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First of all, I believe that killing unarmed civilians is evil. But I know that this is not a problem for many leaders, including Putin, so I'm taking morality out of the equation in my question.

I completely fail to understand why the Russian military would do things like indiscriminate killing of civilians in places like Bucha, and why their commanders and top politicians would allow that.

To clarify what answer I am looking for: what Russia is doing in Mariupol is evil, but I can understand what their strategy is. They want to take Mariupol at any cost, and since they didn't manage to do it with infantry, they use indiscriminate shelling to create hellish conditions for the defenders.

But I cannot see any reasons why the Russian military would want to indiscriminately kill civilians on territories that had already been under Russian control. If they, for example, regarded Ukrainians as an inferior race that needs to be exterminated, that would be an evil reason to perform such acts, but there would be some consistency in it. But that doesn't seem to be the case.

What seems to be happening here are acts that go against the goals of Russia. It would make it more difficult to establish a pro-Russian government. It would create even more bad press for Russia.

There might be some consistency in it if Russia officially declared that it doesn't care about human rights. But Russia does want to be seen as a country that cares about human rights. Otherwise Putin wouldn't need to state that the reason for the "special military operation" is preventing genocide, and could simply admit that he wants to take the territory that he believes should belong to Russia and that he doesn't care how many civilian lives it will take.

And even if they intend to blame the Ukrainians for the massacres, it doesn't make much sense. They blamed the Ukrainians for a genocide in Donbass, even though there had been no proof that any genocide happened, and that propaganda seemed to work well within Russia. Which means that it's simpler to just blame somebody for committing atrocities, and there is no need to commit actual atrocities to do that.

Can somebody explain it?

0

12 Answers 12

34

I am not sure why you would think that Russia's "official declarations" have any weight. Russian lying has been one of the most consistent elements of this war. Nor do I understand why you think that Russia would try to build good will for the sake of a future peace.

There is little doubt, and a great deal of evidence, to suggest that Russia is pursuing the long-term strategy of terror. Terrorizing the civilian population is not a bug, it's a feature of Russia's efforts. Russia has

  • deliberately bombed hospitals,
  • kidnapped thousands of civilians and force-relocated them,
  • killed and/or kidnapped local mayors and other elected officials,
  • bombed civilian administrative buildings and residential buildings,
  • created conditions in which soldiers had no restrains and had all the motivation to rape, torture and kill civilians. The killings in Bucha were conducted in many, many places within ear-shots of officers' living quarters. Clearly the officers, at the very least, knew about them.

Russia has a history of using terror as a war strategy.

  • Russia has killed large swaths of its own citizens in Chechnya to put down the rebellion there through sheer terror. Civilians were targeted first and foremost. It has worked out for Russia in Chechnya because Chechens are now compliant.
  • Russia has used chemical weapons to put down a rebellion in Syria. It worked. The rebellion ended.

Russia is using terror because until now the world has looked away and Russia was able to achieve its ends by using terror.

You maybe thinking that Russia would not do that for some moral reasons, but there is no evidence that Russia applies any level of deference to any population that isn't highly compliant.

In free countries, populations can entertain, and often act on, some wacky ideas. The trick to running a free country is to have mechanism for maintaining law and order even when people are unpredictable and highly non-compliant.

But Russia is not a free country. Terrorizing the non-compliant populations, until desired outcomes are achieved, is a traditional, rather than esoteric, tool of tyrannies.

The question is really not would Russia do it. The question is why would anyone be even surprised that Russia would do it.

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  • 7
    "You maybe thinking that Russia would not do that for some moral reasons" -> Could you please read my question before answering? I specifically stated that killing unarmed civilians is not a problem for Putin, and that for that reason I'm taking morality out of the equation. I know that morality wouldn't stop them from doing that, but I still think that they would kill civilians only if that helped them achieving the goals of the invasion.
    – michau
    Apr 4 at 17:06
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    @michau I think I answered your question though. The goal of the actions is to create widespread terror.
    – wrod
    Apr 4 at 17:08
  • 7
    If they wanted to spread terror, they wouldn't deny that they did it. Terrorist groups don't deny responsibility for attacks. On the contrary, sometimes they even try to take credit for attacks they didn't perform, so that they can use the caused terror to their advantage. Denying responsibility is totally counterproductive.
    – michau
    Apr 4 at 17:15
  • 23
    @michau It's very possible to spread terror in Ukraine, and at the same time deny it to a broader international audience. This achieves the purpose of trying to suppress non-compliance in Ukraine, and at the same time it tries to minimize consequences from the international community.
    – tim
    Apr 4 at 19:09
  • 8
    @michau actually, most civilians in Russia do disapprove war crimes and terrorism. They would really dislike the government if it just said that these actions do happen, and purposely. Instead, the government plays for the domestic audience to look like saviors (of the Russian speakers in Donbass), and it's required to present the same to the international audience, in order to monsterize the West, to make it look Russophobic. Typical Russian propaganda is like "see how they dismiss whatever we say, the USA is manipulating them against Russia, they are supporting nazis, and we are lily-white"
    – Ruslan
    Apr 4 at 22:05
26

