendo almost four years after the event. None of the European politicians have dared accuse Russia over the years. Now everyone knows that the passenger liner was killed by a Russian surface-to-air missile, that the Russian President is to blame for the death of [almost] 300 peaceful civilians. What’s done can’t be undone.
What next? A quote from Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment [when Raskolnikov hears “You are a murderer...”] when meeting with Vladimir Putin, considering that most European politicians have read the Russian classic? Then they’d have to sever all contacts with Russia in its current status as the guilty party charged with the murder of peaceful European civilians. What about business, especially in the natural gas sphere that spells billions of dollars/euros?
They had to act as once formulated by Beaumarchais’ brilliant Figaro, pretending to know nothing about something that was common knowledge, and just wink and nod knowingly when words came to deeds, as though saying “You know what it’s all about.”
Today, the situation is different, with quantity having turned into quality. No one can remain silent on who is to blame for the MH17 tragedy.
Wilbert Paulissen, speaking on behalf of an international team of investigators, declared that the passenger jet had been shot down with a Buk surface-to-air missile that belonged to the 53rd anti-aircraft missile brigade from Kursk in the Russian Federation. This left no room for diplomatic maneuver. Under different circumstances, one could shrug off or pretend to know nothing about what’s happened, but one couldn’t possibly pretend that the bodies of victims of an act of violence are alive. An act of violence implies responsibility.
And then the United States got actively involved, being less interested in keeping close ties with Moscow than Europe. Besides, Russia’s solid economic presence on the continent (e.g., Nord Stream 2) was the last thing Washington wanted, considering its interest in the Old World, in terms of liquefied gas supplies. Sad but true, politics and business make any moral requirements valid only if they are backed by business considerations.
What consequences are to be expected? The West isn’t likely to sever all contacts with Russia and make it an outcast – this would be too risky and disadvantageous. However, the rift is likely to deepen and will last longer, as will the sanctions.
This situation could worsen if a claim was submitted to the International Court of Justice – but many among the European elites are most likely interested in this claim remaining on paper. If and when, would Vladimir Putin be in a position to ignore an ICJ ruling? Hard to say. This would mean Russia’s almost complete isolation within the international community. In that case, Mr. Emmanuel Macron would deeply regret his smiling handshake with Vladimir Putin during their meeting that coincided with the announcement of the MH17 findings.
Europe remains true to its twofaced policy in regard to Russia. Graphic proof of this is a statement made by Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok: “Holding a state responsible is a complex legal process, and there are several ways to do this. The Netherlands and Australia today asked Russia to enter into talks aimed at finding a solution that would do justice to the tremendous suffering and damage caused by the downing of MH17...” In other words, Russia is regarded as a defendant (in terms of responsibility) and partner (by asking Russia to “enter into talks”) at the same time. Nothing about severing all contacts, but current events are pointing in that direction.
How will Vladimir Putin respond? He could ignore ICJ if he thought his status as Europe’s indispensable partner was firm. There are reasons behind this assumption. He is accustomed to thinking the way Russia’s political elite does, so that the big shots can always come to terms, where and when they can get something out of the deal. Western politicians are anything but an embodiment of morals and ethics – but they don’t have to be, because, unlike Russia, they have to reckon with public opinion. The latter can exert sufficient pressure on the head of state, to whom blood shed by fellow citizens has a serious meaning. Moscow’s current conduct can only deepen the rift.
Another scenario reads that Vladimir Putin makes certain concessions. For example, he could make one or several army generals scapegoats, saying they were responsible for the shooting down of MH17, and that they had acted without his knowledge and consent as Commander-in-Chief. In that case, all of them would commit suicide before being arrested.
Be that as it may, it is hardly likely that Vladimir Putin will abandon his plans for rapprochement with Western [European] leaders and for softening sanctions, whatever the intent of both sides.