The sieges of cities and the bombing of civilians that we have already seen

The Russian bombing of a hospital in the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, carried out on Wednesday evening, was condemned by many countries of the world: there was talk of “barbarism” and “horror”, but it is not the first time that the Russian army has carried out deliberate bombing of civilian targets, such as schools or hospitals, in besieged or semi-besieged cities, where therefore there are practically no escape routes. The sieges of Ukrainian cities are taking place according to a tactic already seen in Chechnya in 1999 and several times during the war in Syria, functional to a precise strategy: bombing the “humanitarian corridors”, civilians and hospitals, to psychologically bend the resistance of besieged cities.

As several Western intelligence services have observed, in Ukraine the Russian invasion is increasingly resembling the military campaigns previously conducted in Grozny (in Chechnya) and Aleppo (in Syria), when the Russian army practically destroyed the two cities by taking systematically targeting residential buildings and civilian objects: under international law, this behavior is a war crime. According to US intelligence, Russia is also recruiting Syrian fighters experienced in urban warfare to use them in Ukraine.

The impression of many observers, including Marc Champion’s Bloombergis that since the Russian goal of swiftly conquering major Ukrainian cities has faded, the intensity of the bombing of civilians has increased.

Evacuations in Aleppo, December 15, 2016 (SANA via AP)

The most recent Russian use of the siege and deliberate and systematic bombing of civilians as a weapon of war is the Battle of Aleppo, which was fought until 2016. It was one of the most important battles of the entire Syrian war, which nevertheless had characteristics very different from the ongoing conflict in Ukraine: for example it did not start with an invasion (in Syria at the beginning there was a civil war, which then turned into something different and much more complicated) and there were no only two parties involved (but many more, including regular armies, militias assembled abroad, rebel groups of different orientations, extremist and terrorist organizations).

The most acute phase of that battle occurred in the second half of 2016, when Putin and Assad decided to bomb the part of the city under the control of the rebels with a violence with few precedents. For weeks, from October to December of that year, Russian and Syrian forces indiscriminately bombed civilian targets by air, including humanitarian convoys and entire neighborhoods. So did the ground forces. In mid-December, Assad’s forces recaptured all of Aleppo.

It was a pattern that had already been seen in Chechnya, on the border with Georgia, many years earlier.

Today Chechnya is a republic of the Russian Federation, but in the 1990s, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, an independence movement was born in the country that wanted to free itself from Russia. There was a first war between 1994 and 1996, and then a second one in 1999, fought by Russian and pro-Russian forces against separatist militias.

It was at the beginning of the Second Chechen War that the first hints were seen of how Putin would use the bombing of civilians as a weapon of war. At the time Putin was prime minister of Russia, he would become president a few months later, in May 2000. That time there was no “soft” phase of the bombing: after having besieged Grozny, the Chechen capital, Russian forces violently bombed the city , destroying it almost completely. Their goal was to exert maximum psychological pressure on the separatists, who in fact yielded. In February 2000, the Russian army entered the city center and declared it liberated.

During the siege and bombing, about 40 thousand people were trapped in the city, as is also happening in many Ukrainian cities, such as Kharkiv and Mariupol, which lack water, food and energy.

In both Chechnya and Syria, Russian forces did not just use conventional artillery and air strikes, but also employed TOS-1 rocket launchers armed with thermobaric bombs, whose devastation from the explosions is second only to nuclear weapons considering their size. ability to reduce buildings to rubble. In practice, the action of these weapons, also called “vacuum” bombs, takes place in two phases. A first explosion spreads a cloud of metallic and combustible particles into the air; at that point the cloud reacts in contact with oxygen and causes another large explosion sucking the surrounding air (for this reason it is defined “empty”).

International law provides that thermobaric bombs can only be used against military targets. This is because their shockwave is wider and more devastating than traditional weapons, it can destroy lung tissues or cause blood embolisms without causing injury externally. On Wednesday, the British Defense Ministry reported that it had received confirmation from Russia that these weapons are also being used in Ukraine.

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About Alex Marcell

He likes dogs, pizza and popcorn. Already a fanboy of Nintendo and Sony, but today throws anything. He has collaborated on sites and magazines such as GameBlast, Nintendo World, Hero and Portal Pop, but today is dedicated exclusively to Spark Chronicles.

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