Moderator: Good afternoon from the State Department’s Brussels Media Hub. I’d like to welcome everyone joining us for today’s virtual press briefing. Today, we’re very honored to be joined by Ambassador Michael Carpenter, U.S. Permanent Representative to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, OSCE.
And finally, a reminder that today’s briefing is on the record. Ambassador Carpenter, thank you so much for joining us today. I’ll turn it over to you for your opening remarks.
Ambassador Carpenter: Great, thanks, and it’s great to be with all of you. I’ve just got a few things at the top and then I’ll be happy to take your questions.
This week, the OSCE’s second expert mission delivered its report on the human rights and humanitarian aspects of Russia’s war in Ukraine. This is again an attempt to look at human rights violations, violations of international humanitarian law, including war crimes and crimes against humanity.
As I’m sure many of you know, the OSCE has the ability to deploy a fact-finding team of experts to look at human rights concerns anywhere in the OSCE region under a procedure called the Moscow Mechanism. Forty-five of the OSCE participating states invoked the Moscow Mechanism in March to investigate Russia’s human rights violations, war crimes, and crimes against humanity in Ukraine, and a report was issued in April covering the period from February 24th to April 1st. On June 2nd, the same 45 countries again invoked the Moscow Mechanism to look at these issues over the period from April 1st to June 25th. This was done after the disclosure of the atrocities committed in Bucha and Irpin.
So yesterday, the second Moscow Mechanism fact-finding mission briefed its findings and delivered its final report to the OSCE’s Permanent Council. So with your permission, I’m going to summarize some of the key findings, though of course the report is available publicly and you’re all free to read it through in its entirety.
The first key issue has to do with the widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure that we’ve witnessed across Ukraine. Many of you in the media have asked whether these attacks on supermarkets and hospitals and schools are simply misfires or whether they amount to war crimes. The report’s conclusion is affirmative on the question of war crimes. I quote: “The magnitude and frequency of the indiscriminate attacks carried out against civilians and civilian objects, including sites where no military facility was identified, is credible evidence that hostilities were conducted by Russian armed forces disregarding their fundamental obligation to comply with the basic principles of distinction, proportionality, and precaution that constitute the fundamental basis of international humanitarian law,” end quote.
The report also clearly states that Russia violated the Geneva Conventions. And I’m going to quote again: “The events concerning the towns of Bucha and Irpin, that were visited by the mission, are two emblematic examples of the breaches of International Humanitarian Law under the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols, which constitute war crimes,” end quote.
Now to the question of crimes against humanity. Again, the report is rather clear that the evidence shows that crimes against humanity were likely committed by the Russian Federation, particularly in terms of its alleged targeted killings and forced disappearances and abductions of civilians, all of which were witnessed as part of the so-called filtration process, but also in areas where atrocities were committed such as Bucha and Irpin.
And I want to be really precise here. The report says, quote, “some patterns of violent acts violating International Human Rights Law, which have been repeatedly documented during the conflict, such as targeted killing, enforced disappearance or abduction of civilians” meet the qualification of a, quote, “widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population,” end quote. As the report makes clear, “any single violent act of this type, committed as part of such an attack and with the knowledge of it, constitutes a crime against humanity.” And that’s on page four of the report, if you want to go and read it yourself. This goes further than the previous Moscow Mechanism report, the one from April, and I think it’s very much worth lifting up.
The report also gets into the details of some of these alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. For example, it notes that the photographic and video evidence appears to show, quote, “that Russian forces carried out targeted, organized killings of civilians in Bucha,” end quote, who were “frequently found shot dead, hands tied behind their backs.” The report also catalogues Russia’s makeshift torture chambers and particularly gives an example from one that was outfitted at a summer camp in Bucha. Again, I’m going to quote directly from the report: “In that chamber, five dead men dressed in civilian clothes were discovered. They were covered with burns, bruises, and lacerations. Also, in Zabuchchya, a village in the Bucha district, 18 mutilated bodies of murdered men, women, and children were discovered in a basement: some had their ears cut off, while others had their teeth pulled out,” end of quote. That’s on page 38 and 39 of the report.
The report also documented that Russian troops in Bucha engaged in systematic looting, noting that many of the items were then marketed by Russian troops in Belarus, where they tried to sell the looted goods. These include washing machines, dishwashers, refrigerators, jewelry, automobiles, bicycles, motorcycles, dishes, carpets, works of art, children’s toys, and even cosmetics as examples of these looted items.
The report – and this is a piece that I want to accentuate – the report identifies two new what it calls alarming phenomena since the conclusion of the last Moscow Mechanism report in April, namely the establishment of so-called filtration centers and the, quote, “tendency of the Russian Federation to bypass its international obligations by handing detained people over” to its proxies in eastern Ukraine to let them “engage in problematic practices, including the imposition of the death penalty,” end quote.
