Ukrainian troops and the international community discovered hundreds of victims in towns that were occupied by Russia, including Boutcha, a town on the outskirts of kyiv. Westerners have denounced “war crimes” and want to adopt new measures against Moscow, which denies being the author of these abuses.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has slammed Russian troops as “murderers, torturers, rapists, looters” after the massacre of civilians uncovered in Boutcha, near kyiv, is expected to lead to new Western sanctions against Moscow this week.
The images of dozens of corpses in mass graves or littering the streets around the Ukrainian capital this weekend, following the Russian withdrawal, revolted Westerners, like the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, speaking of ‘punched in the stomach’.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said on Sunday he was “deeply shocked by the images of civilians killed in Boutcha”, and the United Nations human rights office spoke of “possible war crimes”.
The total death toll is still uncertain. According to the Prosecutor General of Ukraine Iryna Venediktova, the lifeless bodies of 410 civilians were found in the territories of the Kyiv region recently recaptured from Russian troops.
AFP saw on Saturday the bodies of at least 22 people wearing civilian clothes in the streets of Boutcha, killed by “a bullet in the back of the neck”, according to the mayor, Anatoli Fedorouk, to AFP.
And there are mass graves. Anatoli Fedoruk said on Saturday that “280 people” had been buried “in mass graves” because they could not be buried in communal cemeteries, all within range of Russian fire during the fighting.
The Ukrainian president’s spokesman, Sergey Nikiforovil, for his part told the BBC: “We found mass graves. We found people with their hands and legs tied up (…) with bullet holes on the back of the head”, and they were “clearly civilians”.
Sanctions “in the coming days”
On Sunday, Moscow denied any extortion by him. “During the period when this locality was under the control of the Russian Armed Forces, not a single local resident suffered violent actions,” the Russian Defense Ministry said, claiming that the images of dead bodies were “a new production of the kyiv regime for the Western media”.
Russia has even requested a meeting of the UN Security Council to rule on the “hateful provocations” committed according to it by “Ukrainian radicals” in Boutcha.
“Absolute evil has come to our land. Murderers, torturers, rapists, looters, who call themselves an army,” denounced the Ukrainian president on Sunday evening, who wants “all the leaders of the Russian Federation to see how their orders are carried out. This kind of orders (…). And they have a common responsibility”.
Volodymyr Zelensky, who also spoke about “genocide”, then appeared at the Grammy Awards ceremony via a recorded video, where he asked for the support of his country and launched: “What is the exact opposite music? The silence of ruined cities and slain people”.
Westerners have denounced “war crimes” or called for an investigation to establish the facts. They now want to adopt new measures against Moscow, after having already acted on several sets of sanctions since February 24 and the start of the Russian invasion, massively targeting companies, banks, senior officials, oligarchs, and prohibiting the export of goods to Russia.
“More EU sanctions and aid are on the way,” European Council President Charles Michel tweeted on Sunday.
“We will decide on new measures between the Allies in the coming days,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, assuring that “President Putin and his supporters will suffer the consequences”.
The head of French diplomacy Jean-Yves Le Drian affirmed, in a statement sent to AFP, that “the strongest possible economic and international pressure must be maintained and reinforced on Russia to compel the Russian authorities to put end to the war of aggression”.
And Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised on Twitter that the British would “step up (their) sanctions”.
What penalties? Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kouleba framed his expectations in a tweet: “I demand devastating new G7 sanctions NOW: embargo on oil, gas and coal, close all ports to Russian ships and goods , disconnect all Russian banks from SWIFT”.
Gas and talks
The pressure thus bears in particular on hydrocarbons, an important financial resource for Russia. As of Saturday, the Baltic States had announced the cessation of their importation of Russian gas, and the Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda, had called on the rest of the EU to follow them.
The Baltic countries are now served by gas reserves stored underground in Latvia. According to Eurostat, in 2020 Russia accounted for 93% of Estonian natural gas imports, 100% of Latvian imports and 41.8% of Lithuanian imports.
The United States banned the import of Russian oil and gas shortly after the invasion of Ukraine, but not the EU, which was sourcing around 40% from Russia in 2021.
Moscow’s announcement on Thursday to force buyers from “unfriendly” countries to pay for Russian gas in rubles from accounts in Russia may have been a game-changer. Germany, like the other EU countries, refuses any payment in rubles to Moscow, but, particularly dependent on Russian gas, it indicated on Friday that it wanted to analyze the concrete consequences of this Kremlin decree.
On the Moscow side, we are already anticipating a possible increase in sanctions. “There can be no isolation from Russia, it is technologically impossible in the contemporary world,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov assured in an interview with Russian state television channel Rossia 1. later, we will have to establish a dialogue, whether someone across the Atlantic wants it or not”.
What impact will Boutcha this week have on the already difficult Russian-Ukrainian talks? The Sunday statements on the Russian side gave off a glimmer: the Russian chief negotiator, Vladimir Medinski, welcomed a “more realistic” position according to him from kyiv, ready under conditions to accept a neutral status for the country, demanded by Moscow, and Dmitri Peskov said says about a Putin-Zelensky summit that, “hypothetically, such a meeting is possible”.
The Kremlin spokesman also stressed that the two delegations must first work out a “concrete” agreement supposed to normalize relations between the two countries, “not a number of ideas, but a concrete written document”.
Ukrainian chief negotiator David Arakhamia said on Saturday that Moscow had “orally” accepted all Ukrainian positions, “except with regard to the Crimea issue”.
The intense war caused at least thousands of deaths and forced into exile nearly 4.2 million Ukrainians, 90% of them women and children. More than 500,000 people have returned to Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion, the Ukrainian Interior Ministry announced on Sunday.
Zelensky denounces “war crimes”
Dressed in a khaki coat and a bulletproof vest, surrounded by soldiers in the devastated streets of Boutcha, Volodymyr Zelensky observed with journalists the damage caused by the fighting: “Every day, when our fighters enter and resume territories, you see what’s going on”.
“These are war crimes and it will be recognized by the world as genocide”, he added, referring to “thousands of people killed and tortured, with extremities cut off, women raped, children killed”. Ukraine accuses the Russian army, which invaded the country, of having committed a “massacre” in Boutcha.
The images and information from Boutcha caused an international outcry and the promise of new sanctions against Russia. Moscow for its part denied having killed civilians in Boutcha, the Kremlin and the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov evoking “falsifications” and staged for the press.
Russian diplomats expelled from France and Germany
France and Germany announced Monday the massive expulsion of Russian diplomats from their countries after the discovery this weekend of massacres attributed to Russian soldiers northwest of kyiv, while Westerners want to announce “this week” of new economic sanctions against Russia.
Germany has announced the expulsion of “a large number” of Russian diplomats – 40 according to information from AFP – stationed in Berlin, in connection with the war in Ukraine. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock stressed that these employees of the Russian embassy constituted “a threat to those who seek protection with us”. “We will no longer tolerate it,” she added in a written statement.
France will expel 35 Russian diplomats “whose activities are contrary to (its) interests”, we learned Monday from a source close to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “This action is part of a European approach”, according to a press release from the French ministry.