The Strategic Meaning of Russian War Crimes in Ukraine

The wife of a civilian victim reacts after his body was exhumed from a shallow grave near their home in the village of Andriivka, Kyiv region, on April 11, 2022.Sergei SUPINSKY / AFP

The mass torture and killings carried out by Russian forces in Bucha, Irpin, Borodyanka and other Ukrainian towns add a new level of horror to a terrible war. But they are not only a humanitarian disaster: they also change the strategic context in three ways.
 
First, they will entrench Ukrainian hostility towards Russia, completing the estrangement that began with Russia’s first invasion in 2014 and intensified with the second in February. In less than a decade, Putin has turned a fellow eastern Slavic people that had been well disposed towards Russia, into an object of deep and personal hatred.

Second, they are driving the Russian public into a dark place. Expecting a rapid and easy victory, the state did not try to mobilize mass opinion before the invasion of Ukraine. When it began, many brave people, at known risk to themselves, demonstrated against it, and several public figures and influencers supported them. But the propaganda machine is now working flat out to justify the war and to discredit atrocities as fabrications. Despite severe censorship and repression, Russians still have access to a vastly wider range of information than at any point in the pre-internet Soviet period, if they choose to look for it. Yet most Russians appear to believe official lies over all evidence, even the testimony of their friends and relatives in Ukraine.

This upsets assumptions that a costly conflict would be unpopular. Indeed, many analysts had predicted that Putin would not go to war for this reason. The regime’s concealment of casualties in Syria, and public criticism of the first Chechen war in the mid-1990s, seemed to corroborate this. Instead, most Russians have rallied around a regime and leader that, before the war, had become as unpopular as at any point during the Putin presidency. This is happening even as official rhetoric reaches new levels of hysteria and portrays Ukrainians as a Nazified population whose elites must be “liquidated.”

Third, the war crimes show that, as long as Russia occupies Ukrainian territory, an end to fighting does not mean an end to violence. On the contrary: a ceasefire would allow Russian forces not only to regroup and rearm, but to brutalize and murder civilians unhindered. As the “Realist School” of international relations does not appear to recognize, not just geopolitical space but human lives are at stake. All Ukrainians now know for certain what awaits them if Russian forces enter their town or village, and will resist accordingly. It follows that partition or negotiated compromise will bring neither peace nor stability.

Full Commentary @ The Moscow Times https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/04/13/the-strategic-meaning-of-russian-war-crimes-in-ukraine-a77345

Moscow Shutting Down Amnesty, Human Rights Watch in Russia

Russia said Friday it was shutting down the local offices of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International that have been working in the country for the past 30 years.

The announcement came on the 44th day of Russia’s military campaign in pro-Western Ukraine, with thousands killed and more than 11 million having fled their homes or the country in the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

Human Rights Watch has been operating in Russia for 30 years, while Amnesty has had a presence in the country since 1993.

All in all, 15 organizations have been taken off Russia’s registry of international organizations and foreign NGOs due to “violations of the current legislation of the Russian Federation,” the Justice Ministry said in a statement without providing further details.

Russia also shut down the local offices of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the Aga Khan Foundation, the Wspolnota Polska Association and other organizations.

Complete story @ The Moscow Times https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/04/08/moscow-shutting-down-amnesty-human-rights-watch-in-russia-a77290

Over the past year Russian authorities have been presiding over an unprecedented crackdown on dissent and independent journalism.

The Stain of Bucha Will Stay With Russians Forever

Bucha — the name of this city will now go down in history like My Lai in Vietnam, like Sabra and Shatila in Lebanon, like Vukovar in Serbia.

Bucha, Irpin and Motyzhin… a woman’s hand with multicolored nail polish; a young man lying next to his bicycle; a woman’s head lying next to other human remains in a pit that appears to have been set on fire; a white scarf or belt tied around the hands of a man shot through the head and lying on the ground; another corpse lying a yard away, and another, and then more corpses, and more corpses.

Did they ride along the road shooting people? Shooting at everyone who was walking or running down the street? But if so, then who tied their hands behind their backs?

Were they driving out a column of prisoners — although in the photographs the bodies are all in civilian clothing. Were they leading them to be executed or moving them to a filtration camp when they got the order to drop everything and retreat?

Or as they were leaving Kyiv, did drunk and drugged out “Nazi hunters” decide to leave a bloody bacchanalia behind for their “fraternal nation” to remember them by?

