RRC appears to defy neutrality principle, as Ukrainian officials criticise ‘weak response’ and accuse Red Cross of being advocate for Russian aggression

Shaun Walker

29 Apr 2024

The Guardian

The International Red Cross movement has decided not to suspend membership of the Russian Red Cross (RRC), despite potential breaches of neutrality regulations brought to light by an investigation by a group of international media outlets, including the Guardian.

Research showed what appeared to be numerous violations of the Red Cross charter by the Russian organisation since the launch of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), an umbrella body of national societies, has the power to suspend members that violate Red Cross principles of neutrality and independence, and did so to the Belarusian chapter last year.

However, after a four-day meeting of IFRC officials in Geneva, the decision was made not to suspend the RRC, but only to create an oversight body and ask the RRC to “address identified challenges and alleged breaches” of integrity.

The move was quickly criticised by Ukrainian officials as a weak response to serious allegations. “The IFRC has become an advocate for the RRC, and thus for Russian aggression against Ukraine,” said Ukraine’s human rights commissioner, Dmytro Lubinets. He criticised the IFRC for not taking stronger action, echoing claims from Kyiv over the past two years that the international Red Cross bodies have been so worried about getting on the wrong side of Moscow that they have ended up playing into Russia’s hands.

The investigation, published last month by a group of outlets including the Guardian, was partly based on a series of leaked Kremlin documents, which appeared to show plans to fund offshoot branches of the RRC on occupied Ukrainian territory.

It also found that senior figures in RRC regional branches spoke of the need for war with “Ukrainian Nazis”, and that uniformed Red Cross workers were frequently present at military training events for children. Earlier this year, the Russian Red Cross signed a memorandum of cooperation with Artek, a youth camp in annexed Crimea where some children deported from Ukraine have been sent. The head of Artek, Konstantin Fedorenko, has been hit with sanctions by the US and the EU.

Additionally, the RRC head, Pavel Savchuk, was a board member of the All-Russian People’s Front (ONF), a movement created by the Kremlin that holds the trademark for the Z sign, the symbol of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Savchuk was identified as such on the ONF’s website

until journalistic inquiries were made about it earlier this year. Then, his photograph was removed. The IFRC claims Savchuk has not been involved in the ONF since March 2022.

Last year, the Belarusian Red Cross was suspended by the IFRC after it emerged that its head had worn the Z symbol and had expressed support for the abduction of Ukrainian children.

For now, however, the Russian branch has been spared the same fate. An IFRC statement said the Russian branch had “cooperated throughout the review” and said it had found no evidence on many of the allegations. It recommended training in Red Cross principles for all RRC staff.

But Lubinets claimed: “IFRC’s position is cynical. It is turning a blind eye to the fact that RRC is collaborating with sanctioned individuals and organisations who are helping in kidnapping Ukrainian children.”