So in case you’re not a regular Russia-watcher (I envy you. Please tell me how it feels in the comments section) or you are but you’ve been living under a rock for the past two days, the Joint Investigative Team announced its conclusions from its investigation into the destruction of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH17. Surprise, surprise, they confirmed the basic story that most rational, sane people figured out long ago. The plane was shot down by a Buk surface-to-air missile system from territory controlled by the
Russian military and their proxies rebels. The investigation also found that the Buk system was moved back across the border into Russia so as to hide the evidence. Of course it doesn’t help the cover-up when your state run media forgets to take down the original article from the time when the “rebels” claimed they had shot down an AN-26 cargo plane that actually turned out to be MH17. It’s still up there after more than two years.
At the same time Russia has been in the news a lot lately, from a string of malicious cyber-attacks on high profile Western targets to the bombing of a UN aid convoy. Naturally the Kremlin response to all of this is that it’s all lies and “provocations.” They do nothing but good, yet for some strange reason the United States and its puppets (i.e. any country that refuses to do what Moscow wants) have been engaging in this pointless, mean-spirited conspiracy against poor little Russia. But what Peskov and the Russian state media don’t seem to understand is that while they can continue their pathetic denial routine, the rest of the world isn’t buying into the bullshit. Even those who might have been willing to give Putin the benefit of the doubt are now waking up to the fact that he has nothing but contempt for them and thus cannot be reasoned or negotiated with.
Though I find it morally reprehensible, I think it’s fair to say that much of the Western world might have been willing to turn a blind eye to Putin’s actions in Ukraine and Syria, particularly if MH17 had never happened. But Putin and his cronies, paranoid and delusional as they are, could not resist pretending that they are running a relevant superpower. Hence the propaganda attacks, including high profile fabrications like “Liza” in Germany, and hence the cyber-attacks on targets like the DNC and various Western media outlets. Now the FBI suspects that Russian hackers might be targeting American voter registration databases, possibly trying to take over the GOP’s job of disenfranchising minority voters. Who knows for sure? The point is that after the MH17 and the sanctions, Putin should have reined in his propagandists, agents, and hackers. He should have tread lightly. But for some reason he felt he couldn’t, and he didn’t. And he soon might pay the price.
The West has been ridiculously tolerant of Putin’s antics for quite some time now. In the past Russia was a good business opportunity as an emerging market, and Putin generally didn’t screw around with his Western “partners.” Now he’s started and he can’t stop, and eventually Western patience is going to wear thin. Once that happens, you’re going to see retaliation, and it’s not going to be pretty for Russia.
Professor Mark Galeotti has in the past written about numerous measures the West could easily implement against Russia that will do far more than sanctions. Many a Putin fanboy dreams of a shooting war between NATO and Russia (which is odd because Russia would be crushed), but if the West decides to up the ante none of those precious Topol-Ms or Ka-52s are going to do any good. They can cut Russia off from SWIFT, impose blanket travel bans and asset freezes on whole swathes of Russian government officials and their family members, mess with trade, and even launch cyber-attacks of their own. Given the situation Russia is in now, the effects of a coordinated all-out economic warfare campaign would be devastating. Color revolution? No need. The Russian people have shown plenty of times in the past that their patience with incompetent leadership is also limited.
Putin’s Russia has been dubbed a “troll state” in the recent past- it’s not a serious threat to the West but it can cause a lot of trouble. But just as the internet troll cowers when made to face his targets in real life, Russia may face a painful humiliation when the West finally tires of Putin’s angsty teenager act.