Former US deputy assistant defense secretary Andrew Exum says abuses committed by Russian forces in Ukraine are consistent with the war crimes of an undisciplined, unprepared invasion force.
Photo Insert: A Ukrainian soldier stands over a war trophy - a Russian tank with a decapitated gun turret.
Exum stressed in an essay for The Atlantic that “what we are seeing is likely something much more familiar, and much more universal: These sorts of crimes occur when military organizations are committed into combat without clear, achievable objectives, and without a professional noncommissioned-officer corps to enforce discipline within the ranks. They are what happens when military organizations are not held to account for their actions; when soldiers, after seeing the deaths of their friends in the face of unforeseen resistance, resort to savagery; and when the guardrails to prevent such a descent into inhumanity are absent.”
He added that compared to the two decades of combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is remarkable how few crimes US troops committed against civilian populations. Civilians in both countries suffered greatly, but the incidence of tactical units committing heinous crimes was lower than that among Russian troops in a few weeks in Ukraine.
“There are several reasons for that disparity. First, the US Army and Marine Corps are mostly led, at the tactical level, by a professional noncommissioned-officer corps—something Russia’s army largely lacks… Second, the US military was often quite isolated from the populations themselves… Third, the US military prosecuted many of its war criminals,” Exum argued.
"Russia’s military, as we have seen these past five weeks, is a mess: Seemingly leaderless in Ukraine, it cannot even effectively maneuver against its opponent, much less carry out a coherent terror campaign against Ukrainian civilians. Our own military, by contrast, is much better led. It is better organized too, and we recruit, train, and equip our troops with more thought and care than the Russians do. But we’re lying to ourselves if we think that our troops cannot commit the same heinous crimes Russian troops are committing today. On an individual level, an American is no more morally perfect than his or her Russian counterpart. The difference is how each military organization responds to criminality,” he concluded.