US Officials: Russia is lying about what killed Ukrainian POWs

Last Friday I wrote about the dueling claims of responsibility over an explosion at a prison where Ukrainian POWs were being held. Russia claimed the explosion, which killed at least 53 POWs, was the result of a Ukrainian strike with a US-made HIMARS missile. But Ukraine denied firing any artillery in the vicinity and blamed Russia for the explosion. Ukraine later released what they claimed was an intercept between two Russian soldiers which implied there was no missile strike at all at the prison. Instead one of the voices claimed it had been blown up intentionally by the Russians after herding POWs into a specific barracks inside the prison.


In keeping with that, an adviser to President Zelensky argued yesterday on Twitter that this was not a strike at all but a bomb detonated from the inside the building.

Today, Politico reports US officials have made their own assessment of the prison and concluded the damage was not caused by a HIMARS strike.

“We know Ukraine didn’t attack the site with HIMARS because the site doesn’t have the indications it would have if it was hit with HIMARS,” one of the officials said.

While one of the officials stopped short of saying Ukraine was not responsible for the strike, the other official said the evidence showed the attack was not conducted by Kyiv. Satellite photos of the site released by Maxar Technologies on July 30 appear to show damage only to the section of the detention center housing Ukrainian prisoners, with no collateral damage to surrounding buildings.

Over the weekend, Ukrainian authorities called for an international investigation into the attack. They rejected Moscow’s claims, saying they are gathering evidence that will prove Russia was responsible for the deaths of the prisoners in what they described as a “terrorist attack.”…

“It was a deliberate Russian war crime, a deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war,” Zelenskyy said in a speech on Friday.


I’m not generally a fan of Max Boot these days but his opinion piece about the dueling claims is pretty spot on. The Russian claims about what happened here make zero sense.

It is, of course, possible that an errant Ukrainian artillery strike might have hit the prisoner-of-war camp near Olenivka, in eastern Ukraine. But the Ukrainians deny that they fired any artillery in the area on Friday, and the Russians aren’t claiming a “friendly fire” accident. Russian media claims that the Ukrainians deliberately slaughtered their own soldiers to discourage others from surrendering and to prevent these soldiers, who belonged to the Azov Regiment, from testifying about supposed Ukrainian war crimes.

As usual, Russian propaganda makes no sense. The Azov Regiment surrendered in Mariupol only after receiving orders to do so from Kyiv, and the only war crimes its members witnessed were committed by the Russians against the people of Mariupol. They are heroes in Ukraine, and governments — even governments far less democratic and law-abiding than the one in Kyiv — do not ordinarily kill their own heroes.

The Russians, by contrast, have plenty of reason to murder these soldiers, whose desperate resistance in the Azovstal steel plant cost the Russians dearly and prevented them from shifting forces to the east. The Russian Embassy in London actually tweeted on Friday: “Azov militants deserve execution … because they’re not real soldiers. They deserve a humiliating death.”


He concludes by saying, “unless it is proven otherwise, we should assume that every word out of the mouths of Kremlin spokespeople is a lie — including ‘and’ and ‘the.'” For once I agree with him completely.

Finally, adding to the suspicioun that the Russian claims don’t add up is the fact that the Red Cross requested access to the scene to deal with the injured and the bodies of those killed in the blast. So far they haven’t gotten a response.

“Our priority right now is making sure that the wounded receive lifesaving treatment and that the bodies of those who lost their lives are dealt with in a dignified manner,” the Red Cross said.

But the organization said late Saturday that its request to access the prison had not been granted yet.

“Granting ICRC access to POWs is an obligation of parties to conflict under the Geneva Conventions,” the ICRC said on Twitter.

It seems the Russians aren’t eager for anyone to get a close up view of the site or to talk to any survivors, if there are any. I’m guessing there’s a very good reason for that.

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