Tom Arms’ World Review: “Butchers of Bucha”

Here’s a good one: In the wake of the Bucha massacres, a Russia Today commentator opined this week that the dead Ukrainians littering the street were killed by British intelligence because Bucha sounds like butcher in English. This made it easier, he continued, for British newspapers to write headlines such as the “Butchers of Bucha.”

How SIS and/or British troops managed to sneak undetected into Bucha, blow up homes, tanks and roads and kill the inhabitants is left unexplained. But that is of no consequence.  The problem is that too many Russians believe him. In fact, what passes for a reasonably independent opinion poll in Russia this week showed that 80 percent of the population accept the Kremlin version of events. A big part of this support is because the Russian people are denied access to news reports produced from outside Russia.

But this is only part of the story. Putin knows that domestic support is essential for success in Ukraine and he has been laying down the foundational lies since 2007—perhaps even before. These included: Ukraine is governed by Nazis. NATO is threatening to overrun Russia. Russian culture is under threat from the West. Russia is being denied its rightful place as a great power. With this firm propaganda bedrock in place – and total state control of the media – it becomes easier for the Russian public to swallow the inevitable mountain of lies that follow.

It is unsurprising that Russian soldiers are being accused of violent war crimes. Violence begets violence and Russia, according to their own statistics, is a violent society. Russian police have reported that one in four Russian households have suffered domestic violence at some point. The figures are considered a major embarrassment, so much so that the Duma recently voted to massage the statistics by decriminalising several categories of domestic violence in an attempt to improve the national image.

The roots of the problem are directly linked to chronic national alcoholism.  Twenty-five percent of Russian men die before the age of 55 alcohol-related diseases. On average, each Russian downs 1,500 shots of vodka a year. Various governments over the years have tried to curb Russians’ love affair with the bottle. The latest attempt was in 2010 when President Dmitri Medvedev introduced a minimum charge of $3 a bottle of vodka and banned drinking and driving. The legislation, however, appears to have little effect on drinking habits and recently the Kremlin gave into public pressure and amended the drink driving law to allow “one for the road.”

Look out Moldova. The Russians are coming. Actually, they are already there as the Kremlin has based 1,500 “peacekeepers” in the breakaway mainly Russian-speaking region of Transnistra. The “Republic of Transnistra” (which is recognised only by three other Russian-supported breakaway entities) split from the rest of Moldova after a 1992 civil war. When the Kremlin annexed Crimea in 2014, the head of the Transnistran parliament asked to join Russia.

At the time Putin put the proposal on ice. But the course of the Ukraine war has changed matters. Blocked in the north, Putin has shifted operations to the south and east where he has a springboard in Crimea and the Donbass. One obvious target is the strategic port of Odessa, the loss of which would leave Ukraine landlocked. Russian ships are already shelling the Ukrainian port. Only 137 miles away is the Moldovan border and if Russia is to maintain control of Odessa it must bridge that gap and beyond. In Moldova are the Russian peacekeepers, the breakaway province nestled between the Ukrainian border and the Dnieper River, and roughly 350,000 Ukrainian refugees. Intelligence sources believe that Putin is planning a false flag operation to claim Russian speakers in Transnistra (150,000 of whom have Russian passports) are under threat and need his protection.

A major chink appeared this week in the Western Alliance’s united front against the Russian invasion of Ukraine – the re-election of Hungary’s Viktor Orban. He is Eastern Europe’s right-wing, Euro-sceptic, self-styled “illiberal democrat”, anti-immigrant who is also an ardent admirer of Vladimir Putin. The Russian president, in fact, was among the first to congratulate Orban on winning his fourth successive term. This is unsurprising as Orban is point blank refusing to consider a ban on Russian oil and gas imports; will not send weapons to Ukraine or allow them to be transited through Hungary and has said he would break ranks with other EU countries to pay roubles for Russian energy.  He has, however, agreed to EU sanctions against Russia and condemned the invasion of Ukraine, but pointedly refused to criticise Putin personally.

Doubts have been cast over the legality of Orban’s election victory as the opposition was largely denied access to the state-controlled media. Two days after the election result, the EU (which has been at loggerheads with Orban for years) announced it was beginning proceedings to block $38 billion worth of EU funds on the grounds that the Hungarian government was failing to meet EU democratic standards and that Orban was channelling EU funds to political supporters. Orban is also under attack from his former allies in the Visegard countries. Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia are angry that Hungary refuses to fully back Ukraine.

Can France’s right-wing presidential candidate Marine Le Pen maintain her momentum and win the second round of the French elections on 24 April? She and incumbent Emmanuel Macron are almost certain to emerge as the head-to-head second round candidates after the first round of votes are cast this weekend. For the past six months Macron has been the clear favourite but in the past few weeks he has lost five to six percentage points against Le Pen and one poll this week put the leader of the National Rally Party one point ahead.

