The images—the videos—are horrifying and not for the squeamish. There splashed across the TV screens by NBC, Fox News, and the totality of American media are what is called “definite proof” of Russian war crimes, perhaps even “genocide.” We are told retreating Russian army troops brutally executed civilians, many with their hands tied behind their backs, as their units departed the Kievan suburb of Bucha.
That is the unquestioned assumption which we are asked to believe. And the entirety of our establishment media, without exception, posits this “massacre” as fact and the work of those depraved Russians, under orders from that evil Vladimir Putin, holed up in the dark recesses of the Kremlin. No doubts, no questions are permitted, and certainly no dissent from this now-standard story line, lest the questioner be immediately labeled a “Putin stooge” or “engaging in treason.” Rather, journalists across the board, from MSNBC to NBC to Fox, to online scribblers for The Washington Post and The New York Times now outdo each other in speculating what mechanisms are (or will be) in place to eventually try Putin for his manifest criminality (perhaps in the Hague by the International Criminal Tribunal, like what happened to former president of Yugoslavia, Slobodan Milosevic, in 2002?). The unanimity of America’s political class, Republicans often outdoing Democrats in their unbridled rage, demands stepped-up action, more billions for sophisticated weapons systems (which are no longer “defensive”), maybe a “no-fly zone” or even troops on the ground, in other words World War III. And the Biden White House has joined the chorus in suggesting that “there must be some accounting for war crimes,” if a bit less frenzied.
Yet, there are voices, not many but some of which are substantial, that raise troubling questions about the most recent “war crimes” narrative, whether at Bucha or even more recently, the train station at Kramatorsk.
First, there is former Ambassador Jack Matlock, America’s last representative in the old Soviet Union before it collapsed in 1991, for the administrations of Reagan and George H. W. Bush. A longtime career diplomat and expert on Russian history and politics, in an interview on CNN (which appears to have been subsequently scrubbed) Matlock cautioned viewers: “Firstly, we don’t know exactly what really happened in Bucha, and secondly, there is no evidence that Moscow is to blame.”
The Russian government (via spokesman Dmitri Peskov), Foreign Minister (Sergei Lavrov), and the Ministry of Defense have all strongly denied the accusation and requested an urgent meeting of the United Nations Security Council and a full forensic investigation by a neutral party.
As investigative journalist, Ian Davis, reported in OffGuardian (April 7, 2022):
“…further investigation is certainly necessary. This appeared to be the position of the Russian government who, having strenuously denied the Bucha allegations, requested an emergency session of the UN Security Council (UNSC) to discuss the matter. For some reason, the UK government blocked Russia’s request.
“Initially it appeared that the US-led NATO alliance were less eager to discuss the evidence. However, acting as the president nation of the Security Council, the UK’s UN ambassador, Barbara Woodward, then announced that the UK would convene a session to discuss Bucha on the 5th.
“Prior to examining any of the evidence, and relying solely upon videos provided by the Ukrainians, Woodward [then] stated that the footage was evidence of war-crimes. This had in no way been established. No one knew what they were evidence of. Woodward clearly implicated Russia and predetermined the outcome of the discussions, so there wasn’t really any point in holding them.”
As Davis adds: “There is no doubt that they [the Russians] have killed many Ukrainian citizens [many of whom were armed]. However…unless Russian commanders lost control of their troops in Bucha, the indiscriminate slaughter of unarmed civilians, following an agreed withdrawal and their identification as non-combatants, makes no sense either from a military or propaganda perspective. It serves only to undermine the peace negotiations…prolonging the conflict is in the US-led NATO alliance’s interests, not Russia’s.”
That is the same question I have. If you are commanding Russian forces—if you are sitting in the Kremlin—and surely understand the immense value of international opinion and the very real history of Ukrainian disinformation (as in the case of the Mariupol Maternity Hospital bombing) and the use by the Western media of what is essentially propaganda, why would you commit such an atrocity in full and plain view, with bodies of men strewn almost symmetrically down a main street in the town [cf. the aerial photo at the beginning of this essay]?
It makes no sense. Even in the massacre in the Katyn Forest (1940), the Soviets buried the evidence of the NKVD murder of some 22,000 Polish officers and national elite. The discovery of the shallow mass graves by invading Germans in 1941 was essentially hushed up—“canceled” news, if you will—by the Americans and British, despite attempts by a few intrepid researchers. Indeed, it was only after the fall of Soviet Communism that the truth was completely unearthed for all to see. Ironically, it was President Vladimir Putin who finally and fully corrected the historical record:
“On 4 February 2010, the [then] Prime Minister of Russia, Vladimir Putin, invited his Polish counterpart, Donald Tusk, to attend a Katyn memorial service in April. The visit took place on 7 April 2010, when Tusk and Putin together commemorated the 70th anniversary of the massacre. Before the visit, the 2007 film Katyń was shown on Russian state television for the first time. The Moscow Times commented that the film’s premiere in Russia was likely a result of Putin’s intervention.”
There are far too many questions surrounding Bucha and what happened there for a quick, summary judgment as to guilt. That should govern our “chattering class” and our politicians, but it doesn’t. Yes, the images are horrifying, but all the information—the videos, the pictures—we see on our television sets and read about in our establishment press is uniformly, if not hysterically, from one viewpoint.
One of the best-informed commentaries on Bucha and what happened there (and likely will happen again) is by noted former US Marine Corps intelligence officer, Scott Ritter, who served as a former UN arms inspector for implementing the INF Treaty, and also on General Norman Schwarzkopf’s staff during the Gulf War.
