Russia’s War Crimes

Evidence of mass atrocities across Ukraine continues to mount.

WSJ (“Ukraine’s President Vows to Hold Russian Forces to Account After War-Crime Allegations“):

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky described Russian forces as “murderers” and “rapists” as the extent of killings in towns surrounding Kyiv began to emerge, vowing to prosecute what he called war crimes as Russia renewed its missile attacks on several cities.

More than 100 civilians were found buried in mass graves in one commuter town, Bucha, after Russian troops withdrew last week, sparking an outcry from Western leaders and adding to the pressure on the Biden administration and its European allies to take stronger action against Moscow. French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday called for additional sanctions on Russian oil and coal, despite the pain it would inflict on Europe’s economies.

“It is very clear today that there are clear indications of war crimes,” Mr. Macron said on French radio. “It was more or less established that this is the Russian army.”

WaPo (“Zelensky calls Russian forces ‘butchers’ as pullback reveals horrors“):

The scale of devastation as Russian troops withdraw from more areas in Ukraine is coming into grim focus. The scenes of horror emerging from Bucha, near the capital — where alleged mass graves were found and dead civilians lined the streets — are sparking calls for war crime probes and even tighter sanctions in the United States and Europe, as more reports come in about damage in cleared parts of Chernihiv and Sumy regions.

As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called Russian forces “butchers, rapists and looters”who committed genocide, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the “apparent atrocities by Kremlin forces” and vowed to use “every tool available” to pursue and hold those responsible accountable. The Biden administration is discussing ways to ratchet up the financial pain on Russia. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to do “everything in my power to starve Putin’s war machine” as the country’s chief of intelligence called “reports of execution-style killings of civilians emerging from liberated areas” of Ukraine “horrifying and chilling.” Ukraine’s prosecutor general said a task force has found the bodies of more than 400 civilians in the Kyiv region.

The calls for retribution came as Russian President Vladimir Putin appears to be refocusing on the country’s south and east. The Ukrainian military reported that several villages in the Chernihiv region had been cleared — and its mayor Vladyslav Atroshenko said 70 percent of the city had been destroyed. Explosions rocked Odessa early Sunday, in the first major strikes on the strategic Black Sea port city, and missile strikes were also reported in the southern port city of Mykolaiv.

Two NYT reports, “‘This Is True Barbarity’: Life and Death Under Russian Occupation” and “In a Kyiv Suburb,’They Shot Everyone They Saw’” provide gripping, if anecdotal, details.

President Biden has already denounced Putin as a “war criminal,” and this certainly vindicates that judgment. Both European and American leaders, though, are vowing to ramp up sanctions even more in response to these developments.

Reports of civilian massacres in Bucha led to swift international condemnation and claims of war crimes from world leaders, as well as pledges to escalate the West’s economic measures against Russia. Ukrainian officials have asked for an investigation by the International Criminal Court into mass graves in Bucha that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called “brutality against civilians we haven’t seen in Europe for decades.”

The scope of the potential U.S. retaliatory measures was not exactly clear, but senior Biden officials have previously discussed potentially devastating “secondary sanctions” that would target countries that continue to trade with Russia.

The Biden administration could also impose sanctions on sectors of the Russian economy that it has not hit so far, including mining, transportation and additional areas of the Russian financial sector. The world continues to buy billions of dollars worth of Russian oil and gas, giving the Kremlin a direct financial lifeline. Officials stressed that planning was preliminary and no decisions had been made about potential responses.

Still, as I’ve argued before, he’s exceedingly unlikely to get hauled off before the Hague. There’s just not a mechanism for holding the leaders of major powers to account under international law, short of their unconditional surrender after a major war.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Sleeping Dog says:

    The war crimes have made it impossible for the west to lift the sanctions, whatever peace agreement that Ukraine agrees to. Returning to business as usual with Putin’s Russia, can’t happen.

    Short of a revolt in Russia that unseats Putin, after which he is turned over the the Hague, international law won’t hold him accountable. The atrocities also will put pressure on China to distance themselves from Russia, though Xi won’t see them as a big deal.

