Ukraine: How Bucha is Similar to Vladimir Putin's Campaigns in Chechnya & Syria

His past tactics have focused on indiscriminate killing of civilians and the demolition of civilian infrastructure.

4 min read
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With the emergence of as many as 410 bodies being found in Bucha over the weekend, a Ukrainian town 35 miles away from the capital, Kyiv, concrete evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine is coming to the fore day by day.

Harrowing images and testimonies have emerged from the city with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, saying that the Russians "killed civilians while staying there and when they were leaving these villages and towns."

Most of the corpses were those of civilians. Russia has denied any role in the alleged massacre, calling it "another production by the Kyiv regime for the Western media."

While the extent of the truth may be unknown, what we have observed in the past is that Russian President Vladimir Putin does not shy away from using tactics that involve the indiscriminate killing of civilians and the absolute destruction of civilian infrastructure.

There is evidence for the same in at least two of Putin's past campaigns.

The first one is the Russian offensive against Muslim rebels in Grozny (Chechnya) in 1999. The second one is the Russian bombing of Aleppo (Syria) in 2016.


Razing Grozny to the Ground

In 2003, the United Nations stated that Grozny (the capital of the Muslim-majority Chechnya region) was the most destroyed city on Earth.

The reason for that is the relentless bombing that the city witnessed four years ago in 1999.

The man behind those bombings was Vladimir Putin.

The Second Chechen War began in 1999, after a series of bombings targeting four apartment blocks in Moscow, Buynaksk, and Volgodonsk in September 1999. More than 300 died.

Chechen militants were accused of the attack, but the rebels never claimed responsibility for the attack.

Those bombings, along the war in Dagestan, served as the casus belli for a Russian assault on Chechnya, aimed at crushing the secessionist and insurgent groups in the region.

Putin was prime minister at the time, under President Boris Yeltsin. The former was not expecting the Chechens to put a serious fight.

When his initial campaign failed to win decisively, Putin sent thousands of Russian troops and ordered the aerial and artillery bombardment of Grozny, completely flattening the capital.

Thousands of civilians lost their lives in the Russian attacks.

Analysts agree that this was no accident. The logic is that brute force, through the indiscriminate use of bombs and artillery, will crush the will of the people, will end their resistance, and lead to capitulation.

The carpet-bombing of the capital eventually worked, and ended with Kremlin-puppet Akhmad Kadyrov being installed to rule the region. At present, his son Ramzan Kadyrov controls Chechnya and has reportedly sent thousands of Chechen troops to Ukraine to fight for Russia.

British journalist Thomas de Waal, while talking to NPR about the parallels between Ukraine and Chechnya, said, "The use of heavy artillery, the indiscriminate attacking of an urban center, they bring back some pretty terrible memories for those of us who covered the Chechnya war of the 1990s."


Aerial Bombing of Aleppo 

Grozny was not the only time Putin's military destroyed a civilian area.

The Syrian city of Aleppo was so ruthlessly bombed by the Russian Air Force and the Syrian Air Force in 2016 that it came to symbolise the extent to which they were willing to go to crush any resistance against President Bashar al-Assad.

For example, Russia bombed Al-Sakhour Hospital at least four times, sparking international outrage. What did Russia do in response?

A Russian general organised a press conference and asserted that the photos, videos, and eyewitness statements that brought Russian atrocities to light were "plain forgeries". Sounds familiar?

Hospitals and residential areas were aerially bombarded in at least a dozen other instances during the Aleppo offensive. Thousands fled.

Those who weren't blown away had to endure extreme hardship because food and water supply had been cut off by the aggressors, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Eventually, in December 2016, Assad recaptured the rebel strongholds of the city, possibly a turning point of the civil war that he successfully fought with Russian and Iranian support.

Human rights groups concluded that Russian actions in Aleppo were equivalent to war crimes.

"Airstrikes often appeared to be recklessly indiscriminate, deliberately targeted at least one medical facility, and included the use of indiscriminate weapons such as cluster munitions and incendiary weapons," an HRW report concluded.

And the same is happening in Ukraine – in Bucha, in Mariupol, in Chernihiv, and in Kharkiv among other cities.

"We, as Syrians, are really saddened to see the same atrocities that we have been suffering from, and we have been calling for the world to stop, are now repeated," Habib of the White Helmets (an anti-Assad volunteer organisation) told Washington Post.

“And we see that as a direct result for the lack of accountability for what happened previously in Crimea and in Syria," he added.

(With inputs from NPR and Washington Post)

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