Vladimir Putin’s spokesman has admitted Russia has suffered ‘significant troop losses’ in its invasion of Ukraine but dismissed claims of war crimes in Bucha and Mariupol as ‘fake’.
Speaking on Sky News, Dmitry Peskov failed to reveal exactly how many Russian soldiers had died but said: ‘We have significant losses of troops. And it’s a huge tragedy for us.’
Russia in late March said it had lost 1,351 soldiers with another 3,825 wounded.
In a wide-ranging interview, Peskov repeatedly refused to admit any wrongdoing on Russia’s part and described footage of war crimes committed by its soldiers as ‘fake’ and ‘lies’.
He rejected allegations of a massacre in the Ukrainian town of Bucha as ‘a well-staged insinuation’, claiming that bodies found in the streets were placed after Russian troops withdrew.
‘We are living in days of fakes and lies which we meet every day,’ he said, speaking in English by video link from Moscow.
‘We deny the Russian military can have something in common with these atrocities and that dead bodies were shown on the streets of Bucha.’
Peskov also defended the reasons for Russia’s invasion and described it as a ‘special military operation’ that was necessary because Ukraine has been an ‘anti-Russian centre’ since 2014.
He also revealed that Putin was intending to continue attempts to seize Mariupol, which has faced horrific shelling.
In a wide-ranging interview, Peskov repeatedly refused to admit any wrongdoing on Russia’s part and described footage of war crimes committed by its soldiers as ‘fake’ and ‘lies’
He said: ‘Mariupol is going to be liberated from nationalistic battalions. We hope it is going to happen sooner than later.’
The United Nations General Assembly on Thursday suspended Russia from the U.N. Human Rights Council over reports of ‘gross and systematic violations and abuses of human rights’ by invading Russian troops in Ukraine.
The U.S.-led push won 93 votes in favour to suspend Russia, while 24 countries voted no and 58 countries abstained. A two-thirds majority of voting members – excluding abstentions – was needed to suspend Russia from the 47-member council.
The vote followed allegations that Russian troops systematically executed civilians in Bucha, a town north-west of Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, and amid other reports of human rights abuses since President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion on Feb. 24.
Suspensions from the council are rare. Libya was suspended in 2011 because of violence against protesters by forces loyal to then-leader Muammar Gaddafi.
The resolution adopted by the 193-member General Assembly draft expresses ‘grave concern at the ongoing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Ukraine,’ particularly at reports of rights abuses by Russia in the town of Bucha and others.
Russia had threatened countries that a yes vote or abstention will be viewed as an ‘unfriendly gesture’ with consequences for bilateral ties.
Reacting to the suspension, Peskov said: ‘We’re sorry about that. And we’ll continue to defend our interests using every possible legal means.’
Ukrainian officials are currently gathering evidence of Russian atrocities in Bucha and other cities, amid signs Moscow’s troops killed people indiscriminately before retreating.
Ukrainian authorities said the bodies of least 410 civilians were found in towns around Kyiv, victims of what President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said was a Russian campaign of murder, rape, dismemberment and torture.
Some victims had apparently been shot at close range and Some were found with their hands bound.
Mr Zelensky accused Russia of interfering with an international investigation into possible war crimes by removing bodies and trying to hide other evidence in Bucha, north west of Kyiv.
‘We have information that the Russian troops have changed tactics and are trying to remove the dead people, the dead Ukrainians, from the streets and cellars of territory they occupied,’ he said during his latest video address. ‘This is only an attempt to hide the evidence and nothing more.’
Switching from Ukrainian to Russian, Mr Zelensky urged ordinary Russians ‘to somehow confront the Russian repressive machine’ instead of being ‘equated with the Nazis for the rest of your life’.
He called on Russians to demand an end to the war ‘if you have even a little shame about what the Russian military is doing in Ukraine’.
Since Bucha, a chorus has resounded at the highest levels of Western political power calling for accountability, prosecution and punishment for war crimes in Ukraine.
On Monday, Zelensky denounced the killings as ‘genocide’ and ‘war crimes,’ and U.S. President Joe Biden said Putin was ‘a war criminal’ who should be brought to trial.
But the path to holding the Russian president and other top leaders criminally responsible is long and complex, international lawyers caution.
‘Certainly, the discovery of bodies which bear signs of executions – such as gunshot wounds to the head – presents strong evidence of war crimes,’ said Clint Williamson, who served as U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues from 2006 to 2009.
‘When victims are found with their hands bound, with blindfolds and bearing signs of torture or sexual assault, an even more compelling case is made. There are no circumstances under which these actions are permitted, whether the victims are civilians or military personnel who had been taken prisoner.’