Alexander J. Motyl

The Messenger

Astoundingly, the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine “has not concluded at this stage that genocide is taking place in Ukraine.” According to Commission Chairman Erik Møse, the investigation will continue. Just why it should continue is unclear, when more than enough evidence proving that Russia’s behavior in Ukraine meets all the definitional criteria of genocide is already amply available.

Consider the definition of genocide included in Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;

(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;

(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Has Russia intentionally killed Ukrainian civilians? As the daily missile attacks on houses, hospitals, schools, museums, theaters, supermarkets and bazaars makes clear, the answer is a resounding yes.

Has Russia intentionally caused serious bodily or mental harm to Ukrainians? Given (a), the answer is obviously yes.

Has Russia intentionally inflicted on Ukrainians conditions of life calculated to bring about their physical destruction? Besides the incessant rocket attacks and points (a) and (b), consider Russia’s destruction of the Kakhovka dam and its theft of Ukrainian grain.

Has Russia forcibly transferred Ukrainian children to Russia? Of course. In fact, that was the International Criminal Court’s charge against Vladimir Putin.

Russia has not pursued the sterilization of Ukrainians — if that’s what measures to prevent births entails — but the death and destruction imposed through measures (a), (b), (c) and (e) surely suffice to prevent births.

One might have been able to argue in the early days of the war that Russian missiles missed their military targets and accidentally hit civilians. After 18 months of Ukrainian civilians being killed by Russia missiles, it’s surely impossible to say that serendipity is still at work.

This point matters because it directly addresses the issue of intent. Clearly, Russia intended to kill the Ukrainians it has killed. Since genocide concerns “intent to destroy, in whole or in part,” the fact that Russia may or may not have intended to destroy all Ukrainians is irrelevant. It has already destroyed, intentionally, a good part of the Ukrainian population — and that qualifies as genocide.

Moreover, keep in mind that any of the five criteria of genocide qualifies the action as genocidal. Russia easily meets four of these criteria — another way of saying that Russia’s intent was and is to destroy Ukrainians “in whole.”

And, as Russian policymakers and propagandists continually insist, that goal can be accomplished in two ways. Ukrainians who insist on retaining their identity must be physically destroyed. Those who abandon their identity and become Russian may live. Ultimately, if the Kremlin’s plans succeed, there will be no Ukrainians in Ukraine. If that isn’t genocidal intent, Lord knows what it is.

So, why can’t the United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine see the obvious and declare that Russia is committing genocide in Ukraine?

One is tempted to argue that the Commission chairman’s mealy-mouthed excuse for the Commission’s inability to act according to the Convention’s own criteria has nothing to do with insufficient evidence or the complications involved in interpreting its language (unlike many diplomatic documents, this one is remarkably straightforward), and everything to do with fear of the political consequences that would flow inexorably from determining that Russia is pursuing genocide.

After all, Article IV of the Convention states: “Persons committing genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article III shall be punished, whether they are constitutionally responsible rulers, public officials or private individuals.”

And Article V says: “The Contracting Parties undertake to enact, in accordance with their respective Constitutions, the necessary legislation to give effect to the provisions of the present Convention, and, in particular, to provide effective penalties for persons guilty of genocide or any of the other acts enumerated in article III.”

In other words, at a minimum, Putin and his closest cronies — such as Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, former President and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu — should be punished according to the necessary legislation drawn up by the Convention’s signatories.

But that means that the UN’s member states, many of which have palsy relations with Russia and its accused war-criminal president, would have to take a principled stand and alienate Russia, thereby harming their own pecuniary interests.

Expect Erik Møse and his UN colleagues to take a hard line on Russia’s genocide — but only after Russia is defeated and it becomes safe to criticize a war criminal for also being a genocidaire. Until then, expect more excuses.


Alexander J. Motyl is a professor of political science at Rutgers University-Newark. A specialist on Ukraine, Russia and the USSR, and on nationalism, revolutions, empires and theory, he is the author of 10 books of nonfiction, as well as “Imperial Ends: The Decay, Collapse, and Revival of Empires” and “Why Empires Reemerge: Imperial Collapse and Imperial Revival in Comparative Perspective.”