The Russian missile attack at the Kramatorsk railway station, which killed at least 50 people, including five children, is the most horrifying atrocity in a week that has brought news of many others. It’s hard to believe that Moscow’s armed forces were unaware that the station was full of civilians fleeing an expected Russian attack in eastern Ukraine – as the Kyiv government had requested. It will fuel suspicions that Russia is targeting civilians to sow fear and crush resistance after the setbacks its army has suffered in six weeks of war. If so, that’s a decision that can only be made higher up in the chain of command.
To be clear, Russia does not have a monopoly on alleged war crimes. A video posted online this week seemed to show up Ukrainian soldiers execute captured Russian troops. However, Kiev’s response was not a blanket denial, but a promise to investigate. She must do this and ensure that justice is enforced.
In contrast, the response of Moscow officials and media to the attack on Kramatorsk followed a pattern of obfuscation, denial and outright fiction. The Russian Defense Ministry first said it used high-precision missiles to hit three train stations in the Donbass, which it said housed “weapons and military equipment belonging to the Ukrainian reserves”. When the scale of civilian casualties became clear, the ministry denied being behind an attack and said only Ukrainian forces had used this type of missile. Russia TV began reporting that Ukrainian troops had attacked the station because President Volodymyr Zelenskyy did not want residents from the east to leave Kramatorsk.
The different versions gave the conflicting stories that Russia was trying to distance itself from an older crime – the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine that killed 298 people. And as reports surfaced this week Mass murders in Buchanear Kyiv, Russian television variously explained to viewers that the deaths were the result of accidental or premeditated actions by Ukrainian forces and that NATO staged the incident – using actors and corpses from elsewhere – to frame a massacre on Russia.
Multiple conflicting untruths may reflect a rush to come up with a plausible alternative narrative — but Moscow propagandists also seem to use them as a strategy to confuse and confuse. The corrosive effect of relentless media propaganda, which portrays the war as a just fight against a “Nazi”-led Ukraine, can be seen in polls. Russian polls that found four-fifths of Russians supported Putin’s invasion may be skewed by the fact that it took place in wartime under a repressive regime. But a survey designed specifically for that correct for such factors still suggested that more than half were in favour.
Western democracies rightly respond to Russia’s alleged war crimes by collecting evidence of potential future courts. You tightened economic sanctions this week after the revelations of the Bucha massacre – the EU and others are doing it Blocking of Russian coal importsand the US is tightening sanctions Russian banks and blocking of new investments in Russia. NATO has now promised heavier weapons to Ukraine to help repel a new attack on Donbass.
However, the insidious action of Russia counteracts this media propaganda is also crucial to Western efforts to limit the Kremlin’s ability to sustain its war. That means doing everything – through government, media and civil society initiatives – to combat Moscow’s malicious disinformation and convey the truth to the Russian people. If not, increasing untruths could serve to justify worsening atrocities.
https://www.ft.com/content/03e61e87-de96-4111-ae1e-42bc85687b54 The horror of the attack on Kramatorsk Station