It's probably a mix of different factors, as others have noted:

  • "Nazis". Well, Nazis are "bad people" and since the troops were told Ukrainians were "Nazis", you get the treatment of civilians you'd expect from that, especially from a country whose self-justification for Stalin's decades of abuse towards its own citizens is "fighting Nazis".

  • Russian modus operandi. This is really no different from Chechnya, where numerous abuses of civilians happened and justice was lenient. Or Syria where the Russian backing for Assad was ruthless. Once you kill civilians for strategic reasons, how do you draw the line at what's just sadism? Watching the Russian army operate feels a lot like looking an earlier time in Western military customs. Even then, few troops would have done this on the ground, rather than through bombing civilian areas. And not to their supposed "ethnic brothers".

  • Uncontrolled, undisciplined, scared troops. The Russian army is not doing well, going through a meatgrinder, after being badly equipped and ineptly led. They are refusing orders and surrounded by angry civilians and are getting ambushed. It would take a lot of discipline to get them to respect the laws of war in all cases. This is not this war and Russia, under Putin, is not that country. This will probably only get worse as both sides get more hardened and this is probably the biggest single direct contributor. However, the nature of this type of massacre is their spontaneity. If this repeats often as Russian troops retreat, then it will start looking less like uncontrolled events and more like policy, or at least an institutional predisposition to facilitate such events.

  • There is a last, even more disturbing possibility. One historian cited by Dan Carlin in his Supernova in the East podcast briefly mentions that Japanese war crimes against POWs and non-combatants may have occurred by policy. What the quote claimed was a deliberate policy, by local officers, to cut off Japanese troops from the possibility of surrender: after what the troops did, what they were ordered to do, how could they expect to be treated if they surrender? Your fate is tied to the boss's. You could even have the same phenomenon, going up, to political leaders, rather than down, to troops. Officers out-Putinning Putin and making damn sure the war can't be wound down. Examples of this are the various Manchurian incidents staged by hardcore junior Japanese officers in the 30s and some actions by French army officers in Algeria in the 50s.

  • To be exhaustive, there's a last possibility, that it didn't happen and that it's a staged, fake, situation. You can look at years of Kremlin spin control and judge for yourself how likely that is. But you can also look at the expected benefits for Ukraine and the West from a potential disinformation. Truth is, there aren't many by this point. Zelensky had to say peace talks are still on. Ukraine handily won the public relations battle 6 weeks ago, it might get some more weapons but otherwise NATO has no choice but to keep its troops away from direct confrontation with a nuclear state. If Ukraine was to negotiate the end to this conflict war crimes like this give Zelensky less room to make any concessions requiring a referendum. This is nowhere as convenient for the West as the Putin cheerleader brigade would have us think and the downside to getting caught out in a quite-likely-to-be-found-out lie would be massive for Ukraine. Occam's Razor seems to apply quite well: it's vanishingly unlikely to be anything but a Russian war crime. Just like people claiming Abu Ghraib was fake had to end up eating their words.

Speaking of which, the BBC has an article debunking some of the talking points of Russian claims of fakery.