In Irpin, they at least buried the civilians in a mass grave. In Bucha, why did they leave them lying on the pavement? Were they in a hurry to get home by Palm Sunday?

Ukrainian and international investigators will, without question, discover the name of the division, all the names and surnames of the men who committed these crimes.

Full column by Yevgenia Albats, editor of Novoya Vremya @ https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/04/05/the-stain-of-bucha-will-stay-with-russians-forever-a77220

A mass grave is seen behind a church in the town of Bucha:

Ukraine: Apparent War Crimes in Russia-Controlled Areas

(Warsaw) – Human Rights Watch has documented several cases of Russian military forces committing laws-of-war violations against civilians in occupied areas of the Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions of Ukraine. These include a case of repeated rape; two cases of summary execution, one of six men, the other of one man; and other cases of unlawful violence and threats against civilians between February 27 and March 14, 2022. Soldiers were also implicated in looting civilian property, including food, clothing, and firewood. Those who carried out these abuses are responsible for war crimes.

“The cases we documented amount to unspeakable, deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Rape, murder, and other violent acts against people in the Russian forces’ custody should be investigated as war crimes.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 10 people, including witnesses, victims, and local residents of Russia-occupied territories, in person or by telephone. Some people asked to be identified only by their first names or by pseudonyms for their protection.

On March 4, Russian forces in Bucha, about 30 kilometers northwest of Kyiv, rounded up five men and summarily executed one of them. A witness told Human Rights Watch that soldiers forced the five men to kneel on the side of the road, pulled their T-shirts over their heads, and shot one of the men in the back of the head. “He fell [over],” the witness said, “and the women [present at the scene] screamed.”

Full Report by Human Rights Watch @ https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/04/03/ukraine-apparent-war-crimes-russia-controlled-areas

Destroyed armored vehicles on a road

In Russia Little Picketers Protest the War

In St. Petersburg there is a new kind of protest that so far has not been stopped by the authorities.

Participants make tiny protesters out of clay, paper, wire or other craft material. Most of them hold placards against the war in Ukraine.

After they are made, their creators – all anonymous – place them in spots about the city and take a photograph, which can be found on an Instagram account: http://www.instagram.com/malenkiy_piket/

Now the little picketers are appearing in other Russian cities. So far, there have been no arrests.

Full story with more photographs @ The Moscow Times https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/03/28/in-russia-little-picketers-protest-the-war-a77071

Russia Uses Banned Antipersonnel Landmines

(Berlin, March 29, 2022) – Russian forces fighting in Ukraine have used banned antipersonnel mines in the eastern Kharkiv region, Human Rights Watch said today. 

The antipersonnel mines were located by Ukrainian explosive ordnance disposal technicians on March 28, 2022. Russia is known to possess these newly deployed landmines, which can indiscriminately kill and maim people within an apparent 16-meter range. Ukraine does not possess this type of landmine or its delivery system.

“Countries around the world should forcefully condemn Russia’s use of banned antipersonnel landmines in Ukraine,” said Steve Goose, the arms director of Human Rights Watch. “These weapons do not differentiate between combatants and civilians and leave a deadly legacy for years to come.”

Full Report from Human Rights Watch @ https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/29/ukraine-russia-uses-banned-antipersonnel-landmines

Russia Harassing, Arresting Ukraine War Dissidents

(Berlin) – Russian authorities have cracked down on journalists, human rights defenders, and activists in an effort to silence any criticism of the war in Ukraine, Human Rights Watch said today.

The authorities have arbitrarily detained, judicially harassed, raided, and engaged in smear campaigns against critics. Unidentified assailants have physically attacked activists and damaged human rights organizations’ offices. In recent weeks, various high-level officials, including President Vladimir Putin, labeled people critical of the war “national traitors.”

“Having already intensified a crackdown against critics in 2021, the authorities are escalating their witch-hunt even further to punish all anti-war sentiment,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government portrays independent journalists and activists as traitors and treats them as a threat to the state.”

Full Report from Human Rights Watch@ https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/03/24/russia-arrests-harassment-ukraine-war-dissidents

Russian Opposition Figures Form Anti-War Committee from Exile

Some of Russia’s leading opposition figures have launched an anti-war committee to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine from exile.

In videos shared on social media Wednesday, eight of the country’s leading opposition voices — including former oil baron Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Alexei Navalny ally Lyubov Sobol and former chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov — called on Russians to resist Kremlin propaganda and push back against the war on Ukraine. 

