Russian Federation is widely expected to conduct its annual military parade on May 9th. The parade traditionally takes places on the Red Square with many "military units" marching over a prolonged period of time. There is little, if any, room around the parading military that is taken up by civilians.

While it would be an act of war for another country to bomb those military units, would it be a war "crime?" Are marching military units, most of which look like showmen rather than actual soldiers, considered military? Or are they civilians despite the uniforms?

  • Does it matter if a country has committed a war crime or not, if it no longer exists?
    – HK-51
    Apr 29 at 23:54
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    @HK-51 if a country elects to restrict itself from committing war crimes, it matters what the nature of the target is.
    – wrod
    Apr 29 at 23:56
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    I am not sure if this is a good fit for here as I think this would be a legal or military matter and not politics.
    – Joe W
    Apr 30 at 0:55
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    @JoeW military questions are probably within scope of the site. "politics".SE is a site to ask questions about governments and how they function rather than just political processes. In fact you can see from the tags "military" and "war-crime," applied to this question, that there is any number of questions about military that maybe on topic. Any question which asks about procedures involved in making of government decisions is on topic.
    – wrod
    Apr 30 at 3:02
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    would it be a war "crime?" translates to "Given the preceding circumstances, what is the law?. The two following questions may also be answered by "what is the law?"
    – Rick Smith
    Apr 30 at 12:17

1 Answer 1


Seems everybody is reading up on the law of war these days, just like everybody became a virologist last year ... well, here are my two cents.

  • Members of the armed forces of a conflict party, except for medics and chaplains, will be combatants even if they are not actively fighting at the moment.
  • Participation in a parade is not a sign of surrender, or a sign of unconsciousness or injury that prevents showing surrender.
  • It is illegal to (knowingly) shell a field hospital. It is legal to shell a barracks with sleeping troops. I'd say the parade is much like the latter -- just because they don't have air raid protections doesn't make them immune.

So if the Ukraine were to send a bunch of uniformed troops overland to Moscow, to shell the parade, that would have to be tested for the usual distinction, proportionality, and necessity requirements when it comes to probable civilian casualties. They don't have to avoid all civilian casualties, as long as enough combatants are targeted.

That being said, it would certainly be viewed as escalatory by Russia. That's not a legal term, it is a strategic/geopolitical one. Just as the US public finds it normal to have their aircraft carriers bomb foreign countries, and not normal to have foreign navies shoot at the carriers, Russia seems to find it normal to have their troops fight in Ukraine, and not normal if Ukraine would fight in Russia -- see the diplomatic tightrope about the Belgorod explosions.

Ukraine would have to ask if the military effort and political risk are worth it. I guess not.

  • Russian media: "Ukrainian Nazi turn to terrorism to avenge the defeat of their German brothers in WWII. More on Ukraine's role in Hitler's forces in the following special..."
    – HK-51
    Apr 30 at 10:37
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    @wrod, escalation comes in steps. Back in there Cold War days, there were doctrines which viewed evacuating the own urban centers as more escalatory than isolated nuclear attacks on the enemy Rand report. Russia is clearly signalling that some possible steps are more escalatory than others.
    – o.m.
    Apr 30 at 11:23
  • @o.m. my point was that Russia has blown through all the escalation steps at this point. Short of using nuclear weapons, it's done the worst things it could possibly do. It literally leveled a whole city with convention arms (for example). It's also sent numerous assassination squads against Zelensky. Russia has no room escalate.
    – wrod
    Apr 30 at 14:17
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    @wrod, there is a lot Russia could do to escalate further. They're not shelling NATO members, they haven't cut all trade, ...
    – o.m.
    Apr 30 at 14:33
  • @o.m. NATO is neutral in this conflict (as in it's not a warring party). Which is not to say that it doesn't have its favorite, but even Lavrov has admitted that Russia does not consider NATO to be one of the belligerents. "Escalation" usually does not mean attacking a 3rd party. It means increasing the level of hostilities towards those already on the opposite side in a war.
    – wrod
    Apr 30 at 14:38

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