4
  • About the "supernova in the east" policy - the difference is that surrender is not on the table; so are you arguing that these incidents will prevent the Ukrainian leadership from allowing the war to wind down? Or the western powers?
    – einpoklum
    Apr 5 at 22:55
  • @einpoklum By supernova's take, being held accountable for those atrocities make surrender less attractive to individual Russian soldiers. On the Algerian war/Manchurian end, negotiations to end this conflict are made significantly harder for the Russian government: calls for Putin to be indicted for war crimes are likely to cause it to dig in its heels. Good either way, if you're a Russian officer with a maximalist nationalist bend. Conspiracy minded? Yes, I am not arguing for them, just listing the possibility. Apr 5 at 23:08
  • Sorry, I misspoke when I said "are you"; it should have been "is he".
    – einpoklum
    Apr 5 at 23:09
  • Oh, Supernova in the East and Carlin are not covering this. But the Japanese treatment of POWs and civilians were just as anomalous in their times as this is and it was an interesting, novel, take on atrocities which I thought had a possible parallel here. Carlin's an awesomely cynical guy in a way. Japan had behaved more honorably in the past, during WW1 for example, so just blaming their culture may or may not reflect the whole story. Apr 5 at 23:16
18

Besides some possible pure revenge killings when withdrawing (not unheard of in other wars/armies), from what I understood from the Western reporting on the matter, males were shot after being interrogated about digging ditches etc., so presumed to have supported the Ukrainian defense one way or the other. So Russian soldiers were probably trying to implement a crude version of the (alleged) filtration camps used in Chechnya and possibly in the DNR/LDP.

Also, Russian soldiers were seen somewhat indiscriminately shooting up civilian vehicles (e.g.). Although no vehicle-borne IEDs were reported in this war insofar, you could clearly see some Ukrainian military personnel move in civilian vehicles, and sometimes transporting ammunition that way as well. Some of the (allegedly) intercepted comms between the Russian forces seem to back up this theory, i.e. orders to shoot when in the slightest doubt as to status of people seen in the field.

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    You are severely white washing what happened. The killings and tortures were indiscriminate. They are fully evidenced. This was not done to achieve any military goals. I have seen pictures of children with their hands tied and executed naked. There are multiple reports of rapes both vaginal and anal of prepubescent girls. The pictures have been published by photo-journalists from multiple countries. And they have been published in multiple publications in multiple countries.
    – wrod
    Apr 4 at 14:51
  • 5
    "...a crude version of the (alleged) filtration camps used in Chechnya..." Could the answer maybe directly include a short description of what the alleged filtration camps used in Chechnya were? It seems to be the direct answer here, so putting it in a link might be too far away.
    – Trilarion
    Apr 4 at 14:54
  • 2
    The town was overrun on the firsr day of the invasion if I'm not mistaken. What kind of Ukrainian defense could they partake in, and why the retribution would happen a month later in an open street?
    – alamar
    Apr 4 at 18:14
  • 4
    @alamar: And according to Wikipedia, Bucha was not fully occupied until March 12, with the fighting going back and forth for a couple of weeks.
    – Fizz
    Apr 4 at 18:58
  • 2
    Yes, that's weird - if Russia had firm control of the territory I would expect the bodies would be cleaned off the streets. In Mariupol, citizens bury their dead even as the city is shelled constantly from both sides. This is only possible if the street was an area of constant shooting for two weeks.
    – alamar
    Apr 5 at 11:56
9

The goals of Putin’s regime w.r.t. Ukraine appear similar to those of Hitler and Stalin previously. Putin’s regime goals include occupation of the Ukrainian land via direct annexation of all or part of Ukraine to Russia, or changing the regime of Ukraine to a pro-Russian one, similar to that of Yanukovich.

Ukraine is economically and geopolitically important to Putin’s regime primarily as a land mass. It is acceptable if it is occupied by a population friendly to Russians, but failing that, by Russians themselves.

In that respect, the friendly Ukrainian population alternative did not materialize so far. Hence, we see the other alternative in action: mass killings of Ukrainian civilians and other war crimes in order to scare the rest into submission, and to free parts of the Ukrainian land to be settled later by the Russians.

Similar practices were carried out by Hitler in WWII and by Stalin during the repression and Holodomor starvation periods before WWII. The fact that Putin’s government banned Memorial, an organization dedicated to the historical studies and education about the time of Stalin’s rule, is relevant to this issue as well.

