Are Russian Forces Carrying Out Genocide in Ukraine?

Commentary On Feb. 27, three days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russian forces of carrying out a genocidal campaign. Are Zelensky’s claims valid? Are Russians forces committing acts of genocide on Ukrainian soil? I reached out to Alexa Koenig, a human rights expert, for comment on the matter. She told me that Raphael Lemkin coined the term “genocide” and “pushed for its recognition.” Lemkin “developed the concept in part based on similar invasions, for example, of Europeans in the Americas.” Koenig continued, during “the period of colonialist expansion, Europeans took over large swaths of territory in the Americas, killing indigenous people and trying to convert those who lived to their religion, culture and way of life, essentially attempting to eradicate their culture.” Although “some of the parallels to what we are seeing with Ukraine are fairly clear,” she said, the “tricky part is coming up with the evidence to establish Putin’s intent.” For Zelensky to prove that the Russians have committed acts of genocide, the president “will need some kind of documentation, testimonial, or physical evidence that Putin has specifically tied the invasion and any resulting deaths to a specific intent to destroy Ukrainians because of their nationality, in whole or in part.” This is where any video footage “or other public statements by Putin may prove especially valuable,” noted Koenig. Anthony Dworkin, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told me that genocide “is a precise crime with a high definitional threshold–it has to involve an attempt to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group in whole or in part.” Dworkin hasn’t “yet seen anything that would suggest that Putin’s attacks against Ukraine rise to this level.” Of course, he stressed, “it could come to that—but so far it looks just like an attempt to conquer the country and install a pliant government. There is much stronger evidence of war crimes and potentially crimes against humanity.” (Unlike genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity needn’t necessarily target a specific group.) Dr. Oula Silvennoinen, a human rights expert at the University of Helsinki, told me that the Russian Army “is targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure in a way that most probably fulfills the criteria for war crimes.” Ukrainian soldiers check people’s identity cards as they flee their neighborhoods, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 2. 2022. (Emilio Morenatti/AP Photo) Dr. Melanie O’Brien, associate professor of International Law at the University of Western Australia and president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, was a little more definitive than the abovementioned experts. “No, the Russians are not carrying out genocide. As it stands, there is no evidence of genocide,” she said. O’Brien continued, genocide “requires intent to destroy a group, in whole or in part, and there is no evidence that Putin wants to destroy the Ukrainian people.” His goal, she argued, “is to annex Ukraine into Russia, rather than destroy the Ukrainian people.” Regarding war crimes, O’Brien is in agreement with the other experts. “There are reports of conduct that would amount to war crimes,” like the “airstrike on a Zhytomyr hospital.” Hospitals, she told me, “are specifically protected under the laws of war, and targeting a hospital is a war crime.” Furthermore, there are numerous “reports of Russia using thermobaric weapons, which, while not strictly prohibited under a specific treaty, could be considered to be illegal depending on their use, because they would cause unnecessary suffering. Weapons that cause unnecessary suffering are not to be used in war.” O’Brien, very much an expert in human rights, warned that Russian forces appear to be using cluster munitions. Cluster munitions are form of air-dropped or ground-launched explosive weapons; when activated, they eject smaller submunitions or bomblets. Although they “are banned under the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” O’Brien said that “neither Russia nor Ukraine are parties to that treaty.” However, she continued, “cluster munitions would be prohibited under what is called ‘customary international law’—a law that binds all countries—because they are considered indiscriminate weapons.” These are “prohibited by the laws of war.” Lastly, “indiscriminate weapons are also prohibited under the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, and both Russia and Ukraine are parties to that convention,” O’Brien said. According to all of the above experts, the Russians, so far, do not appear to be carrying out genocide in Ukraine. Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times. Follow John Mac Ghlionn is a researcher and essayist. His work has been published by the New York Post, Sydney Morning

Are Russian Forces Carrying Out Genocide in Ukraine?

Commentary

On Feb. 27, three days after Russia invaded Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused Russian forces of carrying out a genocidal campaign. Are Zelensky’s claims valid? Are Russians forces committing acts of genocide on Ukrainian soil?

