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Understanding Russia's atrocity crimes is the key to targeting Moscow's true intentions in Ukraine.

Dr. Kristina Hook is an Assistant Professor of Conflict Management at Kennesaw State University’s School of Conflict Management, Peacebuilding, and Development. A specialist in Ukraine and Russia, her expertise includes genocide and mass atrocity prevention, emerging technologies and disinformation, post-conflict reconstruction, and war-related environmental degradation. She regularly consults with government, multilateral, and human rights organizations on these issues. Prior to her time in academia, she served as a U.S. Department of State policy advisor for conflict stabilization and in leadership roles with several non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

What is your view on the current situation in Ukraine? 

Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022 escalated its eight-year war against Ukraine and has led to the largest armed conflict in Europe since World War II. But the kinetic ferocity of Russia’s military campaign should not obscure that this is no ordinary war or one characterized by more straightforward contestations over territory, resources, or borders. Instead, from the beginning of its escalation, Moscow’s intent to target the Ukrainian population, Ukrainian identity, and the existence of Ukraine itself has proven the most accurate lens by which we can understand the Kremlin’s decision-making. Getting this frame right is essential in understanding what Moscow really wants, how far Russia is willing to go, the vast participation of Russians in propelling this war effort forward, and the international obligation to stop Russia’s genocide in progress.

Could you touch upon the importance and relevance of your recent report on escalating Russian genocide in Ukraine?

 For these reasons and more, the New Lines Institute and Raoul Wallenberg Center for Human Rights published an independent legal inquiry in July 2023, on which I served as Principal Author, into the question of Russian Federation violations of the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. This report served to update a previous May 2022 report, which flagged the urgent risk of genocide and notified all international parties to the Convention of their obligations to prevent a Russian genocide in Ukraine. Unfortunately, our updated July 2023 report found an overall pattern of Russian escalation of its violations of the Genocide Convention. First, we noted reasonable grounds to believe that Russia is responsible for direct and public incitement to commit genocide, itself a violation of the Genocide Convention. Second, we found reasonable grounds to believe that Russia is responsible for the commission of genocide against the Ukrainian national group, a position supported by 1) a pattern of atrocities from which an inference of intent to destroy the Ukrainian national group in part can be drawn, and 2) documented evidence of one or more of the five prohibited acts enumerated in the Genocide Convention, another violation. In other words, our report details Russian state actors’ direct and public incitement and the commission of genocide—separate crimes under the Genocide Convention.

What can Ukrainian authorities do to raise awareness and response to Russian genocide in Ukraine? 

Our report presents nearly sixty pages of documented evidence supporting our findings, but most important is the overall portrait of escalation—and the urgency that is needed to address Russia’s daily atrocity crimes. Genocide studies research indicates that this specific type of perpetrator is driven by a hardened ideology and an ability to carry out complex crimes that require extensive coordination and systemization. From Russia’s warfighters to occupation bureaucrats to all who work within Russia to advance its atrocity machine (e.g., those who participate in the trafficking of Ukrainian children and adults, those who work in factories that make military or dual purpose good, those who craft regulations for occupied Ukrainian territories, and many more roles), Russia’s genocidal war is being driven by a complex, committed network of actors. We also know from previous cases of genocide that these cases do not tend to end in negotiated settlements but require decisive victories. Genocide studies research echoes the sentiment: Moscow will not stop; Moscow can only be stopped. Ukrainian authorities and broader networks of Ukrainian supporters should continually remind international audiences, media, and policymakers that it is equally accurate to describe Russia’s violence against Ukraine as either a “war” or a “genocide.” Yet while the latter term is equally accurate, it is much less frequently applied, and thus, we sometimes lose sight of the incredible urgency required, the global legal obligations to stop Russia’s genocide, and the sheer number of lives and communities that hang in the balance.

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