Ukraine War, October 11, 2022: The Russian people will bear the shame of Russia’s aggression and war crimes for a thousand years

In the beginning, it was easy to think that the crime of aggression against Ukraine and the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by Russian soldiers were not the responsibility of the Russian people.

Nearly eight months later it is no longer possible to hold that view.

Particularly since the Partial Mobilization on September 21, it is no longer possible to believe the Russian people have been unaware of the war crimes Russian armed forces have been committing.

One thinks back. They must have also been aware of the war crimes committed in Chechnya, and the war crimes committed in Syria. One recalls the massacre of the Polish officers in the Katyn forest in 1940.

The new commander of the Russian forces in Ukraine is famous as the general who leveled Aleppo.

The Russians knew.

They have always known. And either approved or looked the other way.

The shame that comes from knowing of these atrocities, of these war crimes and crimes against humanity, and of having gone along, is a shame that will be associated with the Russian people for a thousand years.

They will be remembered as the huns and Attila the Hun are remembered, and as Genghis Khan is remembered, as Adolf Hitler and the Nazis are remembered.

The shame of the Russians is a particular shame, a 21st century shame.

For they had experienced the atrocities of the Adolf Hitler and the Nazis. They had ratified the United Nations Charter in 1945. They had sat as judges at the Nuremberg Trials in 1946. They had ratified the Geneva Conventions on the Laws of War in 1949. They had even ratified the main international conventions on human rights.

They knew.

The Russian people knew that Putin was apparently behind the assassination of Boris Nemtsov in 2015, apparently behind the murder of Russians abroad, and apparently behind the poisoning of Alexei Navalny in 2020. They knew there was something strange about all of the prominent people falling from their windows to their deaths in 2022.

They knew.

And they voted for Putin or looked the other way, as he seemed to bring prosperity and order to Russia after the chaos of Yeltsin’s later years.

They knew.

Just as the Germans knew about the Nazis and the Jews.

While courageous Russians opposed the government and the war in Ukraine, many did not.

Those who knew, and went along, have brought a shame to the Russian people that will not be forgotten for a thousand years.

How many years will it be before ordinary Russians, those who didn’t oppose the war and the war crimes of their government, will be genuinely welcome in any free country in the world?

Germany and Japan have shown us there is no such thing as collective guilt, and that the sins of the fathers may be atoned for.

Germany, perhaps more than Japan, has shown us the path of atonement, of recognition of the sins committed, of education and facing the past, and ultimately of the possibility of redemption.

How many years will it be before Russians enter down this path?

Russians may as a people be rehabilitated within a hundred years.

But the shame of the Russian people, over the war crimes their sons and leaders have committed and are committing today in Ukraine, will last for a thousand years.

The Trenchant Observer

On the question of Russian guilt, see,

1) “The Question of Individual Responsibility for the Actions of One’s Nation,” The Trenchant Observer, January 6, 2018.

2) “Ukraine War, February 27, 2022: The spiritual dimension–Albert Camus, “Letters to a German friend” 1943-44; Dispatches and analyses,” The Trenchant Observer, February 27, 2022.

3) “Ukraine War, March 27, 2022: Peace is not around the corner; Russian demands and Ukrainian determination; “(Letter) To my Russian friends”; Albert Camus, ‘Letters to a German friend (1943-44),'” The Trenchant Observer, March 27, 2022.

About the Author

James Rowles
"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by James Rowles (aka "The Observer"), an author and international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. Dr. Rowles is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) of the Organization of American States OAS), in Wasington, D.C., , where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, Dr. Rowles has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. Dr. Rowles speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.=LL.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, Dr. Rowles has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on some the best articles that have appeared in the blog.