I pass it on here:
Scott Ritter Mon, 04 Apr 2022
“In war, truth is the first casualty.” This quote has been attributed to Aeschylus, a 6th BCE Greek tragedian noted for his “copious use of imagery, mythic allusion, grand language, wordplay and riddles.” It is only fitting, therefore, that the man who first gave word to the concept of modern-day war-time propaganda would see his quote come to life in the present-day Ukraine. The Kiev government and their Western information warfare advisers may have coopted all of Aeschylus’ playwright devices to craft a modern-day tragedy in the Ukrainian town of Bucha that exemplifies the notion of the lie as not just a byproduct, but also a weapon of war.
The main source of the Bucha tragedy reports is a videotape, taken by the Ukrainian National Police, of one of their convoys driving through a street in the town. A dozen or so corpses litter the roadway, many of them appearing to have been bound. This video has gone viral, producing a pandemic of anguish and anger that has swept over much of the world, capturing the attention of heads of state and the head of the Catholic Church alike, resulting in a tidal wave of condemnation and outrage directed at Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. The cause-and-effect relationship between the video and the global backlash is clear – the former could not exist without the latter.
One of the first lessons of objectivity is to slow things down to make sure that fact is not obscured by emotion. The Bucha videotape is disturbing. The video has been released in its present form, it appears, with the express intent of producing a visceral “shock and awe” moment for the viewer. If this was indeed the case, then those who released it – the Ukrainian National Police – have succeeded beyond their wildest imagination. Or that of their advisors, as the case may be.
The linkage between the dead and the Russian military was established immediately, without any fact-based data to back it up, and subsequently echoed in all forms of media – mainstream and social alike. Anyone who dared question the established “Russia did it” narrative was shouted down and belittled as a “Russian shill,” or worse.
That these conclusions are the byproduct of mass hysteria is beside the point – why seek to be objective when the narrative fits every stereotype that had been carefully assembled beforehand by the same people parroting the Bucha story today. Social “preconditioning” of an audience unused to critical thinking is an essential step in getting this audience to accept at face value anything that is put before it, regardless of how egregiously the facts of the story strain credulity. And let’s be clear – the Ukrainian narrative of the events in Bucha seems to stretch credibility.
The chronology of the narrative produces the first red flag that the story being peddled by Ukraine, and echoed in the West, is not what it seems. It is established fact that Russian troops evacuated Bucha on March 30. Ukrainian National Police began entering Bucha on March 31, and that same day the mayor of Bucha announced that the town was fully under the control of Ukrainian officials. At no time was there any suggestion by the mayor or any other Ukrainian official of mass killings undertaken by Russia. The videotape in question was released by Ukrainian authorities on April 2; it is not certain if the video had been taken earlier, or on that day. What is certain is that the images shown in the video differed sharply from the narrative initially portrayed by the mayor.
For its part, Russia has vehemently denied the allegations, and has requested an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss what the Russian Foreign Ministry has called the “criminal provocations by Ukrainian soldiers and radicals” in Bucha. The presidency of the Security Council is held by Great Britain, and the British mission to the UN has denied the Russian request, stating that a discussion on Ukraine currently scheduled for Tuesday, April 4 would serve as a forum for any discussion about Bucha.
One would think that the Security Council, which has shown a readiness in the past to meet on short notice to discuss the events coming out of Ukraine, would seek to accommodate Russia’s request on a matter of such importance. The goal of the British, however, does not appear to be the rapid search for truth and justice, but rather to buy time to allow the political fallout from the alleged massacre in Bucha to develop further.
One example of this tactic manifesting itself is the reaction of US President Joe Biden. “You saw what happened in Bucha,” he explained in comments to reporters, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin “is a war criminal.” Biden took advantage of the Bucha crisis to advocate for the delivery of more weaponry to Ukraine. “We have to continue to provide Ukraine with the weapons they need to continue the fight,” he said. “And we have to gather all the detail so this can be an actual – have a war crimes trial.”
All this from the president of a country which has refused to recognise the International Criminal Court. For reasons which should be obvious to anyone willing to apply some critical thought.
Fortunately for President Biden and the Ukrainian government, the British chief prosecutor of the court, Karim Khan, announced in early March 2022 that he had launched an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine. Given the high profile of the Bucha allegations, one would imagine that Khan has dispatched a forensics team to take control of the crime scene and oversee autopsies on the victims to establish the time of death, mechanism of death, and whether the victims had died where they were allegedly found, or if their bodies had been moved there from another location.
Khan would also be empowered to conduct interviews with the Ukrainian National Police, who have a history of close relations with members of the Ukrainian far right, including the infamous Azov Battalion. Of particular interest would be any investigation into orders given to the police regarding the treatment of those Ukrainian civilians deemed to have collaborated with the Russian military during its occupation of Bucha.
The results of such an investigation would more than likely conflict with the narrative being pursued by the Ukrainian government and echoed in the West by compliant media outlets and politicians alike. This is the prime reason why Khan is not currently on the ground in Bucha. One can assume that if and when Khan is eventually given access to evidence about the Bucha killings, it will have been manipulated by the Ukrainian National Police to such an extent that disproving the allegations will be virtually impossible.
The truth about what happened in Bucha is out there, waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately, that truth appears to be inconvenient for those in a position to pursue it aggressively through a forensics-based, on-site investigation. If it so happens that it eventually emerges that the Ukrainian National Police murdered Ukrainian civilians for the crime of allegedly collaborating with the Russians during their brief occupation of Bucha, and the forces of international law are brought to bear against the true perpetrators of that crime, any true pursuit of justice would have to include both the US and UK governments as witting co-conspirators in any crime charged.
Scott Ritter is a former US Marine Corps intelligence officer and author of ‘SCORPION KING: America’s Suicidal Embrace of Nuclear Weapons from FDR to Trump.’ He served in the Soviet Union as an inspector implementing the INF Treaty, in General Schwarzkopf’s staff during the Gulf War, and from 1991-1998 as a UN weapons inspector.