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    The crucial question is if that is an isolated incident or not. If not, you're right. If it is, it could still be the act of individual Russian soldiers not sharing "the values" of Russia as a whole. One would then expect Russia to be fully compliant with any investigation and trying to exert justice on those responsible. We will see. So far they are still in denial. According to the Russian foreign minister this is all fake. Ukrainians shoot themselves.
    – Trilarion
    Apr 4 at 15:34
  • 1
    @Trilarion One would expect Russia to be fully compliant with any investigation? I recall no instance in history where a government has welcomed investigations into its own military's bad actions; that's always considered an internal affair, to be handled discreetly if possible. The US certainly hasn't welcomed investigations to its war crimes.
    – prosfilaes
    Apr 4 at 21:55
  • 1
    @prosfilaes You're right. That would be very good actually (if you want to act humanly), but probably is asking for too much. More realistic would be some kind of cooperation like Russia conducting it's own investigation and potential punishment of personal there and make the findings of the investigation public. But for that they first have to acknowledge that something may have happened. So far, they are denying it completely.
    – Trilarion
    Apr 5 at 8:47
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    @Trilarion "The crucial question is if that is an isolated incident or not." There are lots of rumors, that much worse situation was in Borodianka. Maybe waiting for international investigation before publicly announcing. We'll know soon. Apr 5 at 10:18
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    If the options for Russia were a friendly population in Ukraine or ethnic cleansing, then Bucha-type action makes no sense: It's not an attempt to extreminate or drive off the general population, and has an abysmal effect on the population's perception of the Russian forces.
    – einpoklum
    Apr 5 at 23:00
7

This is only a suspicion, but it seems to fit the facts.

One of Russia's lines of argument has been that Ukraine is run by Neo-Nazis. To the West, that has seemed nonsensical, and has been ignored. To quote this BBC news story:

The exact end goal of Russia's invasion has not been made explicit, but President Vladimir Putin described the aims as the "demilitarisation" and "denazification" of Ukraine, characterising the government's leaders as a neo-Nazi junta killing millions in a genocide of Russian speakers.

If this is what Russia has told its soldiers, it's believable that they would seek to kill some of the "Nazis" or "Nazi supporters" before pulling out of an area. The Great Patriotic War against the actual Nazis was a formative experience for the Soviet Red Army, and is still important in the culture of the Russian Ground Forces, which descend from the Red Army.

If this suspicion is correct, then Putin is using the spectre of Nazism for a purpose nearly as foul as the conduct of actual Nazis, and will presumably try to paint Ukraine's supporters in the wider world as supporters of Neo-Nazis.

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    that has seemed nonsensical: this IS nonsensical. A jewish, russian native speaker should be a Ukrainian Nazi? Really? Said by a despot that wants to "clean" it's own population of traitors? Russia as a country has much larger right-wing problems than Ukraine, especially when it comes down to anti-semitism, so this reason is simply nonsensical. It doesn't just seem so. I agree that this is the main, although completely unfounded, narrative why Russia is invading.
    – Mayou36
    Apr 4 at 18:07
  • 1
    @Mayou36 I think the word "seemed" is useful in the context it is used. I find a common pattern of misunderstanding in humans is that, if we "know" something is true/false without any shadow of a doubt, we find it very difficult to consider that someone else may believe otherwise. Some words like these are useful to soften our assumptions. But to dismiss it entirely leaves us confused as to how one could possibly undertake actions that are "justified" by those beliefs they might hold.
    – Cort Ammon
    Apr 4 at 21:10
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    The general Russian on the street does not understand the fascism/nazism under their scientific definition. It is more of a "someone fighting against us".
    – fraxinus
    Apr 5 at 6:44
  • This line of argument is raised here: twitter.com/paulmasonnews/status/1510893268682383364 from Russian ria.ru/20220403/ukraina-1781469605.html - the intent to purge Ukraine is clear, which implies mass murder.
    – pjc50
    Apr 5 at 8:02
  • @CortAmmon there are two things: what is perceived and what is, to the best of our all knowledge. We know that this doesn't just seem non-sensical, but is (by any definition of Nazism, Zelensky is not a Nazi). Now, this does not invalidate what soldiers or the general population perceive it as such, I very much agree with you. But part of the propaganda is to make the distinction between facts and opinions blurry: portraying something as two opinions and then saying "they're both valid" - they're clearly not. Let's just make sure to not trap into this let's call a horse is a horse ;)
    – Mayou36
    Apr 5 at 8:54
6

Yesterday there was published an article on ria.novosti (original link, and wayback machine link) that describes plans of "denazification" of Ukraine, that, in my opinion, fulfills the definition of genocide.