  2. Lounsbury says:

    In one of (now I do not recall which) reports of FT or Washingont Post or NYT, read yesterday I recall an interviewed resident of Bucha stated that the Russian regular conscript troops behaved in a somwhat ordinary manner (and were largely confused and baffled as to what was happening, I think the direct quote was “confused”), but were later swapped out for irregulars from the Donbass separatist battalions, at which point the death squad type activity started.

    That would seem to be in keeping with broader information, of a Russian regular army confused and partly in the dark, and profoundly unenthusiastic at best about the whole endeavour. While the ideological and the security apparatus operates in a parallel path (rather Stalin or Hitlerian, or shall we say simply 1930s totalitarian insofar as Putin’s Russia is trending to a queer blend of the two). One should suspect that with Wagner and Syrians brought in as special backstop, their likely deployment as occuperies of problem areas with generate more of this.

    @Sleeping Dog: Nothing is impossible. More difficult, indeed rather more difficult, but nothing is impossible. For avoidance of self-deception, one should avoid sweeping declarations. (See Syria, Assad)

  3. Sleeping Dog says:


    I won’t hold my breath waiting to see Vlad in the dock. Vlad on trial at the Hague is as likely as me winning this weeks Powerball. I’ll stand-by impossible.

  4. Kathy says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    As we’re talking impossibilities, it would be much more satisfying if he were tried in Ukraine.

  5. John430 says:

    So, Socialists have shown their true colors. There is no difference between International Socialism and National Socialism. Both are killers managing authoritarian societies.

  6. Lounsbury says:

    @Sleeping Dog: You have misunderstood. My reference is to your first impossible: The war crimes have made it impossible for the west to lift the sanctions, whatever peace agreement that Ukraine agrees to

    @John430: while you are a stupid troll, this is just to nonsensical to not note that it is entirely nonsensical (as well as a complete non sequitor given there exactly zero International Socialists in this specific OP subject).

    At least in trolling try to have some modicum of a threadbare bit of logic.

  7. Sleeping Dog says:


    I’ll accept that I was a bit strident there.

  8. JohnSF says:

    Ukraine has published a list of personnel of the Russian 64th Motor Rifle Brigade, who they believe are among those responsible for the Bucha atrocities.
    Details include names, passport numbers, date of birth, etc and other details.

  9. charon says:
  10. JohnSF says:

    Which socialists are you referring to?
    The Russians?
    They aren’t even remotely in the neighborhood of socialist.
    In case you haven’t been paying attention, the USSR ended in 1991.

    Do keep up.

  11. Lounsbury says:

    @Lounsbury: Aha, this is the arty: NYT Trostyanets

    By mid-March, the Russian soldiers were rotated out of the town and replaced by separatist fighters who were brought in from the southeast.

    It was then, residents said, that atrocities began to mount.

    Separatists, so Donbass-centric ‘Great Russia’ supremacists, ironically more or less the picture of fascist fringe to the extent one can properly define fascisms.

    @JohnSF: Needs to be a better class of troll, than one who empty mindely parrots slogans without at least working on a small bit of internal coherence or basic factual coherency.

    While as proper capitalist, socialists or even International Socialists have few or no warm spots in my heart, complete blithering nonsense is bothersome.

  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:


    At least in trolling try to have some modicum of a threadbare bit of logic.

    What you’re asking is, sadly, beyond his ken. (And frankly, beyond his barbie, too, truth be told.)

  13. Michael Reynolds says:

    Just a word here about American defense expenditures. We have spent billions, hundreds of billions, developing weapons designed to kill only the bad guys and avoid killing civilians. Doesn’t always work out that way, but we do try, and largely succeed.

    What we’re seeing in Ukraine is old-school war, Russian-style, with lots of indiscriminate slaughter, sadistic brutality and of course, rape. Russia can’t fight our kind of war, they can only be brutes.

    The other huge difference, the difference that laid the table for the inevitable fall of the USSR, is that we not only spend a lot of money on weapons, we spend a lot of money cleaning up afterward. Germany and Japan are both close allies because although we burned down their cities, we also helped to rebuild them. Vietnam is increasingly a friend because despite the damage we did, we also opened factories. Even Mexico gets along with us despite the fact we stole half their country.

    Russia can’t play that card, they are not a rich country, so the absolutely certain result of this fiasco will be a Ukraine hostile to Russia far into the future, the very opposite of Putin’s ambitions.

    Brutality and poverty are not a winning hand in international relations.