So yesterday at the Permanent Council, as I said, the three experts highlighted Russia’s use of the so-called filtration process to forcibly deport civilians, and their report clearly states that mass forcible transfers of civilians from occupied territory to the territory of the occupying power are prohibited under the 1949 Geneva Conventions and the practice is considered a war crime. Yet clearly, despite this clear prohibition, the report notes that more than 1.3 million Ukrainian civilians are reported to have been deported against their will to Russia, including more than 200,000 children. The experts note that they have no doubts that such practices violate international human rights law and may amount to a crime against humanity.
I noted that they flagged two alarming phenomena. The filtration process was the first. The second alarming innovation on the part of the Russians is this tendency to farm out its dirty work to the so-called “Donetsk people’s republic” and “Luhansk people’s republic,” DNR and LNR as they’re sometimes abbreviated, which of course are proxy structures that exist under Russia’s firm command and control. That’s something that, frankly, we’ve been seeing for years but that was usefully highlighted in this report.
So that’s a lot. There’s also a section, or sections I should say, of the report on the use of children by Russian forces as human shields; on the use of indiscriminate weapons; on destruction of cultural objects; and much more. But I think for the sake of time, I am going to leave it right there, and happy to take your questions.
Moderator: Thank you so much. We’ll now turn to the question and answer portion of today’s briefing. Our first question will go to Paul Shinkman. Paul, you can now unmute yourself and ask your question.
Question: Hi, can you hear me okay?
Ambassador Carpenter: Yes.
Moderator: Yes, we can.
Question: Great. Yeah, hi, Mr. Ambassador. So two sets of questions, please. The first about who has a – who is aware of or who knows of these actions taking place? How confident are you that President Putin is at least aware of these actions among his troops, if not complicit in them? And then with that in mind, is it clear to you that these actions are coming from orders from somebody up the chain of command, or is it a lack of policing individual units carrying out things like these? So that’s the first question.
And then the second one is I – can you sort of talk about what you hope to achieve by exposing these actions? Are you trying to change Russia’s behavior as it continues to conduct the war, or is this a part of building a broader case that you or somebody else might later prosecute? Thank you.
Ambassador Carpenter: Okay, thanks, Paul. So those are great questions. I’ll start with the first one. Is the Russian leadership aware of these atrocity crimes? Given the fact that a lot of these crimes are publicly reported, the fact that the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism report is publicly available, is widely covered in the Western media and hopefully as a result of press conferences like this one today will be even more widely covered, I think it’s fair to say that one can assume that much of the Russian leadership should be aware of what is happening.
I obviously can’t pronounce on what facts are briefed to President Putin and what facts he is unaware of. I will, however, say that it is very important that everyone at all levels of the chain of command be held accountable, and that is one of the goals of this process. I will also note that President Putin personally bestowed an honor on the unit that was involved in the atrocities in Bucha. The honor is the bestowal of the title of “Guards” on this particular unit that was involved in these atrocities, and it is hard to see that, at the time that this was done in April, that the Russian leadership would have been unaware of the allegations against those units in Bucha.
Second, what do we hope to achieve? We very much want to expose Russia’s actions and we want to signal that no one will be outside of the scope of the law. Everyone will be held accountable at the end of the day. We very much believe that. We’re going to pursue that. Fact-finding mechanisms like the ones deployed under the Moscow Mechanism in the OSCE, but also the UN Commission of Inquiry that has been set up to look at atrocities and war crimes in Ukraine, will all share their information with each other and with – ultimately with bodies that pursue accountability such as the ICC, such as the ICJ, and such as national courts that have jurisdiction over these crimes. And so the ultimate goal here is to ensure that everyone at all levels of responsibility, at all levels of the chain of command, that those individuals are responsible – and not just as the experts briefed very eloquently yesterday; there is also responsibility of states when it comes to war crimes and crimes against humanity. So there is a responsibility that gets lodged with the state that is responsible for these actions, and there is individual criminal responsibility, and both need to be pursued.
Moderator: And our next question comes from Aliaksandr Papko from BELSAT TV. This is a question that was submitted in advance. “Is there any evidence that Belarusian military belonging to Lukashenka regime participated in full-scale invasion in Ukraine? Was there any Belarusian national – were there any Belarussian nationals suspected in committing war crimes in Ukraine?”
Ambassador Carpenter: Thank you for the question, Aliaksandr. We have consistently said that Belarus is a co-aggressor to this war of choice in Ukraine. Belarus has allowed for its airspace and its territory to be used in order to fire countless ground-launched and air-launched missiles into Ukraine that have caused enormous damage, including to civilians. And so Belarus is a co-aggressor, full stop.