Some translated quotations:

The Nazis who took up arms should be destroyed to the maximum on the battlefield. No significant distinction should be made between the APUand the so-called national battalions, as well as the territorial defense that joined these two types of military formations. All of them are equally involved in extreme cruelty against the civilian population, equally guilty of the genocide of the Russian people, do not comply with the laws and customs of war. War criminals and active Nazis should be exemplarily and exponentially punished. There must be a total lustration. Any organizations that have associated themselves with the practice of Nazism have been liquidated and banned. However, in addition to the top, a significant part of the masses, which are passive Nazis, accomplices of Nazism, are also guilty. They supported and indulged Nazi power. The just punishment of this part of the population is possible only as bearing the inevitable hardships of a just war against the Nazi system, carried out with the utmost care and discretion in relation to civilians. Further denazification of this mass of the population consists in re-education, which is achieved by ideological repression (suppression) of Nazi attitudes and strict censorship: not only in the political sphere, but also necessarily in the sphere of culture and education.

The name "Ukraine" apparently cannot be retained as the title of any fully denazified state entity in a territory liberated from the Nazi regime.

Denazification will inevitably also be a de-Ukrainization - a rejection of the large-scale artificial inflation of the ethnic component of self-identification of the population of the territories of historical Little Russia and New Russia, begun by the Soviet authorities. Being an instrument of the communist superpower, after its fall, artificial ethnocentrism did not remain ownerless. In this official capacity, he passed under the authority of another superpower (the power standing over the states) — the superpower of the West. It must be returned to its natural boundaries and deprived of political functionality.

Unlike, say, Georgia and the Baltic countries , Ukraine, as history has shown, is impossible as a nation state, and attempts to "build" one naturally lead to Nazism. Ukrainism is an artificial anti-Russian construction that does not have its own civilizational content, a subordinate element of an alien and alien civilization. Debanderization by itself will not be enough for denazification - the Bandera element is only a performer and a screen, a disguise for the European project of Nazi Ukraine, therefore the denazification of Ukraine is also its inevitable de-Europeanization.

The Bandera elite must be eliminated, its re-education is impossible.

So the strategic reason is to remove Ukrainians as a nation.

UPDATE
To add a second source, U.S. Representative to the Office of the United Nations and Other International Organizations in Geneva warned on February 21

I would like to bring to your attention disturbing information recently obtained by the United States that indicates that human rights violations and abuses in the aftermath of a further invasion are being planned. These acts, which in past Russian operations have included targeted killings, kidnappings/forced disappearances, unjust detentions, and the use of torture, would likely target those who oppose Russian actions, including Russian and Belarusian dissidents in exile in Ukraine, journalists and anti-corruption activists, and vulnerable populations such as religious and ethnic minorities and LGBTQI+ persons. Specifically, we have credible information that indicates Russian forces are creating lists of identified Ukrainians to be killed or sent to camps following a military occupation.

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    Who actually wrote that article? A government spokesperson? A media pundit? A blogger? This context would be important to understand if this is actually official government policy or just a personal opinion of a single anti-Ukrainian extremist with no direct control over the actions of Russian soldiers.
    – Philipp
    Apr 4 at 11:15
  • 1
    @Philipp From the small photo next to the name Тимофей Сергейцев, it looks like the author is this one: svpressa.ru/persons/timofey-sergeycev a political analyst? So maybe just a media pundit?
    – Trilarion
    Apr 4 at 11:45
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    @Philipp "Political strategist, writer, philosopher". You do not expect official governmental stance "yes, we are performing genocide", do you? We are talking about a country that punishes "misinformation" about the war up to 15 years in jail. Such an article in governmental news agency is the closest acknowledgement we can get. Apr 4 at 11:45
  • 5
    This appears to be a media columnist with extremist views and a belief in global conspiracy. His views in this article are in direct opposition to Putin's essay on the subject. Perhaps this is the only kind of opposition still allowed in Russia... guys so crazy that they make Putin look soft in comparison.
    – HK-51
    Apr 4 at 12:09
  • 5
    Well, you can't have definite answer why they are doing it, unless you can get into their heads. Still "to perform genocide" is one of options. And we shouldn't dismiss it just because it puts us outside our comfort zone. Apr 4 at 13:21
5

There are at least 3 strategic goals that Russia could gain by openly committing genocide

1. Break the will to resist

This strategy is not new, it was broadly used by Mongols and Assyrians, but also Romans and Greeks have slaughtered the whole cities. It's a clear message. If you will resist us, every single one of you will be killed, even women and children.

2. Refugee crisis

This is something that Russia has tried in 2021. Flood the EU with millions of refugees, breaking social security systems and causing the rise of populist dictatures, like the one of Orban, which are easy to undermine and control.

