Russian strikes against civilian targets continue as the UN reports evidence of widespread Russian war crimes in Ukrainian territory it occupied early in the war.
Ukraine at D+287: UN war crimes report.
Russian forces in the Ukrainian territory it holds are digging in for a protracted defense. They will find that defensive works are only as effective as the troops holding them, and there continue to be reasons to doubt the quality of Russian ground forces. In today's situation report, the UK's Ministry of Defence notes extensive Russian defensive preparations--trench lines--in Luhansk. "Elements of Russia's 1st Guards Tank Army (1 GTA) are likely deployed along the defensive line near the Luhansk Oblast town of Svatove. The supposedly elite 1 GTA took heavy casualties early in the war, including during the retreat from Kharkiv Oblast in September 2022. It has now likely been partially reinforced with mobilised reservists, although remaining well below its authorised strength of over 25,000 personnel. Russia has now completed almost continuous trench systems along the 60km between Svatove and the Russian border. Despite the length of these works, however, the depth of the defences remains unclear. The effectiveness of 1 GTA and other formations' defensive operations will largely depend upon the extent of mutually supporting fall-back positions."
The view from the Kremlin.
President Putin says he sees no reason to change course. He said yesterday, during a meeting of Russia's Human Rights Council, that "Of course, it could be a lengthy process." That is, the war may well be protracted, but apparently that possibility, like all the other possibilities of the special military operation, were foreseen from the outset: ""of course." The AP's account of his remarks goes on: "Despite its length, he showed no signs of letting up, vowing to 'consistently fight for our interests' and to 'protect ourselves using all means available.' He reiterated his claim that he had no choice but to send in troops, saying that for years, the West responded to Russia’s security demands with 'only spit in the face.'”
He seemed to moderate earlier ruminations about use of nuclear weapons, saying that "we haven't gone mad," and that the purpose of nuclear weapons (and he said that Russia's nuclear weapons were the world's most advanced and sophisticated) is as a deterrent. They would be used only in retaliation for an attack against Russia. The Telegraph calls this "backpedaling" on his earlier apparent threat to use nuclear weapons. But his understanding of "retaliation" is sufficiently supple to permit first-use of nuclear weapons. Committing to using them only second, in response to an enemy's first use, is committing to not using them at all. He explained that an enemy first strike would take out all of Russia's weapons. Thus you don't compare going first with going second; you compare going first with not going at all. His we-haven't-gone-mad comment therefore isn't as reassuring as some have taken it to be.
Mr. Putin also ruled out further mobilization as unnecessary, saying that of the 300,000 called up during the partial mobilization (a disputed figure, given the difficulty the Ministry of Defense had rounding up its reservists) only half had been deployed, with the remainder undergoing further training. Some 70,000 have been, he said, deployed to combat units. The other 80,000 who make up the remaining half of the reservist class are being used in either support or local defense roles.
UN confirms widespread Russian atrocities.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has released the report of the UN investigation into Russian extrajudicial killing of Ukrainian civilians during the opening months of the war. The Commission found that more than four-hundred civilians had been murdered by Russian forces in "the Kyiv, Chernihiv and Sumy regions of Ukraine between 24 February and 6 April 2022." That's a fraction of the total. As the report says, "Information available to OHCHR indicates that the total number of summary executions and lethal attacks directed against individual civilians by Russian armed forces in the three regions during the reporting period is likely considerably higher."
The report offers draws four overall conclusions:
"The cases examined in this report permit several conclusions to be drawn. First, there are strong indications that the summary executions documented in this report may amount to the war crime of wilful killing. Men and boys comprised 88 percent of the victims of summary executions, indicating that they were disproportionately targeted on the basis of their gender, including due to socially constructed gender roles. The surviving family members – many of them women – face trauma and distress caused by the untimely and violent death of their loved ones, exacerbated by lacking family incomes (especially in case of the loss of the main breadwinner) and increased caregiver burdens.
"Second, the failure by the Russian armed forces to consistently respect the rules on the conduct of hostilities and on the treatment of persons who fall within their power raises serious concerns about the extent of instructions and training on international humanitarian law provided to servicepersons prior to and during military deployment. It also points to a lack of an effective command and control as well as of sufficient disciplinary system to address the violations of such rules.
"Third, the absence of meaningful investigation of allegations of serious violations of international humanitarian law and prosecution of suspects casts doubt on the willingness of the Russian Federation to fully abide by its international legal obligations, including under the Geneva Conventions. Despite the widespread and well-documented cases of summary executions, OHCHR could not identify any case in which a member of the Russian armed forces – soldier or commander in rank – was held accountable by Russian authorities for carrying out or failing to punish the killings.
"Finally, an overview of accountability efforts to date highlights that much still needs to be done to hold perpetrators accountable and provide remedy and reparation to victims. National programmes for reparation and other assistance to the victims may need to be considered if the parties liable for the harm are unwilling to meet their obligations. Given the uncertainty and length of legal proceedings, these programmes may be necessary to ensure timely medical, psychosocial and other forms of support to the victims."
Other Russian atrocities continue to be reported, notably deliberate and indiscriminate strikes against civilian noncombatants (which the UK described and denounced this morning at a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) and widespread mistreatment of Ukrainian prisoners of war (described by the Washington Post).
Estonia calls for Russia's expulsion from Ukraine, and a reckoning with Russia's Stalinist revanchism.
US Secretary of State Blinken said at a media availability yesterday, "We have neither encouraged nor enabled the Ukrainians to strike inside of Russia. But the important thing is to understand what Ukrainians are living through every day with the ongoing Russian aggression against their country and our determination to make sure that they have in their hands, along with many other partners around the world, the equipment that they need to defend themselves, to defend their territory, to defend their freedom." He was referring to recent strikes against Russian military airfields. Ukraine remains on the strategic defensive, and such strikes are legitimate operations in a defensive war, as Secretary Blinken's contrast with Russian attacks against civilian targets would seem to imply.
A completely unambiguous call for full Ukrainian victory came from Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas, who argued that compromise, particularly in the form of permitting Russia to retain any of the territory it's taken, would represent a disastrous retreat from an attempt to establish a rules-based international order. She sees Russia as having failed to come to a reckoning with its Stalinist past (and, given Mr. Putin's rehabilitation of Stalin's reputation, its neo-Stalinist present). Her comments about the Soviet Union's role in the Second World War, so often invoked in justification of Russia's current operation against Ukraine, were particularly pointed. She placed war guilt squarely on Moscow, which, she argued, opened the war by invading Poland in partnership with Nazi Germany, its then ally,
IT Army of Ukraine claims responsibility for DDoS against Russian bank.
HackRead reports that the IT Army of Ukraine, Kyiv's hacktivist auxiliary, has claimed credit for the distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack against the state-owned Russian bank VTB. The IT Army tweeted, "VTB could not handle with our attack the whole week long so they have to admit it. However, the problem is not we took them down so long but something went wrong newly, and they cannot settle paychecks, remittances, fine and tax payments." DDoS attacks in the current war, whether conducted by Russian or Ukrainian operators, have rarely risen above a nuisance-level of severity.