  14. JohnSF says:

    And it was only a week or so ago I was saying that Ukrainians generally seemed, before the war, to have little animosity toward ordinary Russians despite Crimea and the Donbas conflict.

    Well, so much for that.
    I just did not expect this scale of barbarism.
    I expect a wholesale ditching of what residual “Russian” identification remained.
    As has happened in other European countries in similar circumstances.

  15. charon says:

    As we wake to pictures and reports of horrifying war crimes committed by Vladimir Putin’s forces in Ukraine, innocents, hands tied behind their backs, lined up and executed, children, women, men, thrown into ditches or left in the streets, I would remind you of this:


    “Why do I care what is going on in the conflict between Ukraine and Russia? I’m serious. Why shouldn’t I root for Russia? Which by the way I am.”
    — Tucker Carlson


    Russia learned from the Nazi invasion of their own country. They took that brutal lesson to heart, target the innocents, burn the hospitals, slaughter civilians, destroy the infrastructure.

    Trump, Carlson, et al look upon that horror and they see … strength.


    You have only to look to Fox News and OAN right now to see those who speak for Republican ideology threatening similar revenge on Americans for imagined slights. See the comment of Ron DeSantis, Florida Republicans, Laura Ingraham, et al.


    That’s how it starts.

    That rhetoric. Revenge. Getting even. Using the power of government and the military to crush your opponents. That’s where it starts.

    And it ends with the bodies of innocents shot in the head and dumped in a ditch.



    A longer, more detailed version of this thread is compiled here:

    Where you may share it to other platforms without giving aid to content thieves.

  16. Lounsbury says:

    @charon: The Twitterer quoted however is wrong: the Sovs did not in any way need the Nazis to give them lessons on scorched earth or collective punishment.

  17. John430 says:

    @JohnSF: If it walks like a duck…YOU try to keep up

  18. john430 says:

    @Lounsbury: Inasmuch as the thread is titled War Crimes, you should be able to understand the connections and parallels. Or are the inferences drawn too subtle for you? Lemme help you: National SOCIALISM and International SOCIALISM both practice(d) genocide and murder on a giant scale. Putin, trying to recreate the Soviet Union, is copying his predecessors. Please refer to the old bromide of “Communism only killed 100 million people. Let’s give it another chance.” And for good measure, Biden is auditioning as Neville Chamberlain’s stand-in.

  19. dazedandconfused says:


    Keeping control of very young men who’ve had their societal inhibitions against killing suppressed is tricky business. It’s entirely plausible, for me, to imagine such young men, after experiencing the sort of slaughter of their comrades which occurred, to act in this way. The basic structure of the Russian military, no back-bone of older, professional SNCOs, makes it significantly more prone to such than our own is. Frightened/confused turns into abject rage in a heartbeat.

    I recall an incident in Iraq when a platoon killed an entire family because it was clear there was no way an IED which killed some of them could’ve been placed where it was without their knowledge. We too are not immune.

  20. JohnSF says:

    Putin’s Russia may be attempting to restore elements of the dominance of the Soviet Union; but equally the Russian Empire of the tsars.
    And the tsars were not socialists, unless you a using a very odd definition of “socialist”.

    A foreign policy of subordinating neighbours by force has no necessary connection to state direction of the economy, which is the usual definition of socialism.
    By that standard, Russia is decidedly capitalist, albeit with markets and regulation undermined by private and state-enabled theft, corruption, coercion and crime.

    The assumption that because the Nazi’s had “socialist” in the name mean they were such is rather weak.
    Other fascist parties used different terms.

    In fact fascist and bolshevists are at least as distinct as both are from 19th century liberalis, or modern conservatves, or Scandinavian social democrats, or reactionary monarchists, or anarchists etc. etc.

    Political typologies are really rather more complex than you seem to think.

  21. dazedandconfused says:

    @Sleeping Dog:
    If Ukraine and the Russians were to agree on a peace deal which had the sanctions removed the US and NATO insisting the war must go on would be an exceedingly awkward.

  22. JohnSF says:

    This was not just a single family.
    The scale is completely different.
    This was quite plainly a sustained, extensive, and command sanctioned, programme of torture, rape, and mass murder.

  23. dazedandconfused says:

    At this point it’s not plainly so to me. “We are going in as liberators, so be sure to slaughter as many civies as you can!” would be a ridiculous instruction to give.

