5 April 2022
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
The atrocities committed by the Russian army in Bucha have left few people indifferent. Inhabitants of the prosperous West are shocked and Ukrainians furious. In Russia some people are horrified and stunned while others are looking for evidence of fabrication and fraud. After all, it is unbearably hard to accept the burden of such responsibility. Only those for whom murder, abuse and torture are part of their job and professional duty remain indifferent.
There are not so many of these ‘professionals’ in Russia but enough to keep the entire country in fear and subjugation. They have power and weapons, they are protected by a corrupt justice system and they are the mainstay of the dictatorship. In the last twenty-five years they have had great deal of practice in their own country. Dressed in the uniforms of the Federal Penitentiary Service, they inherited the bestial traditions of the Gulag, they tortured prisoners, put down unrest in prison camps and did not hesitate to murder convicts. They organised torture chambers and set obedient prisoners on troublesome inmates.
Dressed in the uniforms of the militia or the police, they tortured detainees in police stations, raping men and women and then drawing up criminal charges against them for resisting public officials or distributing drugs which they had planted themselves. Dressed in the uniforms of riot police and other special forces, with complete impunity they could beat up people with batons at peaceful rallies and marches, break their bones in police vans and beat them to within an inch of their lives inside police stations.
Sometimes they were not in any uniform at all but, carrying the credentials of detectives or investigators, they professionally broke people, beating confessions out of them with the help of electric shocks, tying plastic bags on the heads of suspects, hanging them up by ropes and pouring ice cold water over them. But most of all, people went through the school of violence in the military where ‘hazing’ has become a norm of army life. This has been going on for decades and many of the millions of young men and women who served as conscripts in the army learned the lesson for the rest of their lives: violence in the army is not only permissible, but is welcomed by army commanders.
And now all these people who have been taught to torture and kill, who despise compassion and count human life as worthless, find themselves in a foreign country where they are told: ‘You can do what you want with these people here. You won’t be held to account for what you do. You will be thanked for it. You will be heroes.’ And they begin doing what their basest instincts tell them to do, instincts that have risen from the depths of their troubled souls.
WAR CRIMES ARE A LOGICAL EXTENSION OF CRIMES COMMITTED AT HOME
I do not think the civilians of Bucha were killed by conscripts or by ordinary army officers. It was more likely the work of ‘professionals’ – trained murderers and rapists who take sadistic pleasure in their crimes. Someday an international investigation will sort out the details and name names.
But I want to draw attention to something else. War crimes on the territory of a foreign country are the logical continuation of crimes committed at home. The phenomena are of the same order, different in scale, but identical in essence. War crimes must be fought not when they have already been committed and all that remains is to track down the perpetrators, but when the criminals are still practising their skills on their own people.
Of course, it is possible to turn a blind eye on the pretext of national sovereignty. You can invoke non-interference in internal affairs. You can trade till you are out of your minds with a despotic regime, receiving hydrocarbons and paying with good money, money with which the despot will produce everything they need – from handcuffs, flak jackets and police ammunition to hypersonic missiles, tanks, and multiple rocket launchers.
Inhabitants of more fortunate countries may say indifferently: it’s none of our business, deal with your scoundrels yourselves. But history repeats the same lesson year in year out, time after time: evil cannot abide isolation, it seeps across borders and around the world at the slightest opportunity. And by then it is too late to repent and all that remains is for some to be struck dumb with horror and for others to bury the dead.
Translated by Simon Cosgrove