The top and middle-tier command evidently opt to not inform their subordinates about the limitations posed by international humanitarian law. Also, the command may actually encourage troops to violate it.
The consequences of such nihilism and ignorance are deplorable.
Russian troops commit war crimes in Ukraine — executions, torture, and inhumane treatment of unarmed civilians and prisoners of war. Their conduct gives grounds to believe that the Russian occupiers have received a “blessing” from their command to wreak havoc. This is not dissimilar to how Hitler inspired his soldiers: “I hereby free you from the chimera called conscience.”
In addition, the Russian command does not encourage its subordinates to observe even those norms of international humanitarian law which are designed to ease their own fate.
Russian troops fail to understand that there may be circumstances when they need to surrender. And this is nothing to be embarrassed of and neither this is a crime.
Captivity is a status that limits freedom, but at the same time, it is not the same as serving a sentence in prison for crimes committed. Civilized surrender and dignified stay in captivity are notable achievements of modern international law that have humanized war.
The Ukrainian political leadership and military command relied on the norms of international humanitarian law regarding the observance of the rights of prisoners of war when they ordered the Azovstal garrison to cease resistance in May 2022. And that is why most of the Ukrainian forces survived.
Putin’s troops in Ukraine, on the other hand, seem to be adhering to the opposite tactic. Stalin disowned his prisoners, brandishing them as weak-minded and treacherous. A soldier in Stalin’s era was supposed to die rather than surrender. Putin trains his soldiers the same way. At the same time, though, he allows them to resort to perfidy and treachery. For example, the troops are encouraged to pretend to surrender only to kill the enemy taking them prisoner.
This is what Prigozhin meant when he was recruiting inmates in the infamous video: “No one backs down, no one gives up, no one surrenders. When you are trained how to surrender, they’ll tell you: there are two grenades you must carry.”
This behavior is defined as perfidy and proscribed by Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (namely Art. 37). Violating civilized norms, the Russian military exposes itself to danger, instead of taking advantage of the guaranteed rights of prisoners of war.
The incident with the death of unidentified Russian troops in the video being spun by Russian propaganda is precisely a consequence of this barbaric attitude to international law. In case of armed resistance during capture, the opposing party is entitled to adequate self-defense.
Russia must publicly undertake to conduct outreach work with its troops regarding the laws and customs of war and the duty to strictly observe them. Otherwise, it is rather difficult to qualify these units as legitimate combatants.
Center for Strategic Communication and Information Security
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