This is how technology reveals the reality of the war in Ukraine (analysis)

(CNN) – Russia’s lies could emerge sooner than imagined.

The war in Ukraine defies the expectations of Russian President Vladimir Putin at every turn, not only by Russia’s failure to deal with Kyiv as planned, but by exposing the world to war crimes allegedly committed by its soldiers in the town of Bucha near the capital.

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

Bucha Ukraine

Satellite image of a mass grave in Bucha, Ukraine.

The war in Ukraine could set another historical precedent, as technology penetrates the fog of war to expose the lies of aggressors and accelerate efforts to defeat them.

Satellite images of dead civilians that match up with videos, taken weeks later, of corpses on rails, provide compelling evidence of Russian war crimes, persuading Western leaders to increase sanctions on Russia and speed up arms supplies to Ukraine.

It is not clear how this will affect the final outcome of the war. But what is now clear that Ukraine is urgently seeking an advantage as the Russian military regroups for a new offensive is that Russia’s actions in Bucha are strengthening support for Ukraine.

While satellite images of conflict areas have been available to governments for decades, and have been instrumental in identifying war crimes during Bosnia’s civil war in the 1990s, allowing the identification of a mass grave for many of the 7,000 Bosnians murdered in Srebrenica in 1995, Never been. More publicly available than it is now.


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

Putin and his commanders on the battlefield seem unconcerned or unaware of the fact that orders and actions now leave an indelible record that is out of their control and could haunt them in the future.

They may realize that in many past conflicts, even as recently as the civil war in Syria, leaders like Bashar al-Assad have escaped conviction and been rehabilitated, despite the massive amount of incriminating documents pulled from offices. Government and police stations.

But this is not the only lesson that Putin should heed. In the wake of the bloody break-up of Yugoslavia and the civil war in Bosnia, the war crimes tribunal in The Hague used the 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 Karadzic, it had a video of him looking at Sarajevo, condemning the civilians below for firing from artillery and mortars.

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

His military partner in war crimes, General Ratko Mladic, also saw his own words used to condemn him, as video showed him on the outskirts of Srebrenica leading the liquidation of civilians, many of whom would soon be massacred by his soldiers. his orders.

It might be hard to attribute that kind of association to Putin, but his 20-page dissertation published last summer about why Ukraine is not a country, and his television comments about why Russia invaded it, will count, if past war crimes precedent, against him as writer and director the war.

If Putin is to stand trial, his downfall may be the result of his failure to understand the weaknesses of his military and the strengths of Ukraine. Failure to achieve his first major goal, the capture of Kyiv, forced his forces to withdraw, and exposed his terrible tide.

Soldiers have done what they have done many times before, in Syria, Chechnya and Georgia: they committed horrific abuses. Putin and his officers have done what they have done many times before: lie to cover up their crimes.

Russian defense officials claimed that photos and videos that surfaced on April 2 showing civilians killed and shot in the head, some with handcuffs and legs bound, were fake, saying their soldiers had left before to commit the murders. “The forces left the city on March 30,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. “Where were the pictures for four days? Their absence only confirms that they are wrong.”

The history was very clear. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, one of Putin’s smartest masters, doubled down on the clumsy cover-up, insisting that “Russian troops left the Bucha town area as early as March 30”.

However, publicly available satellite images from the space technology company Maxar, which were taken on March 18 during the control of Russian forces, showed dead civilians on the side of the road in the same places discovered by Ukrainian forces. When they enter town again in early April. A video clip taken by a drone before March 10 showed a cyclist shot dead by Russian forces. Her body was found by Ukrainian forces weeks later, exactly where she had fallen.

In the months leading up to the Russian invasion and in the days following the appearance of Maksar’s footage, tracking and destroying Russian forces revolutionized the public’s understanding of the battlefield. Besides the near-universal use of smartphone cameras, geolocation technology, and sophisticated drones, Putin faces the potential calculation that he has survived in past conflicts.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wants more cameras and broader access for the public to see for themselves: “This is what matters to us, maximum access to journalists, maximum cooperation with international institutions, registration with the International Criminal Court, full truth and full accountability,” he said in a video address on Monday.

Ukraine’s shadowy leader realized that it wasn’t just high-tech tank-piercing weapons like Javelins and NLAWs, or surface-to-air missiles like Stingers and Starstreaks, that could turn the tide on war. It is the truth and the tools that convey it: satellites, drones, smartphones.

Today’s technology, unparalleled in any modern war, can give this amazing advantage to the losers, and undermine the lies of the formidable aggressor. Zelensky struggled to make the United Nations understand this when he addressed them on Tuesday: “This is 2022. We have conclusive evidence. There are satellite images. We can conduct a full and transparent investigation.”

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

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