The Kremlin Does Not Teach Its Troops How to Behave While Surrendering

The Russian troops fighting in Ukraine are completely illiterate and ignorant when it comes to observing the internationally established rules and customs of war.

The top and middle-tier command evidently do not inform their subordinates about the limitations posed by the international humanitarian law. It may actually encourage them to violate it.

The consequences of such nihilism and ignorance are deplorable.

Russian troops commit war crimes in Ukraine — executions, torture, inhumane treatment of unarmed civilians and prisoners of war. Their conduct gives grounds to believe that the Russian occupiers have received a “blessing” from their command to wreak havoc. This is not dissimilar to how Hitler inspired his soldiers: “I hereby free you from the chimera called conscience.”

In addition, the Russian command does not encourage its subordinates to observe even those norms of international humanitarian law which are designed to ease the fate of the soldier himself. 

Russian troops do not understand that there may be circumstances when they need to surrender. And this is neither shameful nor a crime.

Captivity is a status that limits freedom, but at the same time, it is not the same as serving a sentence in prison for crimes committed. Civilized surrender and a dignified stay in captivity are notable achievements of modern international law that have humanized war.

The Ukrainian political leadership and military command relied on the norms of international humanitarian law regarding the observance of the rights of prisoners of war when they ordered the Azovstal garrison to stop resistance in May 2022. And that is why most of its defenders survived.

Putin’s troops in Ukraine, on the other hand, seem to be adhering to the opposite tactic. Stalin disowned his prisoners, brandishing them weak-minded and treacherous. A soldier in Stalin’s times had to die rather than surrender. Putin trains his soldiers the same way. At the same time, though, he allows them to resort to perfidy and treachery. For example, they are encouraged to pretend to surrender to kill the enemy who takes you prisoner. 

This is what Prigozhin meant when he was recruiting inmates in the famous video: “No one backs down, no one gives up, no one surrenders. When you are trained how to surrender, they’ll tell you: two grenades that you must carry on you.”

This behaviour is defined as perfidy and prohibited by Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (namely Art. 37). Violating civilized norms, the Russian military exposes itself to danger, instead of taking advantage of the rights of prisoners of war guaranteed to them.

The incident with the death of the unidentified unit of Russian troops in the video hyped up by Russian propaganda is precisely a consequence of this barbaric attitude to international law. In case of armed resistance during capture, the opposing party is entitled to adequate self-defence.

Russia should publicly undertake to conduct outreach work with its troops regarding the laws and customs of war and the duty to strictly observe them. Otherwise, it is rather difficult to qualify these units as legitimate combatants

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