Is Russian President Vladimir Putin creating a pretext for war?
Take the situation in Donbass, the eastern Ukrainian territories partially controlled by Russian-backed separatists. During a press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday, Putin dropped the “g” word to describe the situation there.
“According to our estimates, what is happening today in Donbass is genocide,” Putin said.
Scholz pushed back, later telling reporters that Putin was “wrong” to use the term. But those comments were already in the public domain – and Putin had stepped up the rhetoric.
Putin’s grievance in the Donbass is not new. He has spoken repeatedly about what he describes as the violation of the rights of ethnic Russians and Russian speakers in Ukraine, and said it was within Russia‘s right to intervene militarily to protect them.
But Putin appears to be arguing for his own version of a ‘responsibility to protect’, however far the situation in the Donbass may be from a Rwanda – where more than 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, have been killed. in 100 days to 1994 – or Srebrenica – where more than 7,000 mostly Muslim men and boys were massacred in 1995.
The invocation of genocide echoes Russia’s false claim that its neighbor Georgia committed genocide against civilians in the breakaway republic of South Ossetia in August 2008. During this brief conflict, the Russia has launched a massive military incursion that has driven deep into Georgian territory, a scenario that worries the West. decision-makers today with regard to Ukraine.
The Investigative Committee, Russia’s top law enforcement body, took Putin’s comments one step further on Wednesday when it announced that it had opened a criminal investigation into alleged evidence of this which she called “indiscriminate shelling” of civilians in the Donbas region by Ukrainian forces since 2014.
In a press release laced with politically charged language, the Investigative Committee said it had opened a criminal case under Part 1 of Article 356 of the Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, which covers ill-treatment inflicted on the civilian population and the use of prohibited means and methods. by an international treaty in an armed conflict.
The statement of the investigative committee echoes Putin’s speech on the genocide, saying: “The intention to exterminate the inhabitants of Donbass is obvious – the Russian investigation recorded hundreds of such facts which are considered as evidence of the use of prohibited means and methods of warfare”.
Since the start of the conflict in Donbass in 2014, thousands of civilians have been killed and injured in the fighting, according to United Nations estimates. But announcing an investigation – not by an independent body, and at the height of a confrontation with Ukraine – appears to be a clearly political decision, regardless of the veracity of the allegations.
And then there is also the thorny question of the legal status of the separatist regions of Donbass. Russia has never recognized the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) in the Donbass as sovereign and independent states, although it has issued Russian passports to people who live there.
Earlier this week, Russian lawmakers called on the Russian president to recognize the breakaway Donbas republics as independent. This, too, creates a potential situation where Russia could declare the need to respond to Ukrainian “aggression” against these small states.
But fabricating more trouble can also benefit the Kremlin: it expands the menu of options available to Putin.