Was Bucha Massacre an intentional part of Russia's strategy in Ukraine?

According to sources, the BND's evidence may indicate the massacre was not random but an intentional tactic in Russian military activity and part of a broader strategy.

 A funeral service employee looks at bodies of civilians, collected from streets to local cemetery, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv, Ukraine April 6, 2022.  (photo credit: Oleg Pereverzev/Reuters)
A funeral service employee looks at bodies of civilians, collected from streets to local cemetery, as Russia's attack on Ukraine continues, in the town of Bucha, outside Kyiv, Ukraine April 6, 2022.
(photo credit: Oleg Pereverzev/Reuters)

Further evidence of the alleged Bucha Massacre in Ukraine was found by the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), Germany’s foreign intelligence service, which intercepted Russian military radio traffic from the Bucha area that may be linked to the alleged massacre, Der Spiegel reported.

The German news outlet said that the BND had already briefed lawmakers about the findings, with radio chatter corroborating the locations of some of the bodies. In one such example, a soldier claims to another that he shot someone riding a bicycle, corresponding to the widely-shared image of a corpse beside a bicycle in the city. 

These reports were further corroborated by ARD-Hauptstadtstudio and The Washington Post, who spoke to other intelligence officials who confirmed Der Spiegel's report, albeit on condition of anonymity.

Further, it also supports evidence obtained by The New York Times and Maduza.

 Bodies of civilians, who according to residents were killed by Russian army soldiers, lie in the street, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Bucha, in Kyiv region, Ukraine April 2, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/ZOHRA BENSEMRA) Bodies of civilians, who according to residents were killed by Russian army soldiers, lie in the street, amid Russia's invasion of Ukraine, in Bucha, in Kyiv region, Ukraine April 2, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/ZOHRA BENSEMRA)
Who committed the massacre?

Eyewitnesses have pointed to attacks on civilians growing worse after younger soldiers were replaced by other units, including some Chechen troops. However, the BND material allegedly provides proof that members of the Russian mercenary organization known as the Wagner Group played the leading role, having done similar actions in Syria, according to Der Spiegel.

The BND evidence points to the massacre not being random or isolated incidents. Rather, according to a source who spoke to Der Spiegel, this seems to be a standard practice, not just of the occupation of Bucha but of Russian military activity in general and could even be part of a broader strategy to break the willpower of the population and reduce resistance.

More intercepted radio traffic is being analyzed, but according to Der Spiegel, there is evidence to suggest that these atrocities have happened elsewhere in Ukraine. Most notably, however, are indications from the evidence of potential atrocities in Mariupol, the key Donetsk Oblast port city on the Sea of Azov that has been continuously besieged and bombarded by Russian troops.

What are the implications of the recordings?

According to one of the intelligence sources briefed by The Washington Post, the evidence gained from the radio communications does shed light on attitudes among Russian troops, but does not represent "final evidence of who shot whom at what time."

According to Alex Whiting, a visiting professor at Harvard Law School who previously coordinated investigations at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the key question to discern from intercepted communications is whether soldiers were “acting pursuant to some plan or some general direction.”

“Just the fact that they would be talking to each other about these killings would indicate that and would disprove any suggestion that these were kind of spontaneous random events,” he added, The Washington Post reported.

How did the BND intercept the radio communication?

That is still unknown, but there are some likely options.

Specifically, Russian troops participating in the invasion of Ukraine are known to communicate with unsecured devices like smartphones and push-to-talk radios, which are vulnerable to being targeted, The Washington Post reported.

As a senior US defense official put it, “We’re seeing them use a lot more unclassified communications because their classified communications capability… for one reason or another, is not as strong as it should be.”

What does Ukraine think?

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelensky seems to be fully aware that more massacres on the level of what allegedly happened in Bucha are very likely to have occurred elsewhere. In particular, he has referred to the city of Borodyanka as being "significantly more dreadful" than Bucha. 

However, this may be just the beginning, with Zelensky specifically pointing to the situation in Mariupol.

"What will happen when the world learns the whole truth about what the Russian military did in Mariupol?" Zelensky said

"There, on almost every street, is what the world saw in Bucha and other towns in the Kyiv Oblast after the withdrawal of Russian troops. The same cruelty. The same terrible crimes."

Indeed, Russia has already blamed Ukrainian "nationalists," a term that is used often interchangeably alongside neo-Nazis, of atrocities against civilians in Mariupol and has vowed to rid the city of them.

Russia has denied committing any atrocity in Bucha, and this is something Zelensky is very much aware of.

"Russian propagandists are preparing" a response, he said. "They are going to show the victims in Mariupol as if they were not killed by the Russian military, but by the Ukrainian defenders of the city."

This, he claims, is done by using corpses as props.

"We are dealing with invaders who have nothing human left," Zelensky said. "To justify their own killings, they take the murdered people simply as scenery, as propaganda props. And this is a separate war crime, for which each of the propagandists will be held accountable.

"More and more countries around the world support the need for a full and transparent investigation of all war crimes of the Russian occupiers in Ukraine. Every murder will be solved. Each of the executioners will be found. All those who committed rape or looting will be identified. Responsibility is inevitable."

Germany calls for war crimes tribunal

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is calling for a war crimes tribunal against Russian President Vladimir Putin and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, Der Spiegel cited Steinmeier as saying.

"Anyone who has responsibility for these crimes will have to explain themselves," Steinmeier told Der Spiegel in an interview.

"That includes soldiers. That includes military commanders. And of course, also those that have the political responsibility," he said.

Ukraine has accused Russia of genocide and war crimes. The Kremlin said on Tuesday that Western allegations that Russian forces executed civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha were a "monstrous forgery" meant to discredit the Russian army and justify new Western sanctions.

Reuters contributed to this report.