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Russia Claims '21 Thousand 'Victims of War Crimes' In Ukraine

Aleksandr Bastrykin

Aleksandr Bastrykin

head of the Russian Investigative Committee

“We have already questioned more than 113 thousand people as witnesses. More than 21 thousand people have been recognized as victims [of war crimes in Ukraine]”

...Russian data and definitions are way off the scale.

On March 21, 2017, Rossiyskaya Gazeta, the official newspaper of the Russian government, published an interview with Aleksandr Bastrykin, head of Russia’s Investigative Committee (Sledkom). The interview centered around Bastrykin’s claim that Sledkom was investigating 104 criminal cases against Ukrainian individuals allegedly involved in war crimes.

Bastrykin told the paper:

“The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation has 104 such cases altogether. 76 of them are connected to one criminal case on the use of illegal means and methods of warfare. More than 90 individuals are being prosecuted in this case.

We have already questioned more than 113 thousand people as witnesses. More than 21 thousand people have been recognized as victims.”

Bastrykin also repeated claims made formally by Sledkom in the past that the Ukrainian authorities had engaged in a campaign of “genocide” against the Russian-speaking population of the Donbas.

According to the Sledkom chief, the Ukrainian government is pursuing the “goal of the total destruction of the population and infrastructure of southeastern Ukraine.”

The problem here is that the number of “victims” of war crimes committed by the Ukrainian authorities to have been recognized by Sledkom is almost equal to the total number of people, both military and civilian estimated to have been wounded on both sides throughout the war.

According a December 2016 report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), 32,537 conflict-related casualties “among Ukrainian armed forces, civilians and members of [Russia-backed] armed groups” were recorded by the UN between mid-April, 2014 and December 1, 2016.

Of these, 9,758 were killed and 22,779 wounded. The OHCHR report states that “over 2,000 of those killed were civilians,” while an estimated 6-7,000 civilians were wounded.

The report does not estimate how many of these civilian casualties were inflicted by Ukrainian government forces as opposed to Russian or Russia-backed forces, so the admittedly “conservative” estimate from the OHCHR, which largely correlates with Ukrainian government figures, is hard to square with Sledkom’s claimed number of “victims.”

At several points in the interview, both Bastrykin and Rossiyskaya Gazeta’s interviewer, Natalya Kozlova, laboriously refer to the war in Ukraine as an “internal conflict.” This is, as has pointed out on several occasions , not true.

One must also take into account the direct role of Russian soldiers or weapons in inflicting at least a significant proportion of the some 8-9,000 civilian casualties estimated by the UN. Especially given the use by Russia-backed forces of indiscriminate and deadly weapons like Grad rockets or TOS-1 thermobaric missile launchers.

It is therefore absurd for Bastrykin to announce that Russia is preparing criminal proceedings against the Ukrainian authorities concerning crimes against more than 21,000 people.