This will be Le Pen’s third attempt to gain residency of the Elysee Palace. In 2012 she came third and in 2017 she lost in the second round run-off to Macron with a disappointing 34 percent of the vote. On those occasions she was seen as the standard bearer of the unacceptable far-right. This election has been different. For a start she had unintentional help from the even more extreme right-winger Eric Zemmour, whose candidacy attracted the barbs of centrists who would otherwise be focusing on Ms Le Pen. This allowed the National Rally leader to focus on energy prices and the cost of living crisis and enabled her to largely ignore her links with Vladimir Putin, Russian money, euro-scepticism and her anti-immigrant position. Her lengthy stay at the top of French politics has also helped. Marine Le Pen has been the leader of the French right since 2011 and in politics, longevity can breed acceptability.

Observers have noted that in this election, Ms Le Pen has managed to project a softer personal image that has gone a long way towards her becoming an “acceptable” right-wing politician. But two weeks is a long time in politics. Most polls still put Macron six points ahead in the second round. In the first round Ms Le Pen shares the electoral stage with 11 other candidates. It is doubtful whether she will survive when the glare of the spotlight is focused almost entirely on her more questionable connections and policies.


* Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and author of “The Encyclopedia of the War” and the recently published “America Made in Britain". He has a weekly podcast, Transatlantic Riff.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Brad Barrows 10th Apr '22 - 9:28am

    Interesting and insightful read, as always, and raises a few points. Firstly, while I am convinced that Russian citizens are fed a completely distorted news digest ranging from half truths and exaggerations to outright lies, I don’t think we are being fed the full truth either. So, for example, there are strong suggestions on Twitter that people escaping from Mariupol were shot at by members of the Azov Battalion who were trying to prevent civilians from leaving, but not a hint of any of this on Western media which is seeking to portray the Azov Battalion as heroic defenders while ignoring the neo-nazism of many of its members. As is often said, truth is the first casualty of war…

  • Chris Moore 10th Apr '22 - 1:10pm

    Not so.

    Every article I have read about the Azov brigade mentions their unsavoury extreme right wing political views.

  • I think Chris Moore is right that virtually all media reports highlight the Azov brigades extremist right wing origins. The BBC recently aired a background piece on the group that this piece on Mariupol summarises Mariupol
    “Mariupol is home to a Ukrainian militia unit called the Azov Brigade, named after the Sea of Azov which links Mariupol to the rest of the Black Sea. The Azov Brigade contains far-right extremists, historically including neo-Nazis.
    Although they form only the tiniest fraction of Ukraine’s fighting forces, this has been a useful propaganda tool for Moscow, giving it a pretext for telling Russia’s population that the young men it has sent to fight in Ukraine are there to rid their neighbour of neo-Nazis.”
    That said the twitter reports that people escaping from Mariupol were shot at by members of the Azov Battalion who were trying to prevent civilians from leaving is disturbing and needs investigating.
    Virtually all the countries on Russia’s Western flank had partisan groups that fought with the Nazi’s against the Red Army in WW2. Italy, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Romania were part of the Axis powers. Finland too (after the Winter war) fought alongside the Nazis against the soviets initially until switching to the allies. Hungary under Orban has a much stronger right-wing neo-nazi faction today than Ukraine.
    In Britain, Mosley’s blackshirts were conscripted into the forces but emerged as various right-wing groups after the war Fighting fascists: Battling Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts that morphed into the National front, BNP etc in the following decades.
    All European counties (including Russia) have to deal with fascist elements in their populations. Ukraine too has this problem, but it is by no means unique to that country.

  • nvelope2003 10th Apr '22 - 8:51pm

    According to the BBC Radio 4 Sunday morning programme the Russian Orthodox Patriarch was a member of the KGB and like most members of the Russian elite is very wealthy owning many homes in the nicer places.
    If Russia loses the war consideration would have to be given to treating them as Nazi Germany was treated because of the many war crimes.

  • The Orthodox Church of Ukraine, supported by the diaspora in North America, broke free from Moscow in 2019 – winning official recognition from the seat of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, based in Istanbul.
    “Putin cited NATO expansion as the casus belli, among other issues, fearing Ukraine’s reorientation to the West. But Ukraine’s religious reorientation is also a concern. The president of the European People’s Party, Donald Tusk, cited sources saying Putin’s “demands are also connected with the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and its independence from Moscow. De facto what Putin wants is the full capitulation of Ukraine.” The capitulation sought is both physical and spiritual.”Putin is after more than land — he wants the religious soul of Ukraine

  • David Le Grice 11th Apr '22 - 2:36am

    @John Waller

    The Azov battalion member was brought on because he is an ethic Greek serving in the Ukrainian national guard and the Azov battalion happens to be the national guard unit serving Mariopol where Ukraine’s Greek community is located.
    Many of the battalion’s members are not Nazis but joined it because it happens to be their local unit so for Greek politicians to declare him to be a Nazi without any evidence that he actually holds such views only speaks to the stupidity of Greek politics.

