The Western media has been abuzz in recent days with the claim that videos posted to youtube, which show Ukrainian prisoners being “mistreated” by anti-Kiev rebels, amount to war crimes. Naturally, such claims deserve attention as violations of international laws governing war and treatment of prisoners are of concern to all. However, it is equally true that those calling for prosecution of the anti-Kiev rebels are applying a farcical double standard as they have utterly ignored the exponentially more egregious war crimes committed by the Ukrainian military and its neo-Nazi auxiliaries.
This complete whitewashing of countless war crimes committed by Kiev is not coincidental, nor is it a mystery. In fact, it is part of a coordinated campaign by the western media and western non-profit industrial complex to frame the narrative in such a way as to cast Kiev ‘s forces as righteous and just, while the anti-Kiev rebels are terrorist criminals. This complete inversion of reality is par for the course for the West, which, recognizing it cannot achieve its geopolitical ambitions in Ukraine by force, instead will seek to do it through propaganda.
What the Evidence Shows
The videos that surfaced on youtube which allegedly show evidence of war crimes committed by the anti-Kiev rebels have sparked much debate internationally. The western media has seized on claims of “torture” and “war crimes” made by individuals whose objectivity is certainly in doubt. Take for instance the article in the pro-Kiev outlet “Kyiv Post” entitled Kremlin’s mercenaries post videos of captive Ukrainian soldiers; human rights activists charge war crimes committed which presents an entirely one-sided account of the alleged crimes, entirely laden with insinuation but conspicuously short on verifiable facts.
The article cites Yulia Gorbunova, a researcher affiliated with Human Rights Watch, who stated, “Tortures and killings could be qualified as war crimes…During the parade of prisoners in Donetsk, the prisoners were subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment. It is a violation of international humanitarian law regarding the prohibition of outrages upon personal dignity.” Indeed, she is correct that torture and killings could be regarded as war crimes. However, what is deliberately left out of the narrative is the context in which these actions took place. Providing this context casts very serious doubt as to the objectivity and reliability of Gorbunova and the NGOs working in Ukraine.
Essentially, Gorbunova and her colleagues are cherry-picking their information so as to charge anti-Kiev rebels with war crimes, while completely ignoring the widespread war crimes committed by pro-Kiev forces, including indiscriminate shelling of civilians, deliberate targeting of journalists and medical personnel, mass killings and mass graves, the use of internationally banned weapons, etc., all of which have been documented. Even Human Rights Watch (HRW), the very organization Gorbunova works for, and not exactly an objective party as it is part and parcel of the US soft power apparatus, has documented a number of egregious war crimes committed by the Ukrainian military and neo-Nazi militias.
In its report Ukraine: Unguided Rockets Killing Civilians, HRW documented that “Unguided Grad rockets launched apparently by Ukrainian government forces and pro-government militias have killed at least 16 civilians and wounded many more in insurgent-controlled areas of Donetsk and its suburbs in at least four attacks between July 12 and 21, 2014.” We did not hear an outcry from Gorbunova over these heinous war crimes which have killed, and continue to kill, hundreds (if not more) innocent civilians in Donetsk, Lugansk, and the surrounding areas. Can one be considered a serious human rights investigator if one makes an equivalence between marching soldiers publicly through the streets and the deliberate shelling of civilians? Such an obvious bias certainly calls into question the objectivity of Gorbunova and HRW.
According to HRW, “Grad rockets are notoriously imprecise weapons that shouldn’t be used in populated areas. If insurgent and Ukrainian government forces are serious about limiting harm to civilians, they should both immediately stop using these weapons in populated areas.” Though of course one would agree that the use of such weapons by either side harms civilians, it presupposes that each side is equally responsible. Naturally, one should note that it is the Kiev regime’s military that is launching these rockets against both rebels and the civilian population, while the rebels are using such rockets against military positions held by the Ukrainian army. This simple fact, conveniently left out of HRW’s report, should significantly alter how the issue is perceived. Rather than a war between two equally criminally responsible parties, there is undoubtedly an asymmetry in the violations of the rules of war.
