Attacks on Ukrainian civilians with cluster bombs were led by the Russian general who razed Aleppo, Syria

Moscow-led forces had launched multiple rockets against Kharkiv (Kharkow) cluster 300 mm Smerch, projectiles that release 72 ammunition to hit an area comparable to that of a football field. Margarita Kiriukhina, who was waiting in line to get her family drinking water, was trying to stay away from the nearby banging. A whistle preceded a series of screams. It was only a few moments before Margarita Kiriukhina felt her leg cut, and her hand and forehead were also hit by shrapnel. In line, one of the men lost two fingers. The images captured on video also show a severed foot just a few meters away, and the efforts of a woman who, seeing another fallen and almost severed foot, uses a dog collar to try to save her.

The story is told by CNN, which claims that Smerch rockets were not only fired at Kharkiv in the last days of February, just after the start of the war in Ukraine. Ammunition of this type, which causes devastating effects, was a resource often used in the civil war in Syria. The echoes of the bombings in Kharkiv echo those of the numerous attacks carried out by Russia to help Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2015.

the same colonel general

Through the analysis of satellite images, in collaboration with the Center for Information Resilience and investigations on the ground, CNN identified the brigade that launched the cluster munition attack on residential neighborhoods in Ukraine’s second largest city, on the day that Kiriukhina and neighbors were attacked. This brigade reports directly to the same military leader who oversaw one of the most brutal chapters of the war in Syria, Colonel General Alexander Zhuravlyov. This is the 79th Russian Artillery Brigade, based in the Belgorod region of Russia.

Kharkiv

Kharkiv

anadolu agency

According to military experts interviewed by CNN, Alexander Zhuravlyov is the only commander with the authority to order a Smerch rocket attack on the territory under his jurisdiction, as it concerns a weapon whose use requires “senior approval”. Zhuravlyov, 57, was posted to former Czechoslovakia by the USSR in the 1980s. After the Soviet collapse he returned to Russia to initially serve in tank units.

Mobilized into Syria three times, Alexander Zhuravlyov became the commander of Russian troops in the country in July 2016: Moscow found itself in a bloody struggle to capture the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo.

Alexander Zhuravlyov, to Putin's right

Alexander Zhuravlyov, to Putin’s right

alexey nikolsky

Under Zhuravlyov’s leadership, the military quickly multiplied attacks on rebel-held territory and completed the siege of the city. The direct consequence was a large number of dead, but a tactic that came to define Russia’s intervention in Syria also crystallized: besiege, starve the cities, bomb and wait for a surrender.

Under Alexander Zhuravlyov, there was a dramatic increase in cluster munition attacks. According to the Documentation Center for Violations in Syria, which documents the country’s disregard for human rights, they were used 137 times in Aleppo between 10 September and 10 October 2016, marking a 791% increase in the average number of attacks of this type compared to the previous eight months. Despite evidence and reports, the Russian Ministry of Defense has rejected accusations that it was using munitions. cluster in Syria.

“The wounds are the same”

Activists and humanitarian organizations sought to alert the world. Sonia Khush, the then director of “Save the Children” in Syria, even said that there were “children with newly amputated limbs or with spherical materials embedded in their muscle tissue because of the use of these terrible and indiscriminate weapons”.

CNN spoke with several eyewitnesses in several of the neighborhoods that were targeted by 11 Smerch rocket attacks between February 27 and 28 in Kharkiv. Cluster munitions left streets full of wounded, cars on fire and windows on public roads. An eyewitness detailed that around 12 people were injured in his building alone after a single attack. “Bursts that explode and scatter dangerous shrapnel” were seen by several civilians. The remains of rockets detected in Kharkiv, as well as the marks of burns caused by the projectiles, allowed CNN to determine the direction of the attack, as well as its origin: Belgorod, Russia, near the border with Ukraine.

The large piles of unexploded ordnance led Mark Hiznay, a weapons expert at Human Rights Watch, to believe that the munitions attacks cluster happened on a scale not seen in years. The use of this war material surpasses, for example, the 2006 war between Lebanon and Israel, during which the Israeli military launched around four million cluster munitions, according to the United Nations.

Cluster bombs are banned under an international treaty – the 2010 Ammunition Convention cluster – which prohibits the use, transfer, production and storage of these weapons. This is because many munitions may not explode on impact, leaving hazardous materials in fields and urban areas that can kill or maim people. Russia, Ukraine, the United States of America and Israel are among the countries that have not signed the treaty.

Attacks in Aleppo, Syria

Attacks in Aleppo, Syria

anadolu agency

However, the indiscriminate attack on civilians can be interpreted as a war crime, as CNN and the express already explained. These are violations of the Geneva Conventions and disproportionate attacks on military necessity – so, if the CNN investigation finds out, General Zhuravlyov and others in the chain of command can be charged.

A doctor who treated war wounded in both conflicts was struck by the similarities. People arrived at the hospital in Kharkiv cut by shrapnel, scarred in the skin and muscles, with amputations, open fractures or head trauma. Syrian-American orthopedic surgeon Samer Attar, who worked in Aleppo as Zhuravlyov’s troops besieged the city, flew from Chicago to Ukraine, hoping to help Ukrainian doctors deal with the wave of war wounded. .

The specialist described the wounds he treated in Kharkiv and the ones he saw in Aleppo in 2016 as “the same”.

War Wounds in Kharkiv

War Wounds in Kharkiv

anadolu agency

Highest military honors: “Hero of the Russian Federation”

In December 2016, rebels in eastern Aleppo surrendered and the Syrian government and Russian forces recaptured the territory. With the fighting in Aleppo over, Zhuravlyov left his command in Syria and returned to Russia, where he was awarded the highest honors bestowed on a Russian commander: “Hero of the Russian Federation”.

Promoted twice the following year, and now commander of the Western Military District, Zhuravlyov said in an interview that Syria had taught him the value of “military engineering” and that lessons learned on the ground were being integrated as an “organic component ” of all Russian military training.

Another Russian general who served in Syria alongside Zhuravlyov — Lieutenant General Aleksei Zavizion — was named Zhuravlyov’s deputy general in the same month. A year earlier, Aleksei Zavizion had led a group of separatist fighters who occupied territory in the Donbas region, according to Ukraine’s secret services. Ukraine’s military intelligence services also accuse Zavizion of carrying out multiple rocket launch attacks on residential areas in the Donbas. In fact, in 2017, Ukraine even indicted Zavizion, accusing him of carrying out war crimes.

The two top Russian military officials will, according to CNN, be responsible for the alleged crimes against civilians in Kharkiv and other cities.

About Abhishek Pratap

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