“We all represent different political movements. But we have merged into one anti-war committee, because we believe that our country does not need this war,” said Khodorkovsky. 

Full Story @ The Moscow Times https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2022/03/23/exiled-russian-opposition-figures-unite-to-form-anti-war-committee-a77046

Publishers Weekly”Ukraine’s Vivat Publishing House Fights to Survive”

Vivat Publishing was established in 2013 after the merger of the two well-known Ukrainian publishers — Pelican and Argument-Print. Based in Kharkiv, Vivat is the second largest publishing house in Ukraine with approximately 3,000 titles in print. PW interviewed Vivat’s CEO, Julia Orlova, by email about how the company is trying to continue to work, despite its hometown having been under constant bombardment from Russia for the past three weeks and much of the city destroyed.

Are you safe?

You know, during these days of war in Ukraine, such a question, as well as simply asking, “How are you?,” is a expression of genuine love. Any support or care that is shown for us means a great deal and we are grateful to everyone for it. Naturally, talking about safety in the midst of the full-scale war is an arduous task: my colleagues and I are deeply concerned about our own safety and that of our loved ones. We are forced to live in shelters or else are fleeing the regions where there is fighting, but only when that is possible.

Photo Vivat

Vivat CEO Julia Orlova on one of the first days of the war in her basement.

Are you able to work?

Truth to be told, working is very difficult. Vivat Publishing has a fairly large structure, with more than 100 staff. Until now, only a few of my colleagues have stayed in Kharkiv, where for three weeks there has been daily, intensive bombing that has destroyed the city. The majority of my co-workers were forced to leave their homes and move to other, comparatively peaceful regions of Ukraine, or flee abroad. It is no surprise that some of them were unable to take any equipment needed for work — laptops, computers, tablets, etc. Most were leaving hastily and were emotionally overwhelmed. They grabbed only the most necessary documents. Some didn’t have any equipment to work at home at all. Right now, getting access to a high-speed Internet connection is very difficult, work servers are operating only intermittently, in a situation where almost everyone is forced to work remotely, in harsh conditions, in other cities or even countries, it is a significant challenge. But we are trying…

Full Story @ Publishers Weekly https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/international/international-book-news/article/88826-ukraine-s-vivat-publishing-house-fights-to-survive.html

Ominous Parallels – Iraq & Ukraine

by Gene Berkman

On February 24, 2022, under orders from President Vladimir Putin, Russian military forces undertook a violent invasion of independent Ukraine.

Another invasion. More people killed. There are lots of parallels with many previous invasions. Many times over many years, many countries have violently invaded their neighbors, or even countries far removed. Still some specific parallels come to mind.

In 2003, US military forces undertook a violent attack on Iraq, based on claims that the Hussein regime had or was developing atomic, chemical or biological weapons. Iraq, they claimed, posed a future threat to the US, despite no evidence of Iraqi nukes or poison gas.

To head off a future threat, President Bush announced a preemptive military strike on Iraq, called an “operation” not a war. Yet the announced goal of the “operation” went beyond disarmament. The goal was regime change.

When President Putin announced the Russian “operation” in Ukraine, the stated reasons include a charge that Ukraine might in the future join NATO – a move Putin considered a threat. To deal with this threat – still much in the future – Putin ordered a preemptive strike.

The US preemptive strike on Iraq began with a barrage of Tomahawk missiles and thousands of precision guided weapons. The Russian preemptive strike has relied on barrages of rockets that lack precision guidance. These Soviet era weapons cannot be precisely targeted, and some have blamed this lack of guidance for the many hits on civilian targets. Still, so many civilian targets have been hit by Russian rockets and artillery that such targeting cannot be dismissed as accidental.

Claiming that hits on hospitals or neighborhoods are “accidental” is no defense. If the actions of the Russians consistently result in new civilian casualties, the Russians are morally obligated to stop their murderous activity. If you accidentally kill someone because your car has faulty brakes, you don’t get to keep driving the faulty car. They do take your drivers license away from you.

Of course there is no license to kill civilians. It was wrong when the US military used precision guided weapons to destroy neighborhoods. It is wrong when the Russian military makes attacks on civilians and destruction of civilian infrastructure the main tactic of its invasion.

