Do Russian abuses in Ukraine serve a military objective?

Since the start of the withdrawal of Russian forces around and north of Kyiv, testimonies and evidence of numerous abuses carried out by Russian soldiers against the civilian population have rapidly multiplied. If there is still time today for the investigation, it now seems that these were not the work of isolated soldiers, but of a coordinated action carried out with the approval of the Russian command. At the same time, direct attacks against civilian populations, apart from any military target, have also increased significantly in recent weeks, particularly in and around Donbass. While the debate today revolves mainly around who is responsible for these abuses, or even the very unlikely possibilities that it could be staged by the Ukrainians, the reasons that led to such behavior remain best overlooked, by arguing that this unleashing of violence would be the consequence of the very violent methods of supervision and hazing within the Russian armies, a very unconvincing explanation.

Indeed, if that were the case, and if that was the only explanation, the Russian abuses would have started from the start of the conflict. However, obviously, during the first 3 weeks of the war, the Russian armies showed a certain restraint against the civilian populations: if they hardly cared about the civilian losses in the area of ​​​​engagement, as in Irpin, Hostomel , Kharkiv or Mariopol, there have been no consistent and repeated reports of massive abuses against civilian populations in controlled areas. Thus, the inhabitants of Kherson repeatedly showed their opposition to the Russian invasion, without having to face massive repression, at least until the 4th week of the fighting. Admittedly, with the help of the fighting, the soldiers on both sides tend to become more radical, and the increase in the level of violence against civilians is, in a way, a well-known evil of armies in the field. However, massacres such as those observed in Bouccha, far exceed this foreseeable level of this type of drift, in particular against unarmed civilians and obviously representing no immediate or deferred threat against the forces. It is therefore necessary to consider other hypotheses to explain this shift in horror in the behavior of the Russian armies, or at least of certain units, in the occupied zone, and to determine to what extent, and if so, why , the Russian Command organized such abuses.

civilians in the occupied city of Kherson were able to demonstrate against Russian forces during the first 3 weeks of the conflict

To answer this question, it is useful to return to the behavior of the Russian armies during the first two weeks of the conflict. At that time, the Ukrainian communication reported numerous prisoners of war, and showed young soldiers often demoralized, partly relieved, and well treated by the Ukrainians, who even gave them the possibility of calling their wife or their mother for to reassure. There have even been reports of Russian soldiers defecting to Ukrainian forces, with a well-oiled procedure to allow safe surrender, including bringing heavy equipment. Even taking into consideration the filter represented by Ukrainian propaganda, it did seem that morale within the Russian armies was particularly low, and that many soldiers lacked combativeness and motivation. This low morale had also been put forward as one of the reasons for the poor performance of the Russian forces against Ukrainian forces which, conversely, displayed very strong morale.


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