Video footage that appears to show unarmed Russian soldiers being summarily executed by Ukrainian troops has sparked “war crimes” lawsuits between the two warring factions.
According to Moscow, the footage clearly shows Ukrainian troops killing Russian troops who had already surrendered. But Kyiv says its soldiers only acted in “self-defense” after being fired upon.
The incident serves to highlight the grim nature of the conflict, which has been marked by diametrically opposed narratives of what is happening on the ground since it began nine months ago.
“From the footage alone, it’s impossible to say exactly what happened,” Aydin Sezer, a Turkish political scientist, told The Epoch Times.
“Regardless of the reality of the situation,” he added, “there have already been countless incidents in this conflict that can easily be perceived as war crimes.”
Massacre in Makiivka
The series of short videos first appeared on Ukrainian social media accounts last week. They contain both cellphone footage of a Ukrainian soldier and footage of an aerial drone.
On November 20, the New York Times ran a lengthy article about the footage, which it wants verified.
The incident is believed to have happened earlier this month in the town of Makiivka in the north-eastern Luhansk region, which remains the scene of fierce fighting between Russian and Ukrainian forces.
In the footage, several Russian soldiers who appear to have surrendered can be seen lying face down on the ground while armed Ukrainian soldiers look on.
At one point a Russian soldier emerges from a nearby building and opens fire, after which the camera cuts off abruptly.
It remains unclear what happened next, but another short video shows the same Russian soldiers lying motionless in what appear to be pools of blood.
A forensic expert quoted by the New York Times said most of the Russian soldiers killed appeared to have been shot in the head.
The Russian Defense Ministry says the footage is evidence of the “deliberate and systematic killing” of its soldiers by Ukrainian forces.
“This brutal murder of Russian soldiers is neither the first nor the only war crime” committed by Ukraine, the ministry said in a Nov. 18 statement.
She further claimed that such crimes are “common practice” in the Ukrainian military and are “actively supported by the Kiev regime and ignored by Kiev’s western supporters”.
Russia has since asked the United Nations to investigate its “war crimes” allegations.
Sezer, who previously served as a trade adviser at Turkey’s embassy in Moscow, expressed doubts that Russia’s appeal to the world body would yield tangible results.
“Even if it can be proven that Ukrainian troops committed a war crime, I don’t expect anything to come of it,” he said.
“Much of the world, especially the West, sees Russia as an occupier,” he said. “And unfortunately, incidents of this nature are inevitable in times of war.”
Dmytro Lubinets, Kiev’s human rights commissioner, has dismissed Russian claims that Ukrainian forces are guilty of war crimes.
On November 20, Lubinets accused Russian forces of surrendering before opening fire on their Ukrainian captors.
“From individual parts of the video … it can be concluded that the Russians committed a war crime with a staged capture,” he said on the messaging app Telegram.
“They opened fire [Ukrainian] soldiers,” he claimed, accusing the killed Russian soldiers of “faithlessness.”
According to the Geneva Conventions, which set international standards for humanitarian conduct in time of war, “disloyalty” can be defined as “pretending to negotiate under a flag of armistice or surrender.”
On November 21, Beth van Schaack, US Ambassador for Global Criminal Justice, addressed the Russian allegations.
“The laws of war apply equally to all parties, both the aggressor state and the defender state, and do so to the same extent,” she told reporters.
But Van Schaack continued to ridicule Russian responses to war crimes allegations while praising Kiev’s response to such allegations.
“Russia inevitably responds with propaganda, denial, misinformation and disinformation, while Ukrainian authorities have generally acknowledged and denounced abuses and pledged to investigate them,” she said.
For his part, Sezer denies the claim.
“Russia never misinforms about events that could later put it in a difficult situation,” he said.
“Yes, Russia has an uncompromising foreign policy,” Sezer added. “But in such cases, there is usually truthful information and clearly says in advance what it will do.”
“War of Perception”
Kyiv reportedly opened its own criminal case on November 22 against the Russian armed forces for alleged “disloyalty” and violations of the “rules of war.”
“Russian soldiers, pretending to surrender to Ukrainian soldiers, opened fire on Ukrainian defenders,” read a statement released by Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office on Telegram.
“Such acts are prohibited under international humanitarian law,” she added.
In response, Daniil Bessarabov, a prominent Russian lawmaker, accused Kyiv of “attempting to evade responsibility by making counter-accusations.”
Speaking to Russia’s TASS news agency on November 23, Bessarabov called on “all reasonable people not to let those guilty be held accountable, but to identify them and make sure they stand up to a fair trial.”
According to Sezer, the entire episode reflects an ongoing “war of perceptions” between Moscow and Kiev’s formidable western allies.
“The real war is not between Ukraine and Russia,” he said. “Ukraine is just a pawn used by the West.”
Kyiv also typically enjoys the support of the Western mainstream media, which Sezer described as “quite adept” at manipulating public opinion.
“In the media war,” Sezer concluded, “Russia has no chance against the West.”