Russia’s own state media proves it is committing war crimes in Ukraine, says US expert on Putin

President Voldomyr Zelensky has called for Nuremberg-style hearings

Andrew Buncombe
Chief US Correspondent
Tuesday 12 April 2022 23:50 BST
Zelensky gives statement at 'Stand Up For Ukraine' fundraising campaign

Statements and assertions published by Russia’s state-controlled media show the atrocities carried out in Ukraine amount to war crimes, says a US expert on Vladimir Putin and his country.

In the weeks before and since Russia invaded Ukraine, Susan Smith-Peter, Professor Of History at the City University of New York, has been monitoring Russian state media and posting translations of some of the pieces she thinks show Moscow’s intention to breach the rules of war.

She says while Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has called for the establishment of a war crimes tribunal similar to the Nuremberg Trials that followed World War II, much of the discussion in the West has focused on the challenge to prove “intent”.

For instance, the crime of genocide, which was codified in 1948 and refers to the deliberate destruction of a specific group of people, would need prosecutors to show Mr Putin’s actions that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, were done so intentionally.

Yet, Dr Smith-Peter, says a reading of just some of the materials published by Russian state media appears to do just that.

In February, Russian state-owned news agency RIA Novosti published and then deleted an article that was apparently intended to go live once Russia had completed its invasion of Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin has assumed, without a drop of exaggeration, a historic responsibility by deciding not to leave the solution of the Ukrainian question to future generations,” said the article, written by contributor Petr Akopov. “Western global domination can be considered completely and finally over.”

This month, the same agency published another piece, by pundit Timofei Sergeitsev, that was headlined “What Russia should do with Ukraine”, and that some likened to the “final solution” for Ukraine.

“War criminals and active Nazis should be exemplarily and exponentially punished,” it said.

Ukraine residents return to destroyed village in Chernihiv

Mr Zelensky referred to this article when he addressed the Romanian parliament last week.

“On the same day, April 3, when the world was horrified to see the bodies of those killed in Bucha, an article justifying the genocide of Ukrainians was published on the website of the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti,” he told parliamentarians.

“It’s name is quite eloquent, I quote ‘What Russia has to do with Ukraine’ It's not just a text. This is one of the proofs for the future court against Russian war criminals.”

He added: “The article describes a clear and calculated procedure for destroying everything that makes Ukrainians and our people themselves.”

Dr Smith-Peter translated and annotated the article in a post on Medium.

“The following article contains a Russian plan for the genocide of Ukraine. It was published by the state-run news agency RIA Novosti, whose works are often picked up by various media outlets,” she wrote.

“The author, Timofei Sergeitsev, has been a columnist at RIA Novosti since 2014 and worked as a political consultant for Leonid Kuchma, the former Ukrainian president, during the 1999 presidential elections, as well as for former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych during the 2004 elections that led to the Orange Revolution.”

She added: “The publication and the source show that this is not a fringe statement but an expression of a widely-held view.”

She told The Independent she did not understand why the articles being published by state media did not get more attention in the West.

“It’s crazy, I keep reading these articles about how hard it is to show ‘intent’,” she said.

“I think it would be a really important thing, to publish a translation of this article, and to say, look, here's the plan for the genocide of the Ukrainian people.”

Earlier this month, a Ukraine-born expert on the Holocaust told The Independent he believed the atrocities on the ground in places such as Bucha, combined with the statements printed in outlets such as RIA Novosti, showed that what was happening met the legal description of genocide.

“The rhetoric on its own was not enough for me, and the massacres on their own were not enough,” said Eugene Finkel, who lives in Israel and is author of Ordinary Jews: Choice and Survival during the Holocaust.

“The threshold for me is the combination of this violence, widespread and deliberate, and the rhetoric. I think that is enough evidence.”

Hundreds of people have been found shot and killed in small towns such as Bucha
Hundreds of people have been found shot and killed in small towns such as Bucha (AFP via Getty Images)

Russia has denied it is committing war crimes and has claimed without evidence that the atrocities in Bucha and elsewhere have been staged to make Moscow look bad.

Meanwhile, on Monday Dr Smith-Peter and others drew attention to another report on RIA Novosti which referred to an appearance on Russia Channel One of Eduard Basurin, a spokesman for the Kremlin-backed, separatist Donetsk People’s Republic. He said Russian forces should use chemical weapons when seeking to retake Mariupol, which would represent another war crime.

“When capturing Azovstal in Mariupol, you need to act more cunningly in order to avoid losses, because of the underground floors. It is pointless to storm the object,” he said. “It is possible to accomplish. The chemical troops, I believe, will then find a means to smoke moles out of their holes.”

Mr Zelensky later referred to the comments amid reports that chemical weapons had been used. He said any use of chemical weapons would mark a “new stage of terror against Ukraine”.

“Unfortunately, we are not getting as much as we need to end this war sooner,” Mr Zelensky said. ”I am sure that we will get almost everything we need, but not only time is being lost. The lives of Ukrainians are being lost — lives that can no longer be returned.”

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