Russian Forces Targeted Civilians In Previous Conflicts

The Russian strikes that hit civilian targets across Ukraine on Monday and Tuesday — including a medical facility, museums, a playground, a German consulate and a high-rise office building — have been a regular feature of Moscow’s war strategy since the invasion began.

There is also evidence that Russian forces took a similar approach during past conflicts in Chechnya, Georgia and Syria.

Here is an overview:

  • In 1994, Russia’s initial attack on Chechnya failed when its forces were repelled. It responded by dropping bombs, with heavy civilian casualties. In one attack, Russian soldiers doused the houses of a town with gasoline and opened fire on unarmed women, children and older people, killing more than 100. In another, Russian troops killed about 40 refugees in an attack on a convoy of vehicles that were paused at a military checkpoint.

  • In the conflict between Georgia and Russia in 2008, civilians on both sides came under fire. The advocacy group Human Rights Watch later said that Russian weapons had caused most of the civilian casualties, often with cluster munitions.

  • When Russian forces entered the Syrian war in 2015, that country’s Moscow-allied military had already been massacring civilians. Russia then pulverized Syrian cities from above, a strategy that echoed its war strategy in Chechnya. United Nations investigators accused Russia of carrying out a “crime of intentionally terrorizing the population,” with indiscriminate airstrikes, to force civilians to move.

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations over the years that its forces indiscriminately attack civilians.

In the current war, Ukraine’s resistance has prompted Russia to widen its attacks from military targets to cities and residential areas. Military experts say they see echoes of Russia’s strategy from other recent conflicts, in which it bombed heavily populated areas indiscriminately and used civilian casualties as leverage.

World leaders have vowed to hold Russia responsible for war crimes in Ukraine, including attacks on civilians. An international conference in The Hague has begun coordinating an approach to the broad accusations of war crimes in Ukraine. But that could take many years, as investigators face a high burden of proof and denials from the Kremlin.

Strategically, pummeling civilians may not help Russia prevail. The Institute for the Study of War, a Washington think tank, said on Monday that Russia had used its limited supply of precision weapons to attack civilian areas. That may deprive President Vladimir V. Putin of options for disrupting Ukrainian counteroffensives, particularly in the south and east of the country, it said.

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