Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Moscow More Likely to Use Terrorism against Ukraine than to Launch Conventional Attack, Bessmertny Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 16 – Moscow is unlikely to launch a conventional military attack against Ukraine in the near term, according to Roman Bessmertny. It simply isn’t prepared to do so or to suffer the international consequences. Instead, he says, the Russian side is more likely to use terrorist attacks and other means of heightening tensions in Ukraine.

            In an interview on Kyiv’s 112 Ukraina television channel, Ukraine’s former representative to the trilateral contact group said that officials are currently considering several different scenarios for the future of Russian-Ukrainian relations, including heightened tensions (112.ua/politika/rossiya-ne-poydet-v-nastuplenie-a-budet-pribegat-k-teraktam-i-obostreniyu-situacii-na-donbasse-bezsmertnyy-332117.html).

            Within that vector, the ambassador suggests, three possible vectors are being discussed, but only two of them are likely. The first and most widely discussed is that Russia will launch a broad military offensive. But “Russia isn’t prepared” for that and consequently, this possibility should be considered very unlikely.

            The second possibility is that Russia and pro-Moscow forces will carry out various terrorist actions, including the seizure of hostages.  In Bessmertny’s view, “this is considered as the most probable” scenario. And the third possibility is that the Russian side will ramp up the information war, something he also considers likely.

            Such conclusions, of course, reflect an understanding of Vladimir Putin’s “hybrid war,” the Kremlin leader’s use of various tactics that have plausible deniability and that many in Russia, Ukraine and especially the West will dismiss as something less that full-scale Russian aggression.

            But Bessmertny’s words should be the occasion for international recognition of exactly the opposite, albeit something few are yet prepared to say openly: From the blowing up of Russian apartment buildings to bring himself to power in 2000 to now, Putin has transformed Russia into a terrorist state, ready to use terrorist means and to cooperate with those who do.

            That makes Russia far more unpredictable and dangerous than it would be if it played within the normal rules of international relations and even war and means that all countries from Russia’s neighbors to its geopolitical competitors however much further afield must now think about how to respond to someone who has shown himself unconstrained by what most expect.

            And in doing so, those threatened by Putin’s policies need to reflect deeply that the normal means of containment that worked so well against the Soviet Union are unlikely to be equally successful against him and that new tactics and strategies need to be developed and put in place.

            What these should be and whether other governments will be prepared to act on them, of course, remains to be seen. But Bessmertny’s words should be an occasion for doing so rather than one in which leaders will calm themselves with the assurance “at least there won’t be a war.” Instead, they must recognize that Russia is simply carrying out a war by other means.


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