3. Madman strategy

Putin's thread to start a nuclear war if the West will interfere wasn't taken seriously as it would mean killing at least of 90% population worldwide, and would be a suicide on a national level. By ordering to kill civilians at will Putin would send a signal human life means so little to him, that he'll be able to start nuclear war to achieve his goals.

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    If these are their strategic goals, why are they denying that they did these killings? It doesn't make sense. Look at the Nazis, for example. They were terrifying, because they made it clear that they could shoot any civilian in the occupied areas at any time. Pretending to be nice would be counterproductive.
    – michau
    Apr 5 at 14:30
  • 1
    @michau "why are they denying that they did these killings?" To keep the population in Russia at ease maybe? The signal to the outside world could be that they are willing to do everything and to the Russian world that nothing has happened really.
    – Trilarion
    Apr 5 at 15:54
  • @michau Nazis were doing exactly the same as their successors now: they were hiding the atrocities from their own population. Russian officials are perfectly aware that nobody in the West, except a small pack of trolls is stupid enough to believe anything from their lies. Those are obviously directed to the own population. Apr 6 at 20:00
  • @michau you keep commenting under the assumption that terrorists want to take responsibility for their actions. This has only been observed when the terrorists are non-state actors. When non-state actors want to attract attention to some cause, they attract attention to themselves because it gives them a chance to talk about their cause. But state actors, which use terror, also simultaneously demand that their population views them as benevolent. Yes, it's a contradiction, but they demand this contradiction be believed. It's where the irony of the "dear leader" expression comes from.
    – wrod
    Apr 6 at 20:29
3

Your question implies that the moral price of mass killing of civilians for the ordinary soldiers is high and the expected outcome has to be comparably important.

This is plain wrong.

The Russian society has decades of profound indoctrination against the nazism / fascism as seen in the WW2.

But there is a catch: the average Russian on the street and the average Russian soldier in particular does not know neither the strong definition of the nazism or fascism, nor some particular properties that can be used to recognize them.

Should they know something like this, the indoctrination would not be possible, because in fact they lived in an improved variety of fascism.

This is why, the question who is nazi or fascist is left to the country's leadership.

These two words are understood as synonyms and used as a general insult in politics-related discussions.

The main indoctrination point is that fascists are not human.

Being non-human lowers the standard of dealing with them to a great extent - in general, to the level of dealing with cattle. These are killed/slaughtered on "as practical" basis, they don't have any other right to live besides being useful.

This said, much weaker goals are ok to be implemented like this.

Edit:

Like:

  • Boast at least partial success in the proposed ethnical cleansing ("get rid of the nazis" for a great deal of Russians means exactly an ethnical cleansing).
  • Encourage the Ukrainians to leave their settlements when the Russian army approaches. This will increase the refugee burden for Ukraine and the Ukraine-supporting neighbouring countries.
  • Discourage Russian soldiers contemplating the idea of desertion or surrender and becoming a POW. Their chance of survival is substantially lowered after news like these propagate.
  • Skip the humanitarian support effort and expenses.
4
  • "Your question implies that the moral price of mass killing of civilians is high" -> No it doesn't. I have stated that the moral price of mass killing of civilians is low for Putin, and that I'm taking morality out of the equation. But even if the moral price of mass murder was zero, I still can't see what advantages Russia got by killing people in Bucha. What is that "expected outcome" that they wanted to achieve by killing civilians?
    – michau
    Apr 5 at 9:49
  • What I meant is that the price is low for the ordinary soldiers, not only for Putin. A reasonable army will refuse orders like this (examples do exist). I'll add some of these expected outcomes.
    – fraxinus
    Apr 5 at 10:17
  • Thanks for the edit. If these were their goals, they would have been saying openly that they did the killings, wouldn't they?
    – michau
    Apr 5 at 14:34
  • Why they have to? Everyone gets the message.
    – fraxinus
    Apr 6 at 2:45
2

Strategically, killing everyone in an area and claiming its resources can be useful.

Ukraine has lots of natural resources. Ukraine has a population that doesn't want to do what Putin tells it to do. Putin killing and driving off the population and replacing it with a population that is amenable to following orders has strategic advantages.

This is known as genocide and ethnic cleansing.

Creating a smoke screen that you aren't doing this, together with propaganda efforts to create allies to buy that story, can be sufficient. People will buy almost any lie; there are people who believe the earth is flat, the moon landing is faked, covid 19 vaccines are more dangerous than covid 19, and the holocaust never happened. All utter nonsense, but believed by significant numbers of people.

