Putin awards brigade accused of war crimes in Bucha

Vyacheslav Prokofyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, April 19, 2022.

Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded honors Monday to an army brigade that Ukraine has accused of committing war crimes in Bucha, the Kyiv suburb where beheadings, mass graves and evidence of torture sent shock waves around the globe.

In a presidential decree, Putin praised the 64th Motorized Brigade for “mass heroism and bravery, steadfastness and fortitude” and for “distinguishing itself in military action for the protection of the Fatherland and state interests.”

The brigade was awarded the “esteemed honor” of becoming “guards,” upgrading its name to the “64th Guard Motorized Brigade.”

Ukraine’s Defense Ministry this month accused the brigade of being “war criminals directly involved in committing war crimes against the people of Ukraine in Bucha.”

When Russian troops withdrew from the capital region this month, they laid bare a path of gruesome remnants of what Ukraine and many world leaders have labeled as war crimes.

In Bucha, Washington Post journalists witnessed the scene as investigators found evidence of torture on corpses, as well as beheadings and dismemberments. During the course of seven days there, Post reporters documented 208 bodies in graves or lying in the street, as well as evidence that Russian troops burned, sexually abused and haphazardly fired upon civilians.

Tiny lethal darts, called fléchettes, have been found peppered across Bucha. The projectiles are rarely seen or used in modern warfare. Moscow has denied culpability for the events in Bucha, which prompted harsh words and additional sanctions from world leaders, including President Joe Biden, who described Russia’s actions there as a “war crime.”

Russia pulled its forces out of areas around Kyiv after it failed to capture the capital, refocusing its efforts on eastern Ukraine, where violent battles have raged in recent days as Moscow seeks to take control of the port city of Mariupol and other targets.

Rouben Azizian, a former Russian diplomat who is a professor at Massey University in New Zealand, said the award “seems to be the Kremlin’s renewed public attempt to deny any wrongdoing by the brigade in Bucha.”

Russia’s invasion has been hampered by supply shortages, logistical failures and low morale. Azizian forecast that the award “isn’t going to be well received in the Russian army, as the troops will clearly view this as a purely political decision, while the other units have been in much more challenging battles. This isn’t going to boost the morale of the army at all.”