4 Apr, 2022 13:35
After footage of dead civilians in the Ukrainian city of Bucha emerged, the West immediately pointed the finger at Moscow
Ukraine has accused Russian troops of committing war crimes in the city of Bucha. However, Moscow insists that the allegations are baseless and has implied that the Ukrainian government is manipulating the media to smear Russia.
Bucha is a small city of around 35,000 residents, located some 10km northwest of the Ukrainian capital Kiev. From the early days of the ongoing Russian military attack, it Moscow’s troops have been present in the area, but last week they were ordered to evacuate.
Days after the withdrawal, Kiev accused the Russian military of committing numerous atrocities in Bucha. Moscow has denied the allegations and unsuccessfully tried to call a UN Security Council meeting to discuss what it claims to be an attempt to frame it forces.
Russia’s foreign intelligence service earlier warned that Kiev was working to downplay footage of what appeared to be Ukrainian soldiers torturing Russian prisoners of war. The Russian military had warned that provocations could be staged by the Ukrainian side in order to manipulate public, and political, opinion in the West.
Here is a timeline of how the events unfolded.
Footage of alleged torture of Russian POWs appears
Footage of what appeared to be Ukrainian soldiers shooting Russian prisoners of war in the legs was published on social media. The video sparked widespread condemnation, including from some Western public figures.
The perpetrators were apparently members of Ukraine’s ultra-nationalist forces. The presence of these neo-Nazi units was cited by Moscow as one of the reasons justifying the military attack it launched against the country in late February.
Talks in Istanbul
The Russian military announced a partial drawdown after Turkey-hosted Russian-Ukrainian peace talks.
Moscow stated that the progress made during the talks created the conditions for a scale-down of hostilities near Kiev, saying it was meant as a concession to the Ukrainian government, but many commenters were skeptical about the motives. Some claimed that it was a reflection of reduced military ambitions, due to tenacious Ukrainian resistance.
During the talks, Russian officials demand an investigation into the footage of alleged torture of POWs, indicating there would be no mercy for the perpetrators, should they be captured. Ukrainian officials pledged to get to the bottom of it, stating that such behavior wouldn’t be tolerated from their soldiers.
However, no actions appears to have been taken.
Russia warns of staged videos
The Russian military claimed that the Ukrainian government ordered its ultra-nationalist forces to produce staged videos purportedly showing evidence of crimes committed by Russian troops against civilians.
The footage was supposed to incriminate Russian soldiers in “mass killings, robbery, damage to social infrastructure,” General Mikhail Mizintsev claimed.
Mayor of Bucha declares city liberated
In a video address, Mayor Anatoly Fedoruk declared his city liberated “from Russian orcs [sic]” and called it a major victory for Ukrainian defenders.
All Russian troops withdrew from the city on the previous day, both Moscow and media covering the conflict reported. The mayor made no mention of any purported Russian war crimes in his celebratory speech.
Kiev publicity damage control
Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) claimed it had intercepted communications between the governments of Ukraine and Britain discussing the publicity fallout from the alleged torture video.
The SVR stated that Western governments were “aware of the violations of international humanitarian law by Kiev” and were willing to help perpetrators remain unaccountable.
The report didn’t mention Bucha or any attempts to fabricate evidence of war crimes.
Zelensky says Azov “are what they are”
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky downplayed the dark side of Ukrainian nationalists of the Azov Battalion in an interview with Fox News.
Broadcaster Bret Baier asked Zelensky about the Azov’s widely covered neo-Nazi affiliations and allegagtions of atrocities mounted against them.
“They are what they are,” Zelensky remarked in response, before explaining how the formerly volunteer battalion contributed to the defense of Ukraine against Russia and was subsequently integrated into the national military.
Ukrainian commandos deployed to Bucha
Ukrainian media reported that commandos from the national police had been deployed to Bucha to “clear the territory from saboteurs and collaborators” and “survey the sites of war crimes committed by Russia”.
Evidence of purported Russian atrocities in Bucha began to pour out from the city on the same day. Images from the city showed streets littered with bodies in civilian clothes, some with their hands bound behind their backs.
Kiev claimed Russian soldiers summarily executed civilians before withdrawing from the city. The scale of destruction in Bucha indicated that Russia attempted to subject Ukrainian people to genocide, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba claimed. On April 3, the Prosecutor General’s office reported recovering 410 bodies of civilians from the city.
Western officials condemned Russia, taking the Ukrainian allegations at face value.
Some of the evidence however seems to contravene the narrative. One clippublished and later deleted by a Ukrainian military commander showed Ukrainian troops in Bucha discussing engagement rules.
One can be heard asking if it was OK to shoot at “guys not wearing blue armbands” identifying Ukrainian soldiers. The response was an affirmative “you bet”.
Some of the civilians apparently killed in Bucha were wearing white armbands. Russian troops had reportedly asked all civilians to wear them to identify themselves as non-combatants.
Russia denies Ukrainian claims
The Russian defense ministry denied Kiev’s claims, citing the three days between the troops’ withdrawal and the emergence of the evidence as a suspicious sign.
Moscow said the accusations were “a provocation” and possibly evidence of crimes committed by Ukrainian troops after they entered the city. The statement pointed to the apparently fresh state of some of the bodies in the photos.
Russia then called an emergency session of the UN Security Council to discuss Bucha and what it claims to be an attempt to smear it.
Moscow claimed the attempt to meet on Monday was blocked by the UK, which is also a permanent member of the body. The British mission said the session will take place on Tuesday instead.
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