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  • The San Juan Daily Star

Putin honors military unit accused of civilian killings in Bucha

By Anushka Patil

President Vladimir Putin earlier this week bestowed honors on the Russian military brigade that Ukraine has accused of massacring civilians in Bucha.

The “skillful and resolute actions” of the 64th Separate Motor Rifle Brigade are “an example of the performance of military duty, courage, selflessness and high professionalism,” Putin said in a statement granting them the honorary title of “guards.” Ukrainian officials have, for weeks, publicly accused the unit of committing war crimes in Bucha.

The city, a suburb of Kyiv, was left a landscape of horrors after Russian troops retreated, reporters and photographers for The New York Times found. Evidence suggests the troops killed recklessly and sometimes sadistically: The bodies of civilians were found scattered on the streets, in their homes and in mass graves. Many appeared to have been killed execution-style; some appeared to have been first tortured and raped.

The consequences Russia may face, if any, for what international investigators have said are “clear patterns” of human rights abuses remain unclear, particularly because war crimes are notoriously difficult to prosecute.

Ukraine’s Ministry of Defense said in early April that the brigade in question had not been pulled out of Russia’s troop rotation after Bucha and was instead redeployed to another area of Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials have pointed to the brigade’s newly bestowed honors as the latest example of Putin acting with impunity. Mykhailo Podolyak, a senior adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said on Twitter that Russia was laughing “in the face of the world.”

Putin’s statement on Monday made no mention of Bucha or of the gruesome images that outraged the world and led President Joe Biden to label him a “war criminal.”

The statement from Putin instead referred to the war, which Russia started, only as the “special military operation in Ukraine,” and praised the 64th brigade’s “mass heroism and courage.”

Putin is no stranger to celebrating leaders accused of human rights abuses. He has previously awarded Russia’s highest medal to a Chechen leader accused of kidnapping and torture.

He awarded the same medal in 2016 to Alexander Dvornikov, the Russian general whose forces were widely accused of bombing civilian neighborhoods and hospitals in Syria. Earlier this month, Putin appointed Dvornikov as Russia’s top battlefield commander in Ukraine.

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