Most of us following news of the war can surmise well enough from the circumstances and many eyewitness accounts which side is responsible for the atrocities in Bucha. But every population will have its share of cranks, tankies, authoritarians, contrarians, useful idiots, and gadflies various and sundry motivated to make excuses for Russia for their own pet personal or illiberal political reasons.
They require a bit more convincing, even though their ulterior motives will assure that they’re never actually convinced.
A less desperate propaganda operation than the Kremlin’s would have answered the evidence from Bucha with more modest claims. For instance, they might have said that we can’t tell which civilians might have been caught in the crossfire of a skirmish between the two sides, which might have been killed inadvertently by shelling, which might have been honestly mistaken for Ukrainian troops from a distance, and so on. They’d still have the problem of explaining why some victims had their wrists bound behind them, but there are at least superficially plausible ways to explain away some of the casualties as short of deliberate murder.
This is not one of those ways. This is sub-InfoWars.
⚡ Official Statement by @mod_russia ⚡
All the photos and videos published by the Kiev regime in Bucha are just another provocation.
Facts 👉 https://t.co/L91uGBs4r5
— MFA Russia 🇷🇺 (@mfa_russia) April 3, 2022
The fact that the Kremlin went all the way to “staged!” right out of the gate feels like an admission that this looks so bad for them that they won’t waste time trying to convince anyone via more reasonable objections. They’re aiming straight for the useful idiots whom they can trust to carry their water no matter what. The “staged” claim isn’t supposed to persuade anyone, it’s supposed to give people who are already on their side some meager psychological excuse not to feel appalled by what they’ve seen the last few days.
Some of this nonsense is very easily debunked:
4) Then there’s the claim about the body moving in the wing mirror.
A slowed down version shows the buildings in the background being distorted by the wing mirror. Add social media compression and the video gives the impression the body is moving.pic.twitter.com/IZ0xtVPYzG
— Shayan Sardarizadeh (@Shayan86) April 3, 2022
If Russian’s going to cry “staged!” every time a new atrocity is exposed, they should make more of an effort to hide the evidence. The Times had the bright idea to go back and compare commercial satellite photos of Bucha over the last few weeks to the videos that emerged this weekend when Ukrainians reentered the town. The Russians ended their occupation and withdrew on March 30; if bodies were lying in the street before then, it’s a safe bet they were killed by the Russian army, not as part of a false-flag op by the absent Ukrainians.
— Malachy Browne (@malachybrowne) April 4, 2022
“Some of the dead lay beside what appears to be an impact crater. Others were near abandoned cars. Three of the dead lay beside bicycles. Some have their hands bound behind their backs with white cloth,” the Times writes of its analysis of satellite photos from the town’s Yablonka Street between March 9 and 11. Several other bodies in the street were seen in photos from March 20 and 21. How’d the Ukrainian “Nazis” manage to stage this provocation weeks ago, with Russian troops in control of the town?
And why weren’t the bodies taken away in all that time? All I can think is that residents were too afraid of what the Russians might do if they tried to move them, which is another clue as to the ruthlessness being shown there by the occupiers.
Presumably the word has now gone out from Moscow to Russian troops in control of other Ukrainian cities like Kherson to start cleaning up any evidence of atrocities that might be lying out in the streets in plain view. No doubt reporters are already looking at satellite photos from those cities to see what’s visible right now with plans to compare it to the same location in a week or two. I’m also surprised that it fell to the Times, not the White House, to debunk the Russian claims of when the bodies in Bucha ended up lying in the road via satellite images. Biden’s team has made shrewd use of publicizing intelligence to put Russia on the defensive, starting with exposing Moscow’s plans to invade Ukraine weeks before Putin made his move. They would have had a big international audience if they had put together the sort of comparison seen in the Times clip above and had the Pentagon’s spokesman walk reporters through it in a press briefing.
The White House did make some use of intelligence today, though. What Jake Sullivan says here about Russian strategy shifting to the east and trying to encircle Ukrainian troops isn’t some big secret, but it’s another nudge to Putin that we might be reading his battle plans over his shoulder:
.@JakeSullivan46: “The Ukrainian people, backed resolutely by the United States and other nations, have held firm.”
He also says, “At this juncture, we believe that Russia is revising its war aims.” pic.twitter.com/zEsqaKi8Id
— CSPAN (@cspan) April 4, 2022
Russia has certainly revised its war aims, of necessity:
Upon my rough estimates, Russia in fact has withdrawn from nearly 40% (!) of the territories it occupied in Ukraine since February 24. Within just 2 or 3 days.
The the whole of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy regions.
The war’s phase 1 is Russia’s crushing defeat.
Now phase 2 is begins. pic.twitter.com/zbA7fHLpvT
— Illia Ponomarenko 🇺🇦 (@IAPonomarenko) April 4, 2022
They can’t take the whole country with the relatively meager force they have. One analyst noted that the U.S. sent 540,000 troops to Saudi Arabia in 1991 to free Kuwait and compared that to Russia’s Ukrainian force of 140,000 or so combat troops. “Russia is conducting this invasion on a shoestring,” Mark Cancian concluded. Maybe you can take and hold the Donbas on a shoestring but you can’t take and hold Kiev. Not with Ukraine’s military much more effective than expected.
Here’s a little more from Sullivan’s briefing today in which he declined to accuse Russia of genocide, interestingly. Is that a gesture towards deescalation or just not wanting to cheapen a term that carries unrivaled moral weight?
“We have seen atrocities, we have seen war crimes. We have not yet seen a level of systematic deprivation of life, of the Ukrainian people, to rise to the level of genocide”: White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan says of the attacks by Russian forces in Ukraine. pic.twitter.com/bdn7Q4iu00
— CBS News (@CBSNews) April 4, 2022