It was a bizarre celebration, almost a couldn’t-care-less response to a horrible facet of the war in Ukraine. On Monday, President Vladimir Putin honoured the Russian military brigade that Ukraine has accused of killing civilians recently in Bucha. The inherent irony is much too cruel for words. Suffice it to register that his compliments have been no less shocking than the massacre which Russia says it had nothing to do with. “The skilful and resolute actions of the 64th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade are an example of the performance of military duty, courage, selflessness and high professionalism,” said Mr Putin in a statement that granted them the honorary title of the “Guards”. Ukrainian officials, it needs to be underlined, had publicly accused the unit of committing war crimes in Bucha. The honour bestowed by the Russian President cannot obfuscate the enormity of the tragedy. It is the latest example of Mr Putin acting with impunity. Small wonder that a senior adviser to President Volodymir Zelenskyi has remarked that “Russia is laughing in the face of the world”.
Bucha, a suburb of Kiev, now showcases a landscape of horrors. Evidence suggests that the Russian troops killed recklessly. Many civilians appeared to have been killed “execution-style”; some were allegedly tortured and raped in incidents that are reminiscent of the Pakistan army’s operations in its erstwhile eastern wing (March 1971). The world has been kept guessing about the consequences that Russia may face because of the calibrated killings. International investigators have mentioned “clear patterns” of human rights abuses. Yet going by the tenets of international law, war crimes are extremely difficult to prosecute. According to Ukraine’s ministry of defence, the brigade that perpetrated the massacre has not pulled out of Russia’s “troop rotation” after Bucha; it was instead redeployed to another area of embattled Ukraine. Mr Putin’s statement on Monday made no mention of Bucha or the gut-churning images that outraged the world, even provoked President Joe Biden to refer to his counterpart in Moscow as a “war criminal”. The Russian President has come through as a remarkably insensitive Head of State. His statement referred to the war, which Russia start- ed, merely as a “special military operation in Ukraine” and praised what he called the “64th brigade’s mass heroism and courage”. Mr Putin, it bears recalling, has in the past been accused of “celebrating” leaders accused of human rights abuses. He had awarded Russia’s highest medal to a Chechen leader who was accused of kidnapping and torture. In 2016, he awarded the same medal to Aleksandr V. Dvornokov, the Russian general whose forces were widely accused of bombing civilian neighbourhoods and hospitals in Syria. Earlier this month, he appointed Dvornikov as Russia’s top battlefield commander in Ukraine. The tragedy deepens as the Kremlin is yet to respond to the massacre in Bucha. Civilians were killed and killed with abandon. Those the world believes were the perpetrators have been feted by the President of Russia.