In a fiery virtual speech to the UN Security Council, President Zelensky said the atrocities committed in Boutcha in Ukraine were similar to those of the Islamic State. According to him, Russian troops have, among other crimes, raped and killed women in front of their children and tortured and murdered civilians, mutilating their bodies.
Even as global outrage and revulsion grow over the atrocities attributed to Russian forces, the Security Council will take no action to punish these horrors. Russia, which vehemently denies having committed crimes in Ukraine, has a right of veto there.
These war crimes must be confirmed by independent international investigators who will have to start by tracing a chronology of events that risks being overwhelming for Moscow.
Satellite photos obtained by the New York Times seem to confirm Russian responsibility. They show the bodies of identifiable civilians murdered on March 11 in a street in Boutcha, then occupied by the Russian army.
The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) says it has interviewed witnesses, victims and residents of the city who claim that Russian forces carried out rapes, murders and other acts of violence against unarmed people. “The cases we have documented represent extreme and deliberate cruelty and violence against Ukrainian civilians,” the HRW spokesperson added.
Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, suggests the International Criminal Court could take over the investigation. The United States, like Russia, does not, however, recognize its jurisdiction in this area. The Trump administration had sanctioned ICC officials for opening an investigation into US war crimes in Afghanistan. The Biden administration has criticized the ICC for investigating Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and its wars in Gaza.
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Russia from Katyn to Boutcha
When the Nazis invaded Russia during World War II, in April 1943 they found the mass graves of nearly 5,000 Polish officers and intellectual leaders in the Katyn Forest near Smolensk. Moscow has denied killing the men, saying the Nazis were responsible.
In 1990, reformist President Mikhail Gorbachev admitted that the Russian NKVD intelligence service had executed the Poles, officially accepting responsibility for the massacre. Stalin wanted to eliminate the Polish elite as Putin seems to want to do now with that of Ukraine. During the partition of Poland, Russian soldiers, allies of the Nazis, engaged in looting, rape and other crimes against Poles, as they do now in Ukraine.
Boutcha, a turning point in the war
What happened in Boutcha and the current massive destruction in Ukraine, unseen since World War II, demands new draconian sanctions against Russia. In particular, they must hit all civilians and all soldiers involved in the chain of command of the criminal aggression against Ukraine. They should, at the very least, be banned forever from any country where the West has the ability to apply pressure.