  24. JohnSF says:

    The Western coalition could lift some sanctions if it was a required part of a peace deal; the total ban on fund transfers, once Russia had fulfilled its side.

    But the investment bans, oligarch restrictions, technology transfer restriction are all likely to remain.
    And Europe is never going back to a policy of happy dependence on Russian hydrocarbons.
    Diversification will continue.

    In any case “If” is doing a lot of work there.
    At present what Ukraine wants are not sanction lifting but more and harder; and lots more heavy weapons.

    Anyway, NATO/West could always sign up to lifting some sanctions as part of a deal, then slap them back on once the Russian have withdrawn and Ukraine been comprehensively re-armed.
    Sneaky, eh?

  25. Barry says:

    John430, anybody trying to conflate Nazism and communism has demonstrated their ignorance or dishonesty .

  26. JohnSF says:


    …would be a ridiculous instruction to give…

    One might think so.
    However, it has been fairly common Russian (and Soviet) practice in the past, if encountering any resistance, to use terror as a policy of suppression.

    And remember, this is a non-Russophone area of Ukraine; maybe liberation was NOT what the troops expected to be doing at all.

    In any case, the timeline is not entirely clear yet.
    The condition of the bodies indicates that a lot were killed quite recently; quite likely as an act of spite and revenge for the Russian defeat.

    Irrational? Certainly; but autocratic, quasi-fascistic imperial militaries are often noted for their lack of reasonableness.

    See also Sergeytsev’s comments, via state media, that @charon: linked earlier.
    Not what a sensible state would wish to flaunt before a Ukrainian people already in a bad mood, it might be thought, but there you go.

  27. Gustopher says:


    And for good measure, Biden is auditioning as Neville Chamberlain’s stand-in.

    Please, Comrade #430, explain to us what you would like Biden to do. Bonus points if you can give a reasonable range of responses from others.

    Beyond that, I have no idea who you think the socialists are in this situation. Russians? Ukrainians? The US? France? All possibilities. Once you start bending words past any meaning, no one knows what you are talking about.

    I can infer that you are opposed to genocide, at least in the abstract, but beyond that… it’s kind of gibberish.

    Here’s a cheat sheet you can refer to in the future:

    Russia is an autocracy/oligarchy with strong elements of fascism and a capitalist-ish economy with massive corruption and kleptocracy. Political opposition is jailed or killed.

    Ukraine is a struggling democracy, but still dealing with a lot of corruption as they emerge from oligarchy, and a capitalist-ish economy. Political opposition is tolerated — they are voted out, and there were massive protests not so long ago.

    The US is also a struggling democracy, although it seems to be backsliding due to an undermined confidence in elections and a system of federalism that rewards states for failing. And again, capitalist-ish. Political opposition is fenced off into free speech zones, and harassed.

    France is a socialist paradise, however. And the paradise part is based mostly on the wine and cheese.

  28. EddieInCA says:

    In the 1980’s, when Iran was doing all of it’s BS around the world, I remember a lovely woman bank teller, who was beautiful, and had a very ethnic looks. Being single, I asked her out, and surprisingly she said yes.

    Over dinner, I asked her her nationality, she responded “Persian”. I had never heard the term before, and when I dug deeper, it turned out she was Iranian, but was embarrassed to admit it due to what her native country was doing around the world. She was no fan of the Ayatollah.

    I think we’ll be seeing that in the near future with Russian women. They no longer will be “Russian”. They’ll be Mordvins, or Mari, or Karelians. Or they’ll align themselves with their grandparents and become Poles, Chechens, Serbians, Hungarians, etc.

  29. Sleeping Dog says:


    Actually, that would be giving the Russians a taste of their own medicine.

  30. Neil Hudelson says:


    I don’t care how fast it’s walking, I can easily keep up with a duck.

  31. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Lounsbury: Indeed! I remember in my distant past having heard a statement attributed to Stalin in which he called Hitler “a piker” IIRC. It was something on the order of having killed 12 million, and of his own people, not Jews.

  32. Kathy says:

    I think for the deranged right, the word “socialism” is like a stand in for “doubleplusungood.” It’s just a short way of saying “very, very, very, bad thing me no comprehend but know to be bad, bad, bad, very bad, many people say that.”