Simply commit mass murder of civilians who aren't cowed by you, make up nonsense lies about it: that the murder was deserved, and that they killed themselves, and that no murder happened, and that it was a false flag, and that the other side did it already so it isn't that bad. Push those nonsense stories everywhere, and market it well, and you'll get people using some arbitrary subset of your lies as excuses to support you.

It is the simple calculus of Fascism. Get in line, and you can identify with the Fascists. Oppose, and get oppressed or brutally killed.

As horrible as these tactics are, they work; there are many countries that survived this way for decades. The key to them is generally that the wealth of the Fascist state is insufficiently dependent on the people who produce it, so slaughtering them/driving them off/etc doesn't weaken the state enough for it to collapse.

A Fascist state might prefer a conquered people to kneel down and fall in line. But a resource-filled territory full of dead civilians is easier to exploit than the same territory full of malcontents and rebels.

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    "Ukraine has lots of natural resources" - that's a surprising statement considering its abysmal economical performance since 1991 and recurring trade deficit.
    – alamar
    Apr 4 at 21:31
  • 3
    @alamar Russia is at least partially responsible for the substandard economic performance of Ukraine.
    – fraxinus
    Apr 5 at 10:31
  • 1
    Nobody is responsible for anybody else's economic performance - economy does not work that way. You can argue that USA is responsible for abysmal performance of Cuba, but in reality, Cuba could either get on better terms with its largest neighbour or get their act together in any other way.
    – alamar
    Apr 5 at 11:02
  • 1
    @alamar Countries that are under threat of invasion, or actually being invaded, are poor places to invest in all things being equal. And your question was "it is surprising" not "it is a fault"; the fact that Ukraine has been under geopolitical threat since it was independent is an obvious reason why its economy isn't doing as well as it would otherwise be doing, given its natural resources. In addition, you can determine its natural resources without looking at its economic output, and yes, it has lots of them.
    – Yakk
    Apr 5 at 17:03
  • 1
    @Yakk There's no reason why Ukraine would be considered under threat of invasion pre-2014. In 2013, Belarus has GDP/capita of $8k whilst Ukraine just $4k.
    – alamar
    Apr 5 at 17:12
1

Likely no.

This looks more like a breach of the military discipline and spontaneous act of revenge due lack of the self-control. Deciding from the scale, the breach likely occurred somewhere high in the military hierarchy. Some orders or at least permissions were given to the ordinary soldiers. Still I do not say that the nation who did is not responsible.

Probably none of the fighting sides would have authorized such an action intentionally with cold mind, as well as no any single third country. This does not help to win the actual fighting in any way, just a waste of resources. Digging out the truth will now discredit them below the true Nazi of the WWII, regardless whom. True Nazi were doing punitive actions where they saw them as relevant, but were not permitted by they commanders to shot anyone on sight just for sport.

And finding the truth with evidences is probable, as the scale of the action is too big, there are too many people involved, too many traces left - it will be short work for a competent criminal investigator. Will be seen.

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    "This looks more like..." Can you give more details why it looks to you more like that? I have difficulties understanding the arguments. The second paragraph seems to argue solely based on "it would not look good, so they probably didn't want that". But maybe the Russian army simply did not expect to retreat so soon there and miscalculated that anyone would get to know about it that soon. Don't want to say you're wrong, but isn't it quite speculative?
    – Trilarion
    Apr 4 at 14:52
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    @Trilarion yes, it is a speculation. And to a large extent it is not born out by the facts. Russian military has been targeting civilian targets from the start. Terror is a strategy Russia has used before, in Syria, for example. There is no reason to think that Russia would not use terror, as a strategy, again.
    – wrod
    Apr 4 at 14:58
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    @Trilarion As far as I know, first reports of mass killings started appearing just days before the Russian army started retreating. At that point, the Russian army knew they may need to retreat soon.
    – michau
    Apr 4 at 16:09
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    @michau I think that observation is selection bias due to the fact that Ukrainians could not easily observe civilians under Russian control while the Russians were still present. We have every reason to believe that the brutalization of civilians started on day 1, and not on day 30+. Apr 4 at 20:17
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    @LawnmowerMan Yes. You can find, for example, tons of online pictures from Russian-occupied Kherson.
    – michau
    Apr 4 at 22:00
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Like in other massacres (such as the one in Srebrenica), the murder victims are (almost?) all men. This is because of the idea that men between 18 and 60 are considered able to fight against the Russian occupation. Therefore, the reasoning is, that by killing all men between 18 and 60, nobody left alive can fight the occupation.

