As with most any war throughout history, the current conflict in Ukraine, in which rebels in the eastern region of the county are seeking to break away and align with Russia, has generated disturbing allegations of misconduct on both sides.
International monitoring groups, such as Amnesty International have accused both sides of extrajudicial killings and other behavior that amounts to war crimes.
A report from Bloomberg News on Wednesday, though, added a weird twist to stories about the Ukrainian conflict. Russia, despite fairly copious evidence to the contrary, has long insisted that it has no troops fighting in eastern Ukraine. However, according to two U.S. lawmakers quoted by the news service, Russia has brought mobile crematoriums into Ukraine to dispose of its war dead.
The motivation, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-TX) and Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts both told Bloomberg, is to reduce pushback at home against the government’s claim that it is not sending Russian soldiers into Ukraine.
The two congressmen said that the intelligence they received about the use of mobile crematoriums was reliable. Moulton serves on the same panel that Thornberry chairs.
Neither, however, would give any specific information about the source of the information. And in a case like this, where both sides have accused the other of atrocities, sourcing seems pretty important.
While it’s certainly possible that the Kremlin has sent in mobile crematoriums to burn the remains of its soldiers, it’s rather unclear why the Russian government would actually think that was a useful strategy.
The inconvenience of having a dead soldier on your hands who was killed fighting in a war you claim not to be participating in simply doesn’t end with the cremation of his or her body. These soldiers have families, friends and social media accounts. Some have rented apartments, belong to sporting clubs and churches, and visit their widowed aunts every other Sunday.
When people die, regardless of whether there is a body left behind, other people notice. If they were soldiers, and there was widespread concern about your country fighting an undisclosed war, the questions about just where they disappeared to wouldl be pretty difficult to avoid.
One could make the argument that the Kremlin is resorting to cremation in order to be able to eliminate evidence of wounds that would support the claim that Russian soldiers are fighting in a war. But in the end, a sudden upsurge in dead soldiers being delivered home in urns rather than coffins would likely raise just as many questions.
So, whether you believe the Kremlin or not when it claims that soldiers captured in Ukraine carrying Russian identification were simply lost or went to Ukraine on their days off, it’s hard not to give Russian leaders the benefit of the doubt when they point out that there’s little benefit to them from burning the corpses of their soldiers.
“Frankly speaking, I doubt these statements are trustworthy,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday.
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