Over the weekend, there was disturbing news from the areas of northern Ukraine that have been newly liberated from Russian occupation. As Ukrainian forces reclaim territory held by the invaders for the past few weeks, there are reports of atrocities by the retreating Russians.
Many of the reports are centered on the towns of Bucha and Irpin, which are located to the northwest of Kyiv. The Kyiv Independent has compiled pictures of dead civilians together with reports of mass graves, booby traps, and of course, looting and wanton destruction.
The pictures are hard to look at. Bodies litter the streets randomly with no weapons in evidence. Some of the dead appear to have been executed, their hands securely bound behind their backs. One man’s body was found trapped in a sewer where he was apparently tortured. Partially buried bodies are visible in a mass grave. There are reports of mass rape, even involving children, and the alleged massacre of all military-age males aged 16-60 in Bucha.
As a word of caution, not all of the new mass graves are the work of Russian forces. There are reports that Ukrainian forces have collected Russia’s victims that were left in the streets and buried them in common graves. Likewise, Ukrainians killed in the sieges of Mariupol and other cities have also been buried quickly in mass graves between artillery barrages and air strikes.
These were not our first indication of Russian atrocities. Over the past few weeks, there have been reports of Russian forces targeting schools, hospitals, and civilian bomb shelters. Beyond that, the entire war on Ukraine, based on lies and begun in blatant violation of international laws and norms, is a criminal act in and of itself.
Through it all, the only time I’ve heard of Russia investigating any aspect of the Ukraine war as a criminal act was a Ukrainian counterattack. When Ukrainian helicopters struck oil facilities in Belogorod, across the Ukrainian border in Russia, Tass reported that a criminal investigation into the attack was being opened.
Russia claimed to come into Ukraine as a peacekeeping force on a humanitarian mission. To date, thousands of Ukrainian civilians have died at the hands of their “liberators” while tens of thousands have reportedly been kidnapped and deported to parts unknown.
While this behavior might seem shocking to us, it’s par for the course for Ukrainians. Those who know the their history will remember that just over the past hundred years, Ukraine has repeatedly played the victim to its powerful neighbors. In the 1930s, Ukraine’s Russian “brothers” intentionally inflicted famine on the nation. Nearly four million Ukrainians died in the Holodomor. Russian treatment of Ukraine was so harsh that many Ukrainians were sympathetic to the German invaders in World War II, at least until the Nazis proved to be just as brutal as the Soviets.
Today’s Russian government is proving to be the moral and ethical heir to the Soviet government. The Soviets were responsible for millions of murders throughout their reign of terror including the Stalinist purges, the Holodomor, and the massacre of as many as 15,000 Polish prisoners at Katyn. The barbarism of the Putin regime may not have reached these heights yet, but when the massacres of Chechnya are included, Putin is well on his way.
While the world has mostly rallied to Ukraine’s aid against the “Orcs” (as Ukrainians have taken to calling the invaders), it has not been enough. While the West worries about escalating the conflict, Putin’s Russia escalates with mad abandon.
Putin’s Russia is showing the world that it is not a civilized nation. The Putin government should be treated like the barbarians that they are.
Obviously, there are limits to what Russia’s opponents can do without risking nuclear war. We aren’t going to launch a WWII-style drive on Moscow to topple the Putin regime.
We can do a lot more than we’ve been doing however. Isolating Russia with sanctions and providing Ukraine with military aid has been pivotal in the war so far, but it’s time to kick it up a notch.
With Ukraine’s survival assured and Russia in retreat, we need to up the ante. Ukraine needs to get the fighter jets that it has been asking for. They also need to get other weapons to help them push the Orcs back to Mount Doom. Ukraine needs to get tanks, helicopters, drones, surface-to-air missiles, and even volunteers that will enable them to push the invaders back across the border.
The sanctions need to be expanded. The world needs to find alternatives to Russian oil. Russian banks need to be cut off from SWIFT. Allied countries should also ratchet up the pressure on nations that are not participating in the sanctions. Congress should also mandate the withdrawal of American companies still doing business with Russia.
Russia must be completely isolated.
Russia needs to permanently lose its place on the G8 and lose its seat on the UN Security Council. This is a difficult prospect but not an impossible one. The United Nations needs to condemn and punish Russia for its aggression. Russians who participate in or order attacks on civilians should face prosecution in the International Criminal Court.
The West needs to communicate unequivocally that further escalation will mean that NATO directly enters the war. If the attacks on civilians continue, if Russia uses WMDs, or if one piece of ordnance lands on a NATO country, the US and NATO should respond swiftly, strongly, and directly.
Above all, Ukraine needs to be welcomed into the European Union and NATO, if not immediately then at the conclusion of the war. Other possible Russian targets such as Finland and Sweden should be granted membership as well.
The Russian war on Ukraine is unlike anything the West has seen since WWII. For Russia, however, the atrocities in Ukraine are not unlike its wars in Chechnya.
Vladimir Putin cannot be allowed to benefit from his aggression in Ukraine. While it’s unlikely that Putin will ever swing at the end of a rope like Saddam Hussein, he and his country need to be international pariahs. His aggression and crimes against humanity cannot stand.
Too often, the West has failed to stand against aggressive dictators, Putin included. Now, the world (and particularly China) is watching to see what happens. If Putin gains from his illegal and immoral war because the West fails to stand firmly with our ally, we may inadvertently usher in a new era of brutal and aggressive wars as the Pax Americana draws to a close. And it is highly probable that one of those wars will eventually result in the nuclear exchange that we sought to avoid.
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Agreed that Russian troops are behaving like criminal thugs without any restraint, and that this doctrine emanates from the Kremlin, from Putin. As for the laundry list to respond here, I have questions.
1. Who will fly the helicopters? Who will repair them? How will they be flown into the country?
2. Who will deliver the tanks? (Assuming they are old Soviet)
3. How will choppers and tanks help Ukraine when they need to be transported across the country where the war is going on?
4. How will we keep Russia from using illegal/underground economy to get cash? North Korea does it, Iran does it. Russian ships turn off their AIS transponders.
5. How could the UN expel Russia from the Security Council without rewriting the charter, and how can it be done over China's veto? Better to scrap the UN and start over?
6. Would we expect NATO to bypass all its rules as to how nations are admitted? What does that mean for countries who had to comply? Are all countries that are under attack now eligible?
7. What influence does the US have as to who the EU admits or doesn't?
8. If the US wanted to be directly involved, we have all the justification we need under the Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances. The UK is a full signatory and a NATO member. The US expressed formal support for the agreement. Russia violated it, and NATO can legally enforce it.
9. It's only a matter of time before Russia does something that incurs onto NATO territory, if the war continues.
10. After the war, the Steel Ring will replace the Iron Curtain. Russia will retreat behind it, leveraging blockchain currency, illegal oil, international fronts, and criminal organizations operating in the West to do business. The ISS will end. We will be back to blocs and Cold War tactics. War crimes and trials will be difficult.