I reached out to Alexa Koenig, a human rights expert, for comment on the matter. She told me that Raphael Lemkin coined the term “genocide” and “pushed for its recognition.” Lemkin “developed the concept in part based on similar invasions, for example, of Europeans in the Americas.”

Koenig continued, during “the period of colonialist expansion, Europeans took over large swaths of territory in the Americas, killing indigenous people and trying to convert those who lived to their religion, culture and way of life, essentially attempting to eradicate their culture.”

Although “some of the parallels to what we are seeing with Ukraine are fairly clear,” she said, the “tricky part is coming up with the evidence to establish Putin’s intent.”

For Zelensky to prove that the Russians have committed acts of genocide, the president “will need some kind of documentation, testimonial, or physical evidence that Putin has specifically tied the invasion and any resulting deaths to a specific intent to destroy Ukrainians because of their nationality, in whole or in part.” This is where any video footage “or other public statements by Putin may prove especially valuable,” noted Koenig.

Anthony Dworkin, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told me that genocide “is a precise crime with a high definitional threshold–it has to involve an attempt to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group in whole or in part.”

Dworkin hasn’t “yet seen anything that would suggest that Putin’s attacks against Ukraine rise to this level.” Of course, he stressed, “it could come to that—but so far it looks just like an attempt to conquer the country and install a pliant government. There is much stronger evidence of war crimes and potentially crimes against humanity.” (Unlike genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity needn’t necessarily target a specific group.)

Dr. Oula Silvennoinen, a human rights expert at the University of Helsinki, told me that the Russian Army “is targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure in a way that most probably fulfills the criteria for war crimes.”

Epoch Times Photo
Ukrainian soldiers check people’s identity cards as they flee their neighborhoods, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, on March 2. 2022. (Emilio Morenatti/AP Photo)

Dr. Melanie O’Brien, associate professor of International Law at the University of Western Australia and president of the International Association of Genocide Scholars, was a little more definitive than the abovementioned experts.

“No, the Russians are not carrying out genocide. As it stands, there is no evidence of genocide,” she said.

O’Brien continued, genocide “requires intent to destroy a group, in whole or in part, and there is no evidence that Putin wants to destroy the Ukrainian people.” His goal, she argued, “is to annex Ukraine into Russia, rather than destroy the Ukrainian people.”

Regarding war crimes, O’Brien is in agreement with the other experts. “There are reports of conduct that would amount to war crimes,” like the “airstrike on a Zhytomyr hospital.” Hospitals, she told me, “are specifically protected under the laws of war, and targeting a hospital is a war crime.”

Furthermore, there are numerous “reports of Russia using thermobaric weapons, which, while not strictly prohibited under a specific treaty, could be considered to be illegal depending on their use, because they would cause unnecessary suffering. Weapons that cause unnecessary suffering are not to be used in war.”

O’Brien, very much an expert in human rights, warned that Russian forces appear to be using cluster munitions. Cluster munitions are form of air-dropped or ground-launched explosive weapons; when activated, they eject smaller submunitions or bomblets.

Although they “are banned under the Convention on Cluster Munitions,” O’Brien said that “neither Russia nor Ukraine are parties to that treaty.” However, she continued, “cluster munitions would be prohibited under what is called ‘customary international law’—a law that binds all countries—because they are considered indiscriminate weapons.” These are “prohibited by the laws of war.”

Lastly, “indiscriminate weapons are also prohibited under the First Additional Protocol to the Geneva Conventions, and both Russia and Ukraine are parties to that convention,” O’Brien said.

According to all of the above experts, the Russians, so far, do not appear to be carrying out genocide in Ukraine.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.


Follow

John Mac Ghlionn is a researcher and essayist. His work has been published by the New York Post, Sydney Morning Herald, Newsweek, National Review, and The Spectator US, among others. He covers psychology and social relations, and has a keen interest in social dysfunction and media manipulation.