April 5, 2022

Atrocities in Bucha

Moscow faced global revulsion and accusations of war crimes Monday after the Russian pullout from the outskirts of Kyiv revealed streets, buildings and yards strewn with corpses of what appeared to be civilians, many of them evidently killed at close range… “German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the images from Bucha reveal the ‘unbelievable brutality of the Russian leadership and those who follow its propaganda.’ And French President Emmanuel Macron said there is ‘clear evidence of war crimes’ in Bucha that demand new punitive measures.” AP News

Both sides condemn the atrocities committed by the Russian army and call for a strong response:

“After Bucha, a debate will consume editorial pages: Is Russia committing genocide in Ukraine? Diplomats and politicians will be compelled to answer that question. Rather than wringing their hands about whether the events meet a legalistic definition enshrined in United Nations agreements, they should cite the Human Rights Watch report on alleged atrocities. A 31-year-old woman, it says, was raped by a Russian soldier, who threatened the life of her 5-year-old daughter; the invaders gunned down a mother and her 14-year-old child as they ran from a grenade thrown into their basement shelter…

“Or they should invoke the toll of Bucha: bodies, wrapped in black bags, piled like firewood into the back of a van collecting the corpses from the streets. Two months ago, these were human beings, living perfectly suburban lives. Whether this constitutes genocide hardly matters when it is precisely evil.”

Franklin Foer, The Atlantic

“The truth is that the chilling images from Bucha could have been from almost anywhere the Russian military has operated in recent years. What is outrageous for the West is for the Russians pretty much standard operating procedure. Western armies usually attempt, though they sometimes fail, to hold themselves to the standards set out in the Geneva Conventions, which protect civilians and prisoners in times of war. But the Russians, whose military doctrine was forged out of the existential threat the Soviet Union faced during World War Two, have no such qualms…

Brutality is a seam that runs through the Russian army even in peacetime. In my time as a correspondent in Russia in the 2000s, I spoke to several army recruits who said some of their cohorts were beaten so badly they were left with long-term disabilities and failing organs. According to one western report, at a time when such things were still possible, 290 Russian soldiers died of beatings administered by their superiors in just one year during the 2000s. Hundreds more committed suicides. Such brutality dates back to the Tsarist days and will surely not have changed during the last decade.”

Julius Strauss, Spectator World

Russia’s military atrocities in Ukraine have been seen before, in the brutal ‘zachistka,’ or cleansing operations, in Chechnya, which destroyed towns and villages, and the indiscriminate attacks on hospitals in the Syrian city of Aleppo. As in Syria, Russia has agreed to humanitarian corridors for Ukraine’s Mariupol, only to attack them. Until now, the world’s response to these crimes has been weak; now it must not be…

“The 27-nation European Union must wean itself from Russian fossil fuels… Germany is reliant on Russian natural gas, and reductions will be difficult for all, but closing the valves is becoming more urgent and unavoidable. The E.U. is reportedly preparing another round of economic sanctions amid doubts about the willpower to curb gas imports. It makes no sense to denounce the war crimes while funding the war machine. The White House on Monday promised more U.S. sanctions; they should target the Russian industries and banks that have been left largely untouched so far.”

Editorial Board, Washington Post

“In a famous case from World War II, Japanese general Tomoyuki Yamashita was tried by an American military tribunal for war crimes committed by troops under his command in the Philippines. His defense was that he didn’t order his troops to commit such acts and wasn’t aware they were committed. The court nonetheless held him responsible for the war crimes of his subordinates. His appeals for clemency were rejected all the way up to President Harry Truman, and Yamashita was hanged…

A war crimes investigation needn’t start with Mr. Putin, and it might be better if it didn’t. The war is continuing, and the impact might be more significant on Russian morale if Russian officers know they will be held accountable. Start at the top with Sergei Shoigu, the Army general who has been minister of defense for a decade. Then move down through the ranks of officers who have served in Ukraine, starting with those who commanded troops in the regions where war crimes were committed… Perhaps it will concentrate minds about the dirty war they have been asked to prosecute and the trouble Mr. Putin has put them in.”

Editorial Board, Wall Street Journal

Other opinions below.

See past issues

From the Left

“American leaders have spent the last two decades undermining the International Criminal Court, which prosecutes war crimes, genocide, and other crimes against humanity… ‘The United States is the number one advocate of international criminal justice for others,’ Princeton University's Richard Falk wrote in 2012. But the U.S. also ‘holds itself self-righteously aloof from accountability.’…

“Opponents of the ICC have claimed the institution interferes with American sovereignty, and that the ICC's trial process has insufficient protections for the accused. Mostly, though, it's difficult to escape the sense that America won't submit to the court's jurisdiction simply because it doesn't have to. What's the point of being the most powerful country on the planet if you have to follow the world's rules? The ICC is for other, smaller, weaker countries…

“None of this justifies Putin's actions, of course. But it does suggest that America is seeking a kind justice to which it won't itself submit. And that means the U.S. — which has otherwise done an excellent job of managing the present crisis — can't provide much leadership in the matter of Russia's alleged war crimes against Ukraine.”

Joel Mathis, The Week

From the Right

“On Monday, President Joe Biden said Vladimir Putin should be put on trial for war crimes. Sounds great, but Biden knows Putin will almost certainly never face a war crimes trial. It's a distraction. The possibility of greater sanctions against Russia is not a distraction, but all Biden would say about it on Monday was, ‘I’ll let you know.’ This means the White House national security council is in one of its marathon escalation risk-assessment sessions, weighing up how weak the U.S. response to Moscow's latest outrage can possibly be without being truly embarrassing…

“Biden deserves credit for unifying NATO around the defense of vulnerable allies, but he has been far less resolute in his support for Ukraine. In the buildup to Russia's invasion, the Biden administration slow-rolled the delivery of anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. When allies asked for U.S. approval to transfer U.S.-manufactured weapons to Ukraine, they met similar delay tactics from Biden… Biden needs to drop this risk-averse approach and show some resolve. This means imposing unprecedented costs on Russia for its war crimes, rallying the world, and ensuring Putin knows he cannot intimidate the international community into another round of appeasement.”

Tom Rogan, Washington Examiner

Get troll-free political news.

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.