  33. Lounsbury says:

    @John430: Keep up with nursery rhymes? Really if you are going to try trolling, it should at least have some modicum of some threadbare coherency. Of course since your reply @john430 is scattershot mishmash of hand waiving and incoherent capitalisation including the pathetic idiocy of the formal name of the Nazis as if there is were some kind of telling point to not mentally impaired and over the age of say 14. In any case @JohnSF rather pointless to educate (rather queer ‘socialism’ of the Nazis with their alliance with the industrial magnates and sending the actual Lefties, socialists, communists and the like off to death camps, but…), if one is so lazy and pathetic in one’s trolling (or worse is actually so dim witted as to be sincere), there’s no real point. It’s not even particularly entertaining…. well except for the sheer bald faced stupidity of being a Trumpist troll calling Biden a Chamberlain while Trump continues to play in public way the Useful Idiot role for Putin. That’s modestly entertaining.

    For more serious @dazedandconfused, “we too are not immune” responds to something I did not say, to be precise. Of course combat stress induced lashing out is … well war is hell, it will happen. All the more so when irregular Partisans sniping at the Russians (which Western Twitter is unthinkingly cheering without reflexion on collateral effects).

    However what was profiled was clearly something more along the lines of hate actions – not simple conscripts lashing out nor mere day by day forraging violence – and that this maps well to the observation that it came with arrival a south-eastern separatist irregulars. Ideological irregulars in favour of Great Russia.

    One should indeed be careful not to simple drink the Ukrainian’s wartime agitprop (even being favourable to them) and crying genocide debases the word, but war crimes indeed. Not mere combat collateral damage, quite clearly war crimes.

  34. dazedandconfused says:

    My point is scared conscripts are more likely to succumb panic and becoming beastly than vets.

  35. DK says:


    And for good measure, Biden is auditioning as Neville Chamberlain’s stand-in.

    And over here in reality where we are not meth-addled QAnon crackheads, Biden used unprecedented public intel dumps to reuinte NATO in support of arming Ukraine into a fighting chance against Putin’s overrated army.

    Meanwhile Traitor Trump, who was impeached for illegally denying Ukraine military aid to blackmail Zelensky and weaken NATO on Putin’s behalf, Traitor Trump, praises Putin’s war crimes invasion as “savvy” and “genius” and born from “a lot of love.”

    Failed Trump Sec. of State Mike Pompeo praises Putin as “elegant” and deserving of “respect.”

    Russian state TV broadcasts Tucker Carlson’s pro-Putin Fox News propaganda unfiltered.

    Madison Cawthorn says Ukraine is “woke” and “evil.”

    Trump conservatives are enemies of America, Ukraine, and democracy — with nothing to offer but fear, hate, treason, book banning, forced birth, cocaine orgies, and lies. #StopPutin #SlavaUkraini

  36. Joh430 says:

    @Barry: Nazis killed over seven million people. Communism only killed 100 million so you want to give them another chance?

  37. JohnSF says:

    Update to my earlier remark about some being killed recently; this may be the case, but some satellite images indicate at least some bodies left in streets since mid-March.


    … scared conscripts…

    Russian policy was to use contract soldiers i.e. professionals for this operation, not concripts.
    Though with the usaul Russian organisational skills, it seems quite a lot of conscipts have ended up in-theatre.
    But the Ukrainian data on the 65th MRB, the main force in Bucha, indicates they were professional volunteers.

  38. JohnSF says:

    Update from Christo Grozev, Bellingcat Russia investigator:

    Along with our colleagues from
    are collecting evidence on who were responsible for the massacres. There’s evidence that 76th and 98th airborne assault divisions, as well as Kadyrov’s Rosgvardia units were located there. We are looking for more evidence now.

    And more on Apparent War Crimes in Russia-Controlled Areas by Human Rights Watch.

  39. dazedandconfused says:

    They may have been, and certainly Russian airborne is known to be trained in ways we never train our guys, they encourage a thug mentality. But that busted up armor in he streets didn’t come from airborne.

  40. JohnSF says:

    Appears several units in the area: 65th MRB, who’d definitely have armour; VDV airborne have a nasty rep; Kadyrovite Chechens also known for terror tactics.
    Proper investigation will take some time.