FEBRUARY 17, 2023

Here’s a horrific account of Russian occupation policies at the beginning of the war:

Their theory of occupation was not new. Soviet soldiers entering the territory of eastern Poland or the Baltic states during World War II also arrived with lists of the types of people they wanted to arrest. In May 1941, Stalin himself provided such a list for occupied Poland. To the Soviet dictator, anyone linked to the Polish state—police, army officers, leaders of political parties, civil servants, their families—was a “counter-revolutionary,” a “kulak,” a “bourgeois,” or, to put it more simply, an enemy to be eliminated.

Russia made similar lists before invading Ukraine a year ago, some of which have become known. Ukraine’s president, prime minister, and other leaders featured on them, as did well-known journalists and activists. But Russian soldiers were not prepared to encounter widespread resistance, and they certainly did not expect to find loyal, conscientious, popularly elected small-town and village mayors.

Perhaps that explains why Marunyak, age 60, was punished with such horrific cruelty after the Russians arrested him on March 21. Along with a few other local men, the Stara Zburjivka mayor was kept blindfolded and handcuffed for three days. Russian soldiers beat him. They gave him nothing to eat and little to drink. One time he was stripped naked and forced to stay in the cold for several hours. A gun was held to his head, and he was threatened with drowning. He was told that his wife and daughters would also be captured. Once, he said, the soldiers choked him until he lost consciousness. They kept demanding to know where he kept his weapons. Because Marunyak fit into no category that the Russians could recognize—perhaps even because his local patriotism and his civic-mindedness seemed strange to them—they decided he must be a secret member of a Ukrainian “sabotage group.” He was not. He had no weapons and no military skills.

See also Human Rights Watch:

 Russian forces have tortured, unlawfully detained, and forcibly disappeared civilians in the occupied areas of Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions, Human Rights Watch said today. Russian forces have also tortured prisoners of war (POWs) held there.

“Russian forces have turned occupied areas of southern Ukraine into an abyss of fear and wild lawlessness,” said Yulia Gorbunova, senior Ukraine researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Torture, inhumane treatment, as well as arbitrary detention and unlawful confinement of civilians, are among the apparent war crimes we have documented, and Russian authorities need to end such abuses immediately and understand that they can, and will, be held accountable.”

I am reminded of the second worst piece of writing on the war (the worst remains Anatol Lieven’s rambling diatribe about how evacuating the US embassy in Kyiv was likely to start a war), Bob Wright’s response to Bucha:

Second, I think it’s important to understand how readily a wartime environment can carry the corruption to that level—why, in other words, atrocities aren’t as rare a feature of war as we might like to think, why for every large scale atrocity that’s uncovered, there are many small scale ones we never hear about. In the coming weeks or months, as Ukrainian and western leaders discuss what kinds of peace deals are and aren’t acceptable, they should keep in mind that more war will mean more war crimes—not just on the Russian side but, in all likelihood, on the Ukrainian side. As wars progress, the psychology that leads to war crimes can intensify, and that’s happening right now, on both sides. 

Yes, Bob is both sides-ing an invasion which led to an occupation which led to a series of horrific atrocities, and even weighing Bucha against future unnamed Ukrainian atrocities that might or might not happen. If you keep reading you’ll find lots of commentary about William Calley and some ruminations on the nature of evil, but very little at all in the way of direct condemnation of the nation that sent the army that committed the atrocities. It’s altogether more difficult for the target of the invasion, which at no point controlled any Russian territory, to conduct atrocities against Russian civilians in occupied Russian territory. One might imagine that this general assessment would lead to Bob condemning the folks who, as a point of policy, launched a massive invasion of a neighboring country, but as typical you’ll find only the most tepid condemnation of Russian behavior. For Bob, Russia can do no evil that it has not been provoked by the United States into doing. There’s no single person that I’ve lost more respect for over the last year than Bob Wright, who seems just completely incapable of updating any of his priors and is still, to this day, trying to figure out ways to justify Russia’s invasion.

In fact, we know that Russian forces are vastly more likely to commit atrocities than their Ukrainian counterparts if only because Russia troops have opportunities that Ukrainians do not. We also know that not all armies commit atrocities at the same rate. Armies that are well disciplined, well trained, and inculcated with a respect for the Law of Armed Conflict commit atrocities at a far lower rate than armies which are poorly trained and have no experience in creating an occupation authority. We also know that armies that fucking brag about the atrocities they have committed, are currently committing, and intend to continue committing in the future are, in fact, more likely to commit war crimes. 

Remember all this when you see people making the argument that Ukraine must be forced to concede territory to Russia. I think it’s important to approach this question with eyes open; I would not want to commit the United States to liberating every inch of Ukrainian territory, but nevertheless it’s absolutely crucial to understand what it means to subject Ukrainians to Russian occupation. A lot of “realists” would like to pretend that the people living in the occupied territories all prefer Russia anyway, but given the above testimony this is obviously not the case. Contra Bob, it’s not just “war” that introduces the opportunity for atrocities; a peace deal can also set the terms upon which an army can conduct all of the atrocities that it would like to perform.

Enter comments here: