I’ve mostly avoided writing about atrocities in Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine. They make for lurid headlines, sure, but every war features them in varying degrees and usually on both sides.
Some wartime atrocities descend to such levels of horror that they simply must be written about because they reveal the nature of those who order them and the wickedness of the underlings who commit them.
Think of the Rape of Nanking, the Holocaust, mass rape in the Bosnian War, amputation as a terror weapon in the Congo Wars, and more … all of which I’d rather not think about.
But to understand why Putin continues this war — to the point of sending unfit, middle-aged men into battle without proper weapons or training — all of us need to do a little thinking about the atrocities, large and small, being committed on his order.
The latest atrocity — this would be one of the bigger ones — is another in a string of reports on the sad fate of Ukrainian children: Using Adoptions, Russia Turns Ukrainian Children Into Spoils of War.
“I didn’t want to go,” said Anya, 14, who escaped a home for tuberculosis patients in Mariupol and is now with a foster family near Moscow. “But nobody asked me.”
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began in February, Russian authorities have announced with patriotic fanfare the transfer of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia to be adopted and become citizens. On state-run television, officials offer teddy bears to new arrivals, who are portrayed as abandoned children being rescued from war.
Remember: This isn’t propaganda from Kyiv but a proud boast from Moscow.
Lending even more credence to reports like this one, a local Russian government website let it slip a few weeks ago that “Russia is bringing Ukrainian children to the country and paying Russian families to adopt them.” They’re also being forced to speak Russian as part of Putin’s effort to erase Ukraine’s national identity.
I was finding stories back in April of Ukrainian children being forcibly removed and illegally adopted.
Children aren’t the only Ukrainians being forcibly removed.
ISW reported last week:
Russia continues to use the guise of civilian “evacuations” as a cover for the mass forced removal of civilians from Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine. Saldo’s announcement of a mass withdrawal from the west bank of the Dnipro River is likely intended in part to evacuate Russian occupation officials, collaborators, and other occupation organs in anticipation of imminent Ukrainian advances, but Russian officials are likely also using the façade of humanitarian necessity to deport large populations of Ukrainians to Russia.
It’s a centuries-old Russian practice to deport the locals from conquered land and move in ethnic Russians to replace them. Central Asia is dotted with tiny populations of German-speakers, Tatars, and others — the descendants of peoples forcibly removed at Moscow’s whim.
Then there are Putin’s missile and drone attacks on Ukraine’s energy grid. Turning off the power won’t have any battlefield effect, so why bother? With winter coming, if Putin can turn off the heat, he’ll create millions more Ukrainian refugees in places like Poland.
I wrote months ago that what Putin can’t take, he’ll destroy, and what he can’t destroy, he’ll depopulate.
There’s a word for that.
What Putin’s Ukraine War really is, is genocide. At the very least, it’s attempted genocide.
Just because I’ve gone and used the G-word doesn’t mean I’m recommending direct United States involvement. Fighting Russia directly there is not in our interest, period. NATO forces fighting in Ukraine could start a nuclear WWIII, and nothing is worth that. Though if Hitler could have been stopped in Czechoslovakia by keeping the Czechs armed and in the fight, there never would have been a WWII.
But no historical analogy is perfect. It isn’t — no matter what Joe Biden might say — America’s job to oust Putin. One simply doesn’t make existential threats to a man with the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.
Zelenskyy can’t stop fighting because losing means the end of Ukraine as a nation and eventually even as a people. Putin can’t stop fighting because men like him rarely survive losing a major war.
This is where the U.S. State Department is supposed to come in, except that it’s AWOL under Anthony Blinken.
We ought to be pursuing a “two-track” strategy in the Ukraine War.
The first track is what we’re already doing: Arming Ukraine to the teeth. The second track is actively pursuing a diplomatic end to this war before it escalates further.
It’s easy to yank Kyiv’s leash since they rely on the West for weapons and intel. Putin needs an off-ramp — Sun Tzu’s “golden bridge” — to extricate himself with his hide intact.
Because it’s either a messy diplomatic solution, continued genocide, or escalation into a wider war that nobody wants and nobody wins.
But it all starts with calling Putin’s Ukraine war what it is: Genocide.