To be fair, there are portions of the HRW report that do intimate, though perhaps stop short of explicitly stating, the fact that Kiev bears the majority of the blame. The report states, “Human Rights Watch called on all parties to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, particularly Ukrainian government forces, to stop using Grad rockets in or near populated areas because of the likelihood of killing and wounding civilians.” Indeed, the use of the phrase “particularly Ukrainian government forces” does suggest that Kiev is more culpable than the rebels, and is a tacit admission of such by HRW.
So, HRW, the organization now proclaiming from the proverbial mountaintops that the rebels have committed war crimes, has itself documented far worse war crimes committed by Kiev. Are we to believe that “outrages upon personal dignity” somehow take precedence over hundreds of dead women and children? Such a position is intellectually dishonest and morally reprehensible. The silence on this point in the western media is deafening.
It should also be noted that, despite the “humiliation” of being paraded publicly through the streets, the Ukrainian soldiers, who just hours before had been shelling the city, were not seriously harmed. In fact, the rebels provided them protection from the residents of the city who, quite understandably, wanted to tear them limb from limb. So, while it would be for a court to decide whether or not such “humiliation” amounts to war crimes, it is undeniable that the rebels provided their prisoners some degree of security, preventing them for the most part from being physically assaulted.
One other point conveniently missing from the Kyiv Post article, and all reporting on the matter in the West, is what the actual Ukrainian captive soldiers admitted on camera, namely that their own commanders lied to them about their mission, deliberately sending units that were outmanned and outgunned on what can only be regarded as a suicide mission. So, who exactly is to blame for those deaths? Certainly, no one with any knowledge of war would call it a “war crime” (at least not by how that term is defined) when one side kills the uniformed soldiers of the other side. However, what do we call it when one side knowingly sends its soldiers to die? Is this a crime? Or is this simply not worth mentioning?
Let’s Prosecute ALL War Crimes
I am in agreement with many in the West who are calling for war crimes investigations to be opened. It is absolutely necessary for the historical record, not to mention for the sake of morality and legality, to investigate and, where warranted, prosecute anyone committing war crimes in the conflict in Ukraine.
However, where I differ from many so-called “human rights campaigners” and “journalists” is in the application of a single standard in all these developments. Unlike the HRW and Amnesty International mouthpieces, I believe all sides should be prosecuted for crimes they have committed, and I absolutely reject the notion that there is any kind of equivalence between humiliation of prisoners and slaughter of civilians. I reject entirely the idea that all war crimes are equal – they are not.
It is undeniable that the allied troops in World War II – Soviet, American, British, etc. – committed what must be regarded today as war crimes, all throughout the conflict. But would anyone seriously argue that such crimes are equal to the slaughter of millions of Jews, Poles, Romani (“Gypsies”), the mentally handicapped, homosexuals, etc.? It would be an affront to historical memory and the suffering of millions to make such an equivalence.
It is equally undeniable that fighters in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere violated various aspects of international law in resisting the US invasions and subsequent occupations, including the use of terrorism that killed many civilians. But could one really be taken seriously when equating these crimes with the far more egregious crime of launching an aggressive war on an entire nation? Of course not, that would be utterly absurd.
And so, the issue of the crimes themselves becomes secondary to the far more important matter of context. And it is the removal of war crimes from their context that transforms these matters from the moral to the political. Indeed, it is purely a matter of political expediency, which war crimes are discussed and trumpeted, and which ones are swept under the rug.
So, yes, let’s investigate and, if necessary, prosecute Givi and any other anti-Kiev rebels who may have violated the Geneva Convention. But, before we can get to the minor matters of “humiliation” and “violation of dignity,” let’s address the shelling of civilians, the mass executions, the May 2nd massacre in Odessa, the use of white phosphorous bombs by the Ukrainian military, the MH17 incident, forcible conscription at gunpoint, and the myriad other crimes committed by Kiev. Once these prosecutions have taken place, then we should move on to matters of “dignity.”
Don’t worry…I won’t be holding my breath.
Eric Draitser is an independent geopolitical analyst based in New York City, he is the founder of StopImperialism.org and OP-ed columnist for RT, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.