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(This answer is speculative and therefore may be completely wrong)

Postulate: a rogue Russian-aligned unit was responsible.

The reason is that there don't seem to be any good strategic reasons for Russia to slaughter Ukrainian civilians. The most obvious reason is to spread terror, but for terror to be effective, you need to do more than kill people in limited fashion. Here's a historical example of what was perhaps the most effective terror campaign in history - the one by the Mongols.

The success of Mongol tactics hinged on fear to induce capitulation of enemy populations ... The linchpin of Mongol success was the widespread perception by their enemies that they were facing an insurmountable juggernaut that could be placated only by surrender. The Mongols may have counted on reports of horrifying massacres and torture to terrify their foes. The goal was to convince all that the costs of surrendering were not nearly onerous enough to risk an unwinnable war, with a guarantee of complete annihilation if they lost.

In other words, for terror to be successful:

  1. You need to win. Russia is not winning right now.
  2. Your opponents need to know that death awaits them if they resist. Ukraine apparently didn't know about what happened in Bucha until recently.
  3. You need to be merciful to the people who surrender. You can kill everyone who resists, but you need to let those who surrender live, to show any would-be resisters that they do have a "better option".

What happened in Bucha seems to fulfil none of these conditions for a successful terror campaign.

The other obvious possibility is genocide. In this scenario, Russia doesn't like the people in Bucha for whatever reason and so are indiscriminately killing them. If this is the case then it begs the question of why the killings apparently happened only in Bucha. Why didn't it happen, for example, in Kherson or Irpin? Only thing I can think of is that these people were transported from other parts of Ukraine to Bucha and executed there, but I don't see why Russia would do that, and in any case I don't see any suggestion that this happened. Instead there are indications that the dead people are from Bucha (e.g. this).

Finally it seems to me that there are predictable negative consequences for Russia if they engage in indiscriminate killing and are discovered, which they inevitably will be if they withdraw from Bucha. You could argue that they don't have anything to lose because Western opinion of Russia is already at rock bottom, but it still seems unnecessary unless there is some advantage to be gained elsewhere.

So I postulate that a rogue Russian-aligned unit was responsible. This also explains why the official Russian line is that the massacre was Ukrainian propaganda - in this scenario the Russian high command did not give such an order, so they do not think it happened. It wouldn't be the first time such an incident has happened in war either. Compare the My Lai massacre from the Vietnam War.

Caveat: as mentioned all this is speculation and may be completely wrong.

Edit: looks like Russians don't believe their countrymen would engage in indiscriminate killing of civilians, which is very similar to how some US politicians reacted to the allegations of a massacre at My Lai.

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    Claims of genocide are not at all obvious: for one, Russia itself is a multi-ethnic state, with about 20% of its citizens being ethnically non-Russian. Ukraine is not ethnically homogeneous either - moreover, a significant part of its population are ethnic Russians, and an even greater part are Russian-speaking Ukrainians. Another problem is the scale: not every rucially/ethnically motivated crime is autimatically a genocide. Apr 7 at 7:10
  • @RogerVadim I kind of glossed over the precise meaning of 'genocide' by writing "Russia doesn't like the people in Bucha for whatever reason". I don't think the reasons for killing affects the argument much; if they were universally adopted by the Russian forces the killing should also happen elsewhere.
    – Allure
    Apr 7 at 7:53
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    I don't dispute your argument - I actually agree that comparison to My Lai is more logical than comparisons to any of the well-known events labeled as genocide (I think most people think of holocaust, Darfur and Srebrenica). Apr 7 at 7:56
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    The "must be a rogue unit/outlyer" kind of falls apart when one sees that the same tactics have been employed by Russian military, especially in Syria and Chechnya, and the appointment of the general who oversaw those tactics to take over the Ukrainian invasion. It's quite clear that those actions were not restricted to just one city, as well. The fact that Russia is not winning, right now, is not an indication that they don't plan on winning, nor that they didn't think they would when making these decisions. Apr 27 at 17:23
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    Chechnya, yes. Syria, yes, but Russia was acting in support of Bashar in Syria, so those may be attributed to him. Indiscriminate bombing and targeting of civilians by, specifically, Russian armed forces? Yes for all three. Link wasn't too tough to find. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass_graves_in_Chechnya Apr 28 at 16:48

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