Now, to the question specifically of have we seen Belarussian regular military troops inside Ukraine, no, we have not. But that does not absolve Belarus and the Belarussian leadership of their responsibility for allowing for missile strikes to take place from their territory into Ukraine, resulting in destruction but also in civilian deaths.
Moderator: Thank you very much for that. Our next question comes from Alex Raufoglu from the Turan News Agency. Alex, go right ahead.
Question: Hi, can you hear me well?
Ambassador Carpenter: Yes.
Question: Okay, awesome. Thank you so much, Ambassador, for sharing those key findings of the report. If I understand it correctly, the report covers the period of April-June. Should we expect any follow-up on the recent crimes that Russia has been committing these days? And also, as you mentioned, in fact, Ukrainian officials also believe that it is – there is a long pattern here. Civilians have been deliberately targeted. But they describe it as terrorism. Do you agree with that description? Thanks so much.
Ambassador Carpenter: Well, yeah. So we’ve had two Moscow Mechanism reports. The first covered the period from the beginning of the full-scale invasion or attack on Ukraine on February 24th to April 1st, the second from April 1st to June 25th. There is always the possibility that additional Moscow Mechanism fact-finding teams could be deployed or invoked by the membership of the OSCE.
At this point I think probably the weight of the inquiry has shifted to the UN. As I mentioned, the Commission of Inquiry is now up and running. We very much here at the OSCE, amongst like-minded states, wanted to do everything possible that we could do to expose these atrocities in the early part of the war; to the extent that the war continues into the second half of this year, I think the Commission of Inquiry will likely have the lead. But I wouldn’t foreclose the possibility of deploying the Moscow Mechanism in the future, including not to look specifically at what is happening on the territory of Ukraine, but possibly to look at what is happening on the territory of other states.
I will note that the Moscow Mechanism has been used to look at human rights violations in Russia, specifically in the Republic of Chechnya, as well as in Belarus in recent years.
Remind me of the second part of your question.
Question: On terrorism. Do you have a similar —
Ambassador Carpenter: Oh, yes. So look, it is very clear to me that Russia is brutalizing the Ukrainian population, is – and again, all I have to do is quote to you from the report, which makes it very clear that a lot of these, the magnitude and the frequency of the indiscriminate attacks carried out against civilians and civilian objects is credible evidence that hostilities were conducted in violation of international humanitarian law, meaning that they were war crimes.
So I would certainly subscribe to that conclusion, which is reached by the authors of the report, and I think there is an element of trying to intimidate the population of Ukraine. This goes hand in hand with the heavy-handed tactics and the forced displacement of populations from the southern and eastern regions of Ukraine, especially those regions that are under the control of Russian forces, in what is clearly a patent attempt by Russia to engage in sort of social engineering on the ground, to move populations out of those regions that may be loyal to the Ukrainian state and to ensure a more quiescent population that is less willing to resist Russian rule.
So this does appear to be part of a concerted strategy. It’s certainly part of a concerted modus operandi on the part of Russian forces, and it is to be condemned. These atrocities are truly appalling and beyond the scale of simply human decency.
Moderator: Now we’ll go to our question and answer tab. And our next question comes from Mike Brest with The Washington Examiner. And he asks, “What is the U.S. doing to prevent these crimes from continuing to occur in Ukraine from afar? And what is the international community doing in this regard?”
Ambassador Carpenter: Well, to answer the question, Mike, I wish there were more we could do on the ground. Obviously, Russia has over 100,000 combat troops and tanks and equipment in Ukraine. But that is why the United States is sending Ukraine military equipment now, since February 24th upwards of $7.3 billion worth of military assistance. That’s separate from the humanitarian and macroeconomic support that we’ve provided to Ukraine, just $7.3 billion – with a B – in military assistance. And we’re giving Ukraine our high-end capabilities – the high mobility artillery rocket systems or HIMARS, medium-range air defense as well as short-range air defense, and a variety of other coastal defense and other sophisticated assets. Why? Because we want Ukraine to win. We want Ukrainians to be able to defend themselves and push back against Russian forces and prevent these sorts of atrocities from continuing to take place.
So that’s what we’re doing as we, the United States. At the OSCE, additionally what we’re trying to do is shine a light on Russian atrocities and make clear that no one’s going to be outside the reach of the law, that there will be no impunity, that everyone will be held accountable. And you’ve already seen the Ukrainian prosecutor general begin to bring cases – in fact, convictions, not just cases but convictions against suspected war criminals. And I think that process is going to accelerate.
