“Bucha Massacre” Incident: A Possible Major Turning Point in Russia-Ukraine War

The recently exposed “Bucha Massacre” incident is becoming a new focus of global attention and is likely to become a critical turning point in changing the course of the Russia-Ukraine war.

After the withdrawal of Russian forces from the suburbs of Kyiv, the Ukrainian army regained control of the relevant areas on April 2. On the next day, the Ukrainian army alleged that the Russian army carried out a “massacre” in the town of Bucha near Kyiv. Ukrainian media released a series of pictures and videos of the death of civilians there, which immediately aroused strong reactions from parts of the world. The Russian Ministry of Defense denied the incident on the very same day calling the images a “hoax”. On April 4, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the Bucha incident was an attempt by the Ukrainian side to use “fake news” to “attack” Russia. On April 4, the Chief Directorate of Intelligence of the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense stated that soldiers of Russia’s 64th Motor Rifle Brigade should be responsible for the Bucha incident. According to Prosecutor General of Ukraine Iryna Venediktova, 410 civilian bodies were found in the Kyiv region. “I would like to emphasize that we are interested in the most complete, transparent investigation, the results of which will be known and explained to the entire international community,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said after visiting the town of Bucha on April 4.

Regarding the dispute between the two sides, the New York Times and The Times conducted a comparative study of video and satellite images. The results showed that between March 9 and March 11, there appeared on Yablonska Street in the town of Bucha “dark objects of similar size to a human body”. As shown in footage from April 2, these objects appeared at the exact location where the bodies were found after Ukrainian troops recaptured the town. Further analysis showed that the objects remained in the same position for more than three weeks. That is purportedly saying that many civilians were killed more than three weeks ago when the Russian military took control of the town.

Western countries have unanimously agreed that the Russian army is to be blamed for the “Bucha Massacre”. Vasily Nebenzya, Russia’s envoy to the United Nations has twice called for an emergency meeting of the Security Council and submitted evidence to the Security Council that the incident was a propaganda campaign planned by Ukraine. The United Kingdom, which now holds the rotating chair of the United Nations Security Council, however, rejected Russia’s request for an emergency meeting.

An independent investigation into the “Bucha Massacre” incident has yet to take place, but Western countries have begun further sanctions against Russia, including diplomatic sanctions where several countries have expelled Russian diplomats. Germany expelled 40 of the diplomats, France 35, and Italy 30. As of April 5, at least 8 European countries announced the expulsion of Russian diplomats, and the number of expulsions has exceeded 150. The United States, meanwhile, has asked the UN General Assembly to suspend Russia’s seat on the UN Human Rights Council. These rare and drastic diplomatic sanctions are second only to the severing of diplomatic ties. They will put Russia’s diplomatic ties with Europe and the United States on ice for the foreseeable future.

The West is also imposing further severe economic sanctions on Russia. According to the tracking of researchers at ANBOUND, on April 5, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission announced the content of the fifth round of sanctions against Russia, including (1) Prohibiting Russian vessels from entering the ports of EU countries. (2) Banning the export of semiconductors, machinery and transport equipment worth EUR 10 billion to Russia. (3) Prohibiting Russian companies from participating in EU public procurement. (4) Banning financial support for Russian state institutions. (5) Imposing an import ban on coal from Russia, worth EUR 4 billion per year. (6) A full transaction ban on four key Russian banks. (7) Proposing a ban on Russian and Belarusian road transport operators. (8) The EU is studying new sanctions on oil imports from Russia. It can be seen that this round of EU sanctions has begun to touch the previously sensitive energy sector. The United States, whose economic sanctions against Russia are approaching the limit, is still considering tightening sanctions on Sberbank. In addition, the IRS suspended tax information exchanges with Russian tax authorities. The U.S. Treasury Department said the purpose of the moratorium on tax information was to reduce Russian taxes and funding for military operations.

What is more important than sanctions, however, is that the “Bucha Massacre” episode will have a huge influence on the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, and may even result in a substantial shift in the direction of the war. It will not only put more pressure on Russia, but it may also prolong the situation in Russia and Ukraine into an uncertain future, posing tremendous threats to the globe and perhaps resulting in massive tragedies.

To begin with, the “Bucha Massacre” incident added fresh factors to the war’s stalemate. Since the Russia-Ukraine crisis began, Zelenskyy has spoken to the world every day, but there are fewer and fewer materials for him to utilize. The stalemate of war has dragged down Russia but has dragged down Ukraine as well. Based on the support pattern of the United States and Europe in the past, it would be difficult for Ukraine to reverse the situation. Just as Ukraine gradually fell into the dilemma of seeking a “re-breakthrough”, a video showing the Ukrainian army shooting Russian captives surfaced, prompting Zelenskyy to declare that an inquiry will be launched. Then, the “Bucha Massacre” incident “suddenly” emerged, providing Ukraine with additional material. It may well be a turning point where Zelenskyy may remind the international community that Russia is not only Ukraine’s opponent, but the world’s enemy, and that the Russian military is relentless in its ‘carnage’. For such an army, war has only one outcome, and that is victory. As a result, France, Germany, and Israel, who were passive and hesitant about sanctions in the past, should provide Ukraine with everything it wants.

Second, the “Bucha Massacre” incident gave an incontrovertible new cause for an increase in the West’s military aid to Ukraine. Jens Stoltenberg, Secretary-General of NATO revealed on April 5 that the foreign ministers of NATO member countries will discuss the issue of providing more assistance to Ukraine from April 6 to 7. “NATO Allies are stepping up support with air-defense missiles, anti-tank weapons, as well as humanitarian and financial aid,” he stated. In addition, NATO will also increase humanitarian and financial support to Ukraine. The United States will provide Ukraine with heavy weapons such as long-range air defense systems. U.S. National Security Adviser John Sullivan has pledged that the U.S. will supply Ukraine with more military aid in the coming days. According to Sullivan’s explanation, the weapons provided to Ukraine include long-range air defense systems, artillery systems and coastal defense systems. Sullivan said the pace of arms and arms shipments to Ukraine had been “unprecedented”.

Finally, Ukraine’s stance has hardened, potentially complicating the Russia-Ukraine talks. On April 1, Zelenskyy stated that the Ukrainians will not accept any conclusion “other than victory”. On the conditions for reaching a peace agreement, he stated that “we do not trade our territory”, and added that “the question of territorial integrity and sovereignty is out of discussion”.

Compared with the past, Zelenskyy appears to be more confident and is imposing more conditions for negotiations. In the past, he had hoped to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, but his latest remarks suggest that there may not be a meeting with Putin for now. It is worth noting that he also began to change his tune on joining NATO. In a live broadcast on Ukrainian TV on April 5, Zelenskyy said that Ukraine would not even discuss the terms of demilitarization and the alleged de-Nazification in the negotiations with Russia. Ukraine is ready to join NATO if NATO proposes. He also said that if all parties want to end the war, including Ukraine’s Western partners, there is still more work to do.

He Jun
He Jun
Mr. He Jun takes the roles as Partner, Director of China Macro-Economic Research Team and Senior Researcher. His research field covers China’s macro-economy, energy industry and public policy