  • Brad Barrows 11th Apr '22 - 10:56am

    @John Hall
    You make a good point. I can’t recall the same discussion in the Western media about the illegal war against Iraq, about the many examples of war crimes perpetrated by US forces during that invasion, about the war crimes being committed by Saudi Arabia against people in Yemen (with the full political and military support of the West), and, as you say, about the war crimes and other crimes committed by Israel against the Palestinians. The double standards on display are truly shocking. All war crimes are unacceptable – not just those of countries we oppose.

  • Religious leaders are sending appeals to their flocks. The Pope has made an appeal for an Easter Truce. Ukrainian Catholic and Orthodox Bishops are meeting together to Pray for Peace in Ukraine. The Catholic Bishops England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland write:
    ‘In the face of the shocking loss of life, bloodshed, displacement of people and destruction of property in Ukraine, we make these heartfelt appeals.
    We ask our Catholic communities to sustain the prayer and self-denial of Lent as a constant offering to God, begging for an end to this pointless violence.”
    We ask our fellow Christians everywhere, including Patriarch Kirill and all in the Russian Orthodox Church, to join in solidarity with us in daily spiritual and practical efforts for a ceasefire, for humanitarian outreach and the silencing and laying down of weapons.
    The message does not yet appear to be getting through to the Moscow Patriarchate if this report is not ‘Fake News’ Moscow Patriarchate tells Russian troops: “Your task is to wipe the Ukrainian nation off the face of the earth” This Ukrainian writer begs to differ I am an Untermensch: Ukrainian writer responds to Russia’s “Nazi manifesto”

  • As the butchery and wanton violence unleashed on the citizens of Ukraine is uncovered day by day around Kyiv, President Putin has spoken on the conflict saying:
    “Its goals are absolutely clear and noble. On the one hand, we are helping and saving people, and on the other, we are simply taking measures to ensure the security of Russia itself. It’s clear that we didn’t have a choice. It was the right decision.”
    Nothing , however, could be more ignoble than the murder, rape, looting and wanton destruction of property seen in areas that have been occupied by Russian troops.

    In his speech at the Lib Dem spring conference, Ed Davey urged stronger international cooperation to counter the threat posed by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s regime.
    “If we are to stop Putin, we must remember the simple truth demonstrated so clearly these past few weeks. We are stronger when we act together,”.
    “We must fight now for that safer, more Liberal world. To reverse this Government’s cuts to our armed forces and work with our allies, so Putin understands that free nations will stand united against him.
    Fomer PM Gordon Brown has been arguing for the creation of a special tribunal to prosecute President Putin and his accomplices for the crime of aggression against Ukraine Special Tribunal for the Punishment of the Crime of Aggression against Ukraine The number of heads of state and former prime ministers across the world backing calls for an international tribunal has reached 50 and a petition supporting the move has topped 1.5 million.

  • Greece has a special interest in the Donbass region due to the strong presence of Greeks living in the region. The city of Mariupol was founded by Greeks and takes its original name from the the Hodegetria icon of the Holy Theotokos and the Virgin Mary.
    Reports from the city of mistreatment of ethnic Greeks by some elements of the Azov brigade would give Greek politicians cause for concern in dealing with members of the brigade “Ukrainian soldiers stopped and threatened us, Russian soldiers calmed us down”
    I can only echo David Wallers hope that the killing in Ukraine can stop, negotiations can start and the country can join the EU.

  • Tom in his article writes “a Russia Today commentator opined this week that the dead Ukrainians littering the street were killed by British intelligence because Bucha sounds like butcher in English. This made it easier, he continued, for British newspapers to write headlines such as the “Butchers of Bucha.”
    President Lukashenko of Belarus seems to believe this is the case saying “…we discussed in detail psychological special operation which was carried out by the British. If you need addresses, passwords, car numbers brands on which they arrived in Bucha and how they did it, the FSB of the Russian federation can provide them,”
    The OSCE has issued an independent report on war crimes in Ukraine with 99 pages of evidence identifying crimes against humanity.although it does not extend up to the killings in Bucha Russian war crime report reveals first independent evidence of deportations and sexual violence in Ukraine

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