And all of those individuals, all of those conscripts and other Russian forces in Ukraine or that may be getting ready to deploy to Ukraine, ought to know that they’re not going to be able to travel to Western countries where there may be jurisdiction over their war crimes, if they’ve committed war crimes, because there’s going to be a very thorough accounting. The evidence is going to be compiled. It’s going to be preserved. And prosecutors from the ICC, but also from national courts, are going to build cases and try people.
So that’s the message that we’re trying to convey, is that there will be accountability. But then, by the same token, we’re not just going to stand by. That’s why we’re giving Ukraine the means to defend itself, because again, what we’re seeing in these regions, if you read the report in terms of what we’ve seen in places like Bucha and Irpin and Mariupol, it is frankly appalling – the reports of torture. There are reports of sexual-based violence. There are reports of atrocities perpetrated against women and children. It really is appalling.
Moderator: And now we’ll go to one of our online callers, Pavlo Shtelmakh. Pavlo, your line is open and you can ask your question.
Question: Hello there, Ambassador. Hello, everyone. We in Ukraine are very grateful to OSCE. And the first question is, we wonder what are the conditions for the Special Monitoring Mission of OSCE to return to Ukraine to help us on the ground with accountability for the crimes against humanity and war crimes?
And maybe the second question would be: Is the OSCE capable to help in exporting the food grains from Ukraine via land or sea to prevent the food crisis problem in the world. Thank you very much.
Question: Thanks, Pavlo. Very good questions. So first, on the conditions for the return of the OSCE. Well, here’s what I would say. Russia has, in the last couple months, vetoed a lot of the OSCE missions that were present in Ukraine, to include the border observation mission in Gukovo and Donetsk on the border with Russia, to include the Special Monitoring Mission, and to include the project coordinator’s office in Ukraine.
If there were an opportunity to get an OSCE monitoring mission back in specifically to look at war crimes and crimes against humanity, I think there would be a lot of support for that. I will note that the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, commonly known as ODIHR, is already looking at the question of war crimes and crimes against humanity as well as gross violations of human rights. So there is a monitoring presence that is already underway as we speak.
But then also there is a concerted effort, and it hasn’t yet reached the final stage, but we are in talks here at the OSCE about how to get an OSCE presence back into Ukraine without bypassing the Russian veto and essentially using funding from only like-minded states that support Ukraine, so developing a sort of a structure that would enable us to engage in a lot of the OSCE activities that were previously engaged in inside Ukraine. That could include support for victims of the war, support for civil society, support for children and victims of trafficking and sexual-based violence, and all the rest of the thing – humanitarian demining. I won’t go through the entire list, but all of those valuable efforts that were underway by the OSCE in Ukraine, we’re hoping, will continue.
But we need to find a way to prevent Russia from being capable of putting forth a veto and stopping the OSCE from doing valuable work. And we’re determined to get around that veto because we cannot afford to allow Russia to gut the organization, which has delivered so much – so many good works over the course of so many years.
And on your question specifically about grain, there are talks right now that are being chaired by the UN, together with the Turks and Russians and Ukrainians. And I won’t get into that because that’s not my purview. But the OSCE will be helpful however it can be helpful. I think it’s likely to be outside the scope of the OSCE that the solution is found. But to whatever extent the OSCE can help, also in providing a range of options for these – for the grain to reach markets, we will certainly engage if called upon to do so.
Question: Thank you very much.
Moderator: And we have time for one more question, and it’ll go to David Nikuradze from TV Rustavi 2 in Georgia. “According to the statement released yesterday, Washington supports Ukraine’s application before the International Court of Justice against Russia. How intensively does Washington work with the ICJ, and are you providing any information and evidence collected by the U.S. to the court, even if the U.S. is not a member state of the ICJ?”
Ambassador Carpenter: Well, the U.S. is not a member state of the ICJ and we’re not a party to the Rome Statute on the ICC. But we have said that we are willing to support all accountability mechanisms, to include the ICC and the ICJ. And certainly, the information that the fact-finding mission at the OSCE has gathered will be made available to both bodies, to both the ICC and the ICJ. And they’re both doing valuable work. The ICJ is looking at the case that was brought by Ukraine under the Genocide Convention, and the ICC Prosecutor General Mr. Khan is looking at evidence of war crimes in Ukraine actively as we speak. In fact, he’s called much of Ukraine a “crime scene.” That’s a quote from him.
And so in the interests of seeking justice and accountability, I can tell you, I can affirm, that the United States is employing an all-of-the-above approach and we are supporting, actively supporting, the work of both the ICC and the ICJ.
Moderator: Unfortunately, that’s all the time we have for today. Thank you to all our journalists for your questions, and thank you, Ambassador Carpenter, for joining us. Before we close the call, I’d like to see if you have any final remarks for the group.
Ambassador Carpenter: No. Thank you very much for this opportunity.
Moderator: And thank you.