Russian forces have targeted civilians in past military actions – in Ukraine, in Georgia, in Chechnya, in Afghanistan and in Syria. In Russian military strategy, killing civilians is a feature, not a bug.

WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION

The US government sent teams of inspectors to many parts of Iraq from 2003 to 2005, searching for weapons of mass destruction, or programs to develop WMD. No nukes were found. No chemical weapons were found – just fertilizer and pesticides.

When Russia began its invasion on February 24, WMD were not mentioned. When Ukraine gained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were Soviet missiles located at bases in Ukraine. These missiles were believed to have nuclear warheads. Ukraine contacted international agencies and asked to have the nuclear tipped missiles removed from its territory. The missiles were returned to Russia, the successor state of the USSR.

The USA and Russia agreed to guarantee the security of Ukraine. Russia is clearly in violation of that agreeement.

Ukraine is the only country that has had possession of nuclear weapons and given them up. The only country to implement nuclear disarmament.

Putin and the Russian general staff know that Ukraine does not possess nuclear weapons. So they felt safe invading with superior conventional forces. President Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld all knew that Iraq did not possess nukes -or poison gas. They felt an invasion – excuse me, an “operation” in Iraq with superior conventional forces would prevail.

As the Russian invasion of Ukraine enters its third week, mass popular resistance continues against Russian forces. Russian attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure have increased as the Russian advance has stalled. And now, the Russian foreign minister and other Russian spokesmen have made claims about WMD in Ukraine. They claim that Ukraine has petitioned international authorities for permission to weaponize plutonium produced in its nuclear power plants. No Russian spokesman has presented evidence to support this claim.

Russian spokesmen have also made claims that Ukraine has a research program for developing biological weapons. It does appear that Ukraine is engaging in medical research on viruses – as many institutes throughout the world are. There is no evidence that Ukraine has developed or is developing biological or chemical weapons, or has any program to do so. Russia’s claims are war propaganda, intended to convince the rest of the world that Russia’s brutal incursion in Ukraine is justified.

Russia does have nuclear weapons, and Putin has made statements that imply a willingness to use them. He has threatened any country that would help Ukraine defend itself. Putin has repeated his threats on more than one occasion in recent weeks. The USA has had nuclear weapons since 1945, and used them on Japan. The USA did not make threats to use nuclear weapons in Iraq, in Yugoslavia or in Afghanistan, so that parallel breaks down.

Russia has chemical weapons, which it has used against Chechen rebels, and in Syria against opponents of the Assad regime. The USA does appear to have chemical weapons, which many Americans oppose. The US military has not used chemical weapons in any conflict since World War II.

PEOPLES WAR IN FINLAND AND UKRAINE

In other specifics, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has different parallels. The resistances of the Ukrainian people has prevented a Russian victory for 3 weeks. The people’s war carried on by Ukraine has parallels to Finland’s defiance of Soviet Russia in 1940. Finland too faced long odds, going against the Soviet Red Army which was bigger and had many tanks, more artillery and more planes than did Finland. In 3 months, the Finns convinced Stalin he should end his intervention. Stalin relied on the intimidating power of Russian military strength to force Finland to give up its independent foreign policy, which seems to be the most minimal of Putin’s goals for Ukraine.

The Finns put on a mighty struggle against a stronger power, and did better than anyone expected. Ukraine has advantages that Finland did not have:

(1) International sanctions on Russian state enterprises and state banks, along with voluntary boycotts and withdrawal from the Russian market by numerous American and European companies.

(2) Other countries are providing defensive weapons to Ukraine. When American B-52s were raining destruction on Hanoi and the countryside of Vietnam – north & south – the Democratic Republic of Vietnam was able to obtain surface to air missiles from East Europe, to defend itself from bombardment. Now Ukraine is being supplied with Stinger anti-aircraft missiles to enable its defense against air attack, and with Javelin anti-tank missiles to deal with Russian armor.

(3) Ukraine has something going for it that Finland also had -the Russian army is dispirited, soldiers are badly treated by their government, and they are equipped with inferior Russian made equipment.

It is clear that Russia cannot conquer Ukraine, cannot impose a new state on the people of Ukraine. The main question is how many innocent Ukrainians will die, how many Russian conscripts will die in a war they don’t understand, and how much of Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure will be destroyed by the invading Russian army.

The related question: how many Americans who claim to oppose war will jettison the non-aggression principle to become defenders of and apologists for Putin’s War of Choice?