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A convenient moment for war crimes claims

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I DO not know if Russian troops carried out civilian atrocities in Bucha while they occupied it. What I do know is that I do not for one minute trust President Zelensky, western politicians from Joe Biden down or the corporate media to tell the truth in a one-sided propaganda war.

This is not to say that the Russians are not guilty of crimes. But it is well known that truth is the first casualty of war, an axiom that may have originated from Aeschylus, and also that truth matters even in war and especially this war.

Biden and the EU are using Bucha to tighten their sanctions screw on Russia in order to intensify and manipulate public anger against Vladimir Putin which is already high. Regardless of where the real blame lies for this war – and the origins are complex – everyone is on the side of Ukraine.

After six weeks of fighting, the credibility of both Nato and Russia is fully committed. Every day the fighting lasts, the less either side can afford to lose and the greater the risk of control being lost.

With headlines screaming about Russian atrocities, western politicians have more leeway to take risks their publics may not fully understand to corner the Kremlin by any means possible, an objective which the Russians claim has been America’s intention all along. The claim of war crimes in Bucha came at a convenient moment.

The West’s objective is to cripple the Russian economy severely enough to persuade Putin’s Kremlin allies to abandon him without provoking a wider war whose consequences could be nuclear in this hair-trigger moment.

Ageing and semi-senile Joe Biden is the public face of this delicate strategy. What could go wrong?

What we have seen from Bucha are photographs of a few bodies found lying in the street after the Russian army withdrew from the town. Zelensky says the Ukrainians found a mass grave containing 100 corpses. However, it would be odd if no civilians were killed during the fighting in the town where some of them had been armed by the government as part of its self-defence.

A boy told the BBC he had seen the Russians execute his father with a bullet in the back of the head but we have only his word, willingly swallowed by the media, that he was callously murdered.

The bodies of the dead men are a fact; the circumstances of their deaths are unsubstantiated. But they have provided Zelensky with the ammunition to demand a greater effort by Nato and a UN investigation which sounds impressive but in view of the UN’s impotence has no significance beyond the words themselves.

As the war which began on February 24 progresses in Russia’s favour, Zelensky is ever more desperately trying to shame the West into fighting it for him. The West’s separate but collusive agenda is to exploit the opportunity to destroy Putin and neutralise Russia without shedding a drop of Nato blood in either Ukraine or Russia.

The killing of civilians has been a feature of war throughout history but became deliberate military policy during the world wars of the 20th century. The SS roamed eastern Europe killing civilians in all the territories Germany conquered. Millions of men, women and children were murdered for no military purpose in Nazi concentration camps.

Millions of civilians were targeted in the US and British area-bombing of German cities and in Japan even before the atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The admitted purpose was to destroy civilian will to continue the war by killing them en masse. The policy’s immorality was recognised in the veil of silence thrown over RAF Bomber Command’s work when the war was over.

‘Are we beasts?’ Churchill asked after the destruction of Dresden which he himself had authorised. The question answered itself.

Civilian atrocities by all sides were widespread during the Yugoslav war where the murder of 4,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys after Bosnian Serbs captured Srebrenica shocked even the Serbs of Serbia proper. Syria’s President Assad used chemical weapons against civilians during the civil war without American sanction.

Nothing can banalise the wanton killing of non-combatants but even assuming the Russians did massacre civilians in Bucha, the fact is objectively incidental to the war and its causes. To pretend otherwise is as hypocritical as the West’s continued import of Russian oil and gas to safeguard its leaders from the political fallout of the economic consequences.

The purpose of propaganda is to incite irrationality on the part of those it is aimed at when self-interest would be to remain rationally aware of the dangers that can be incurred. In the case of Ukraine, these are potentially disastrous.

Biden has accused Putin of war crimes in Ukraine and wants him put on trial by the International Criminal Court. The Russian president certainly bears responsibility for all acts committed during the invasion by his army. Putin might for his part retort that under common law, Biden should be held accountable, as vice president at the time, for the unprovoked destruction of Libya from which its civilian population has never recovered.

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Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes
Donald Forbes is a retired Anglo-Scottish journalist now living in France who during a 40-year career worked in eastern Europe before and after communism.

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