HRW: Civilians Run Greatest Risk in Putin’s War Against Ukraine

Human Rights Watch warns Russian President Vladimir Putin’s battle plan for Ukraine will likely entail the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian infrastructure to weaken Ukraine’s resolve to fight on. 

Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, says he fears Russia’s military will replicate in Ukraine the war strategy it employed to help the Syrian regime reclaim the northern province of Idlib, the country’s last rebel-controlled enclave.  

He says a detailed study of how Russia fought that war found repeated instances of Russian bombers deliberately targeting civilian institutions. He says hospitals, schools, markets, and civilian buildings were blatantly attacked. 

“We were able to document, I think it was 43 cases of these where there were no known military targets in sight.  It was just deliberately attacking a civilian institution, to make it unlivable and make it easier for the Syrian military to move in.… It became clearer that these were deliberate efforts … to make life unlivable for the three million civilians in Idlib,” he said. 

What is particularly worth noting, Roth says, is the structure of the chain of command behind Russia’s deliberate, illegitimate policy.

“We found that Putin himself had command responsibility and that he had even given out, what is called a ‘Hero of Russia’ award to the two commanders who were in charge of this bombing during the period when we found these bombings going on.  So, our fear is that this will be replicated,” he said. 

Roth says serious pressure must be put on the Russian military not to replicate this wartime strategy.  He notes Russia’s wanton bombing campaign in Idlib stopped in March 2020 under the combined pressure from the German French, and Turkish leaders.  He says international pressure on Putin in this instance must be maintained.

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