This is how tech exposes the truth about the war in Ukraine (Analysis)

(CNN) — Russia’s lies could be exposed sooner than he could have imagined.

The war in Ukraine constantly defies the expectations of Russian President Vladimir Putin, not only because of Russia’s failure to take kyiv as planned, but by exposing the world to war crimes allegedly committed by its soldiers in Bucha, a town near the capital.

Wars have been won, throughout history, by factions who have leveraged new technologies to their advantage. King Henry V of England’s 1415 victory over the French at the Battle of Agincourt came thanks to his newly developed archers and long-range bows that fired arrows at a distance the French could not match.

Satellite image of a mass grave in Bucha, Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine could represent another historic first, with technology breaking through the fog of war to expose the lies of aggressors and accelerate efforts to defeat them.

Satellite images of slain civilians that match video, taken weeks later, of corpses on the tracks, provide hard evidence of Russia’s war crimes, convincing Western leaders to increase sanctions against Russia and accelerate the supply of arms to Ukraine.

It is unclear what impact this will have on the final outcome of the war. But what is clear now that Ukraine is urgently seeking an advantage as the Russian military regroups for a new offensive is that Russia’s actions in Bucha are building support for Ukraine.

While satellite imagery of conflict zones has been available to governments for decades and helped identify war crimes during Bosnia’s civil war in the 1990s, enabling the identification of a mass grave of good many of the 7,000 Bosnians murdered in Srebrenica in 1995 have never been more accessible to the public than they are now.


Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky speaks before the UN Security Council on April 5, 2022.

Putin and his battlefield commanders seem indifferent or oblivious to the fact that orders and actions now leave an indelible memory that is beyond their control and may haunt them in the future.

They are probably aware that in many past conflicts, even as recent as Syria’s civil war, leaders like Bashar al-Assad have escaped condemnation and even been rehabilitated, despite vast amounts of incriminating documents being removed from offices. government and police. stations.

But that’s not the only lesson Putin should heed. Following the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia and the civil war in Bosnia, the war crimes tribunal in The Hague used the very words of political and military leaders to help convict them.

When the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) tried Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadžić, it had video of him looking over Sarajevo, condemning civilians below to artillery fire and of mortar.

bucha ukraine

A woman walks past a destroyed Russian armored vehicle in Bucha on April 5.

His military partner in war crimes, General Ratko Mladić, also had his own words used to condemn him, as the video showed him on the outskirts of Srebrenica screening civilians, many of whom would be massacred soon after by his soldiers, following his commands.

That kind of connection is perhaps harder to pin on Putin, but his 20-page dissertation published last summer on why Ukraine is not a country, and his televised commentaries on why Russia should invade, will count, if previous war crimes are a precedent, against him as the author and director of the war.

If Putin were to be tried, his downfall could be the result of his failure to understand the weaknesses of his army and the strengths of Ukraine. The failure to accomplish his first major objective, the capture of kyiv, forced his troops to withdraw, revealing his wave of terror.

The soldiers did what they had done so many times before, in Syria, in Chechnya, in Georgia: they committed terrible abuses. And Putin and his officers did what they had done so many times before: lying to cover up their crimes.

Russian defense officials claimed that photos and videos that emerged on April 2 showing civilians killed, shot in the head, some with their hands and legs tied, were fake, claiming their troops were parties before the murders took place. “The troops left the city on March 30,” the defense ministry said in a statement. “Where were the images for four days? Their absence only confirms that they are fake.”

The date was very clear. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, one of Putin’s most adept masters of pirouetting, doubled down on the clumsy cover-up, insisting that “Russian forces left the Bucha town area as early as 30 March”.

However, publicly available satellite images from space technology company Maxar, taken on March 18 while Russian troops were in command, showed dead civilians on the side of the road in exactly the same places Ukrainian forces discovered when ‘they returned to the city. At the beginning of April. And drone video taken before March 10 showed a cyclist shot down by Russian troops. Ukrainian forces found her body weeks later, exactly where she had fallen.

In the months leading up to the Russian invasion and in the days following the release of Maxar footage, tracking Russian forces and their destruction, the public’s understanding of the battlefield was revolutionized. Coupled with the near-ubiquitous use of smartphone cameras, geo-tracking technology and sophisticated drones, Putin faces a potential reckoning he’s missed in previous conflicts.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wants more cameras and wider access so the public can see for themselves: “That’s what interests us, maximum access for journalists, maximum cooperation with international institutions, the registration with the International Criminal Court, full truth and full responsibility,” he said in a video address on Monday.

The enigmatic Ukrainian leader has realized that it’s not just high-tech anti-tank weapons like Javelins and NLAWs, or surface-to-air missiles like Stingers and Starstreaks, that can turn the tide of war . It’s the truth, and the tools that transmit it: satellites, drones and smartphones.

Today’s technology, unparalleled in any modern war, could give the losers this incredible advantage, undermining the lies of a massive aggressor. Zelensky struggled to convey this to the United Nations when he addressed them on Tuesday: “It’s the year 2022. We have conclusive evidence. There is satellite imagery. And we can carry out full investigations and transparent.”

Like Henry V in 1415, Zelensky knows an advantage when he sees one. While satellite imagery may not be as decisive as a six-foot yew branch and a piece of hemp rope, if you can use it wisely, it can force Putin into talks. much sooner than the Russian president would like.

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