Russia claims mass civilian graves found in Donbas

Moscow accuses Ukraine of genocide against Russian-speakers. *West has raised fears of a "false flag" operation.

An activist holds Russia's national flag, during a rally at the war memorial complex Savur-Mohyla, damaged in the recent fighting with Ukraine's government forces,marking the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the Donbas region,Ukraine September 8, 2021. (photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)
An activist holds Russia's national flag, during a rally at the war memorial complex Savur-Mohyla, damaged in the recent fighting with Ukraine's government forces,marking the 78th anniversary of the liberation of the Donbas region,Ukraine September 8, 2021.
(photo credit: REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO)

Russia's Investigative Committee claimed on Wednesday that mass graves of hundreds of Russian-speaking civilians had been found in the Donbas region, as the Russian government continued to accuse Ukraine of genocide and human rights violations in Donbas.

The committee claimed that the civilians found in the area controlled by Russian-backed separatists were killed by Ukrainian shelling. "The Investigative Committee continues to take all possible measures to uphold the principle of the inevitability of punishment for those responsible for committing crimes in Donetsk and Luhansk areas," said the committee.

The announcement comes a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that "in our view what is now happening in Donbas is genocide" and claimed that there were "mass violations of human rights in Ukraine" during a press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Putin has made similar accusations in the past.

US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said in a regular press briefing on Wednesday night that the United States was concerned by Russian President Vladimir Putin's claim that "genocide" was taking place in eastern Ukraine's Donbas region, and said claims that the US and Ukraine were developing biological or chemical weapons for use in the region are "entirely false."

In 2014, Russia justified intervening in unrest in Ukraine with claims that Russian speakers were being discriminated against.

The claims come amid heightened tensions between Ukraine and Russia, as Russia sends tens of thousands of troops to the Ukrainian border. Despite claims by Russia that it has been withdrawing troops, NATO and Western officials have stated that troops continue to arrive at the border. Video shared on OSINT groups also shows Russian equipment continuing to head to the border.

 A Russian army service member fires a howitzer during drills at the Kuzminsky range in the southern Rostov region, Russia January 26, 2022 (credit: SERGEY PIVOVAROV/REUTERS) A Russian army service member fires a howitzer during drills at the Kuzminsky range in the southern Rostov region, Russia January 26, 2022 (credit: SERGEY PIVOVAROV/REUTERS)

Western officials have expressed concerns in recent weeks that Russia could use a "false flag" operation in order to "justify" an attack on Ukraine. A false flag operation is one that disguises the actual source and pins the blame on another party.

On Tuesday, the Russian TASS news site reported that an attempted terrorist attack had been thwarted in Luhansk, a city controlled by pro-Russian separatists in the disputed Donbas region.

According to the report, an improvised explosive device was discovered in a trash can in the city where a rally for the Russian Memorial Day of soldiers-internationalists, which commemorates those soldiers who fell while operating abroad, was planned.

The Ministry of State Security of the Luhansk People's Republic stated that the alleged explosive device could have caused civilian casualties if it had not been found and neutralized.

Additionally, on Tuesday afternoon, the People's Militia of the LPR reported that one of its members had been shot and killed by Ukrainian forces, saying that they responded with artillery fire against Ukrainian positions.

Over 870,000 residents of the Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics have acquired Russian citizenship, said Viktor Vodolatsky, first deputy chairman of Russian State Duma Committee on CIS Affairs, Eurasian Integration and Relations with Compatriots, on Tuesday, according to TASS.

The State Duma presented Putin with a draft appeal to recognize the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics as independent on Tuesday. Putin said the vast majority of Russians support the separatists, adding that he wanted to solve the issues regarding Donbas according to the Minsk agreements. 

Reuters contributed to this report.