Will Either of the Warring Sides in Ukraine Start Taking Responsibility for Civilians Killed?

This article originally appeared at Irrussianality

One thing which struck me during the ‘tele-bridge’ which I described in my last post was the refusal of all concerned to take responsibility for their own actions – everything which went wrong was always the fault of the other party.

Another example of this attitude appeared in Monday’s Kyiv Post – an article blaming separatist forces for the shelling of downtown Donetsk on 18 July. According to the Kyiv Post:

At a briefing on July 19, Major General Andriy Taran, the head of the Ukrainian side of the Joint Center for Control and Coordination (JCCC), said separatist forces had driven out of the city to fire upon the center of it before returning and firing on Ukrainian positions as if in retaliation.

The shelling was done specifically to be able to accuse Ukrainian forces of breaking the ceasefire and firing on civilians, Taran said.

Similar claims have been made many times before. For instance, Colonel Andrei Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defence Council, has declared that:

‘We have a strict order, the president’s demand [not to fire on residential areas]. The Ukrainian military has repeatedly stated that the militants fire into residential areas in cities near where the government forces are located in order to discredit us.’

This is, of course, nonsense. Ukrainian artillery has hit residential areas of Donetsk, Lugansk, and other towns time and time again. Large numbers of people have died as a result. The Ukrainian government’s refusal to accept responsibility for this is a serious moral failing on its part.

Rebel forces have had less need to engage in such denial, because for most of the war they have had less artillery at their disposal and have been defending urban areas rather than attacking them. Firing out of a city tends to be less damaging than firing into it. 

But when they have killed civilians, the rebels have been equally unwilling to admit it. An example was the shelling of a bus in Volnovakha on 13 January 2015, which resulted in the deaths of 12 people.

Given that the bus was well behind Ukrainian lines, rebel artillery was almost certainly responsible, but rebel leaders have never admitted this. Nor has anybody ever confessed to the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 in July 2014.

The inclination to avoid responsibility is widespread and understandable. What is perhaps surprising is the willingness of outsiders to let people get away with it.

Neither Russia nor the West have shown any notable inclination to force their proxies to be more honest.

Rather they seem to encourage the tendency to claim that others are at fault. It seems that the desire to maintain an ally’s image outweighs the desire for the truth.

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