The Kremlin Is Already Calling Evidence of War Crimes in Bucha a False Flag

It’s the Kremlin’s go-to propaganda line in the wake of obvious atrocities: “Don’t believe your eyes.”
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A family grieves for a missing relative in front of a mass grave in the town of Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, April 03, 2022. (PNarciso Contreras/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
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Hours after Russian troops pulled out of the Kyiv suburb of Bucha, leaving behind evidence of public executions and mass graves, the Kremlin rolled out its go-to propaganda line in the wake of obvious atrocities: “Don’t believe your eyes.”

The campaign to distort and dismiss the evidence—which includes photos and videos of bodies lying in the streets with their hands tied behind their backs—was widespread and coordinated.

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Dozens of Russian embassy and government accounts began dismissing the claims of war crimes as simply more Ukrainian “provocation.” 

“During the time that the town has been under the control of the Russian armed forces, not a single local resident has suffered from any violent action,” the Russian Defense Ministry claimed in a statement posted to Telegram on Sunday.

The statement went on to claim that everything was fake, a staged production put on by Ukrainian officials for the world media.

“All this confirms conclusively that the photos and video footage from Bucha are another hoax, a staged production and provocation by the Kyiv regime for the Western media, as was the case in Mariupol with the maternity hospital, as well as in other cities,” the Kremlin added.

Telegram/Russian Defense Ministry

This official Kremlin line was echoed by a network of pro-Kremlin activists, who shared claims that the videos of Bucha show bodies on the ground apparently moving or sitting up. These claims have already been debunked by open-source researchers.

In a video message posted on social media on Sunday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said he wanted Russian citizens to see the atrocities, and called what happened in Bucha a genocide.

“I want every mother of every Russian soldier to see the bodies of the dead,” Zelenskyy said.

But just as it did in the aftermath of the bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Russian state-controlled media is telling their viewers that the victims in Bucha are crisis actors. It’s a tactic that the Kremlin has used for a decade about atrocities committed in Syria, meaning many Russian citizens are primed to believe such claims.

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Other pro-Kremlin accounts on social media are already claiming—without evidence—that Ukrainian Nazis are responsible for the atrocities committed in Bucha, repeating the baseless narrative used by the Kremlin as a pretext to invade Ukraine.

This is a narrative being pushed by Cyber Front Z, a hugely popular Telegram channel that uses a combination of volunteers and paid trolls to spread disinformation on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.  

The claims about Nazis being responsible for the atrocities in Bucha have already made their way to China, repeating what’s become a major trend during this war: Chinese accounts boosting Russian propaganda.

But evidence from journalists who’ve visited Bucha in recent days and testimonies from residents who survived strongly suggest that Russian troops were responsible for multiple atrocities.

Bucha’s mayor Anatoly Fedoruk has said that 280 bodies were buried in a mass grave in the town, though journalists on the group were unable to verify that figure independently, they did observe dozens of bodies buried at the site. 

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Satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies appears to back up the claims of a mass grave in Bucha, showing a 45-foot trench dug into the grounds of the Church of St. Andrew and Pyervozvannoho All Saints.

Associated Press journalists reported that nine bodies, all dressed in civilian clothes, were scattered around a site that residents said Russian troops used as a base. Most of them appeared to have been shot at close range and at least two had their hands tied behind their backs.

The Kremlin has attempted to frame its withdrawal from Bucha not as a failure to advance on the capital Kyiv but as a planned retreat to focus on fighting in the east of the country. In reality, as Russian troops attempted to move through Bucha on their way to Kyiv, they were met with unexpected resistance from Ukrainian troops. The BBC reported that Ukrainian troops used drones to take out the lead and rear vehicles in the column of Russian troops, trapping all others—who were then ambushed by Ukrainian troops that reportedly included territorial defense volunteers.

The images emerging from Bucha in recent days have led to a fresh wave of outrage and calls for tougher sanctions from the West. French President Emmanuel Macron said Monday that there is “clear evidence of war crimes” in Bucha.

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“What just happened in Bucha calls for a new round of sanctions and very clear measures,” Macron told France-Inter radio. “I’m in favor of a new round of sanctions, and in particular on coal and petrol. We need to act.”

But Russia is doubling down on its baseless allegations that the videos and images coming out of Bucha were staged. “The video materials mostly can’t be trusted, because [of] signs of video manipulation and some fakes,” Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.

And in an even more disturbing indication of what’s to come, Eduard Basurin, the press secretary of the military command of the Russia-backed Donetsk People’s Republic, suggested more atrocities would be uncovered as the withdrawal continued. 

He told reporters Monday that as the Russian troops retreat, Ukraine would stage more “provocations” like the one seen in Bucha—suggesting he knows that more atrocities will be discovered in the coming days and weeks.

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