Pentagon Claims Russia Has Committed War Crimes in Ukraine
As the Russian military has failed to make progress in Ukraine, Russian troops have increased their attacks on civilian targets
Defense Department spokesman John Kirby announced on Monday that the Pentagon had received and reviewed evidence of Russian soldiers committing war crimes in Ukraine in the four weeks following its February 24 invasion of Ukraine. “We … see clear evidence that Russian forces are committing war crimes, and we are helping with the collection of evidence of that,” Kirby said, although he did not specify what actions Russian troops had taken in violation of existing laws of war.
“There’s investigative processes that are going to go on, and we’re going to let that happen,” he added, indicating that a report would be published as soon as the Pentagon had drawn firm conclusions from the evidence it possessed.
As the Russian military has failed to make progress in Ukraine—with some observers even arguing that its presence in the country is on the verge of collapse—Russian troops have increased their attacks on civilian targets, a war crime according to the Geneva Convention. Last week, Russian forces bombed a maternity hospital in Mariupol, killing five civilians. The Russian military falsely claimed that the hospital had been the headquarters of the far-right “Azov Battalion.” Several days later, it struck a theater in the same city that had been used as a shelter for civilians, trapping hundreds underneath rubble for hours.
While Western news organizations and observers have harshly criticized the Russian government for its role in these actions, the U.S. government has largely refrained from accusing the Kremlin of direct complicity. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said last week that the Pentagon had seen attacks that “appear to be focused directly on civilians” and claimed that U.S. observers were “shocked by the brutality we continue to witness,” but he stopped short of describing the incident in question as a war crime and did not blame Russian authorities for the incident.
One exception to this rule came last week, when President Joe Biden directly called Russian leader Vladimir Putin a “war criminal.” Biden’s comment led the Kremlin to summon U.S. ambassador to Russia John Sullivan and accuse the United States of putting Russo-American relations “on the verge of rupture.”
The UN has estimated that around one thousand civilians have been killed and roughly 1,500 more have been injured during the ongoing conflict.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.