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War crimes on Russian tv

Lyndon at Scraps of Moscow describes the following broadcast on Russian tv:

I was just watching the 10pm news on NTV, and they showed a segment from Chechnya, where a group of Chechen fighters had been apparently defeated in battle by Russian forces. One wounded Chechen remained alive, and they showed video of a Russian officer telling this wounded guy, who was lying on a cot and looked pretty far gone, that he had two choices: he could talk and be taken to a nearby field hospital, or he could keep quiet and go nowhere. As it turned out, according to the reportage, the Chechen talked but subsequently died anyway. I guess I don’t know much about the laws of war, but it doesn’t seem like that is the sort of treatment of a captured enemy you would want to have broadcast on national television.

At first glance, this incident as described, would seem to be in contravention of the Geneva Convention, to which Russia is a signatory.  Russia has accepted that the Convention does apply in Chechnya and, as the Chechen was in the custody of Russian troops at the time, they had a duty of care under Article 3:2:

The wounded and sick shall be collected and cared for.

Although Chechnya itself is not a signatory of the convention, any Chechens fighting today would be covered under Article 4, and this is where the problem, from a legal standpoint at least, lies.  Article 4 states that:

Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements, fulfil the following conditions:

(a) That of being commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates;

(b) That of having a fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance;

(c) That of carrying arms openly;

(d) That of conducting their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war.

I don’t know the specific details of this case, but I’d hazard a guess that the Chechens were not in compliance with at least one of the above clauses – most probably clauses (b) and (c).

So, although his actions may have been morally repugnant, the Russian officer involved would probably be able to put together a good defence if the issue ever came to court.


  • Great analysis. I am sure you’re right that the Russian military’s actions here were within the letter of the law. What was most shocking to me about the whole thing was seeing video of the entire exchange on the evening news, with no comment on the way in which the POW (if that definition even applies) was treated. Anyway, thanks for exploring the issue in greater depth – interesting as always.

  • Thanks, although depressingly, I very much doubt that the letter of the law even crossed the mind of the Russian officer involved, nor the editor on the ntv evening news.

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