“We can not be surprised that Russia goes so far”

Even in war, there are rules. Some belligerents tend to respect them, others don’t care. We knew that Russia had not been shy in recent years to attack civilians. There had been Chechnya, Georgia and Syria. NATO had moreover announced that the Alliance would not intervene to chase the Russian army from Ukrainian territory. Can the West really be surprised to discover that Vladimir Putin’s troops kill, rape and destroy as they see fit? Or is there not a form of hypocrisy here?

Last week, as Western countries united in denouncing the abuses committed in Boutcha, a suburb of kyiv, US President Joe Biden recalled that he had already called his Russian counterpart a “war criminal”. No surprise, therefore, to discover what the Russian high command is capable of, he hinted.

“This guy is brutal, what is happening in Boutcha is scandalous, and everyone has seen it,” said the American president, before asking that Vladimir Putin “be accountable”.

“We can’t really be surprised that Russia goes that far,” analyzes François Audet, professor at UQAM and director of the Institute of International Studies in Montreal. Especially after the Russian military was frustrated in its desire to bring down kyiv in days.

“They have become what they have been in recent history and what they are elsewhere in the world by attacking civilians, social infrastructure, health and humanitarian systems as means to demoralize the population and win the war”, continues the ex-humanitarian.

chaotic command

We could therefore suspect that they would go so far. “But that it happened at the start of the conflict, it’s still surprising,” said Viktor Konstantynov, professor at Taras Shevchenko University in kyiv, where he is still. I knew there would be civilian casualties, but it is a shock to discover the scale of the atrocities and to learn that civilians were deliberately targeted. »

With the arrival of foreign fighters from Syria and Chechnya, the Russian military command is becoming more chaotic, underlines François Audet. “It should come as no surprise that in an international call for war, the military hierarchy is no longer respected as in a system where the rules of law are followed. »

Rules of law to which Western democracies and their populations are accustomed to responding, adds the academic. “And there, we are faced with a State that does not live by the rules of law and whose intentions are literally aimed at decapitating this system of law [en Ukraine]. » With the consequences which follow and which flout the promises of « never again ».

For Christian Nadeau, professor of political philosophy at the University of Montreal, if there is a hypocrisy of the West, it is rather in the fact of having led NATO to the borders of Russia. “And in this staging of sanctions which, so far, are relatively superficial compared to the real effort to withdraw completely from buying Russian gas [particulièrement par les pays européens, dont l’Allemagne] “, he underlines.

Red line

If the Mariupols, Buchas, Kramatorsk and other theaters of horror continued to accumulate, or if Russia were to use tactical nuclear weapons or chemical weapons in Ukraine, would the moral pressure on the West become untenable point that it would lead to military intervention? “No, breathes Viktor Konstantynov. If Western countries had wanted to participate in this war, they would have already had enough reasons to join the fight. No one here is waiting for the cavalry to come and save them. »

François Audet recalls in this respect that in 2012 the American president at the time, Barack Obama, had drawn a red line by threatening the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad with “enormous consequences” if it used chemical weapons against his population. However, chemical weapons had been used, and no intervention had taken place. No matter what happens in Ukraine, “I don’t feel like the West is going to go beyond what they are doing now by supporting Ukraine militarily and hitting Russia’s economic heart “, says the political scientist.

It should therefore not be surprising if other mass graves are uncovered or if other attacks against civilians occur, warns François Audet. Violations of the laws of war that could, once again, take place with impunity, since the chances of Russian leaders being brought before international justice are relatively slim.

Even if Putin and his collaborators are never arrested and the courtroom of the International Criminal Court remains empty, the two academics believe that the documentation effort is not in vain. “If there has been a crime, there should be a possible moral and legal response,” says Christian Nadeau. The political elites, what interests them first and foremost, is that it is part of a panorama of warlike rhetoric. But it’s not there [que résident] the promises of international law. »

From kyiv, Viktor Konstantynov says he hopes the conflict will end quickly with as few casualties as possible. A wish that looks like a mirage. “Even I don’t trust my hope anymore,” he says.

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