When Russian troops arrived, their relatives disappeared

““Woman, calm down,” soldiers told Maruniak’s wife, according to Natali. “Maybe it’s the last time you see your husband.”

She saw her husband one more time, on March 24. He returned again with soldiers, though this time, they covered their faces. “Feed him, change his socks, and give him his medicine,” they ordered Maruniak’s wife. As she did, she noticed his legs were bruised blue. There was another bruise on his right temple, another on his arm. Maruniak said nothing, only that it was cold where he was being held.

That was the last Maruniak’s family saw or heard anything about him.

Maruniak is among dozens of local officials or community leaders who have been abducted or arbitrarily arrested by Russian forces as they seized territory in Ukraine, especially in the east and the south. These disappearances are both an attempt to coerce cooperation and a targeted effort to silence and intimidate Ukrainians who may oppose or organize against a Russian occupation.”

“The United Nations Human Rights Monitoring Mission in Ukraine has documented about 109 cases of suspected detention or enforced disappearances among civilians since February 24, including 48 local officials. The UN and other human rights groups have confirmed disappearances among other members of civil society: volunteers, activists, journalists, religious leaders, protesters, and former military veterans. (Vox reached out to the Russian Embassy for comment, but did not receive a response.)

Anastasiia Moskvychova, who has been tracking disappearances for ZMINA, says they have confirmed more than 100 arbitrary detentions since February 24; about 50 people are still missing.

But Oleksandra Matviichuk, a Kyiv-based activist and head of the Center for Civil Liberties, said these numbers are only the “top of the iceberg.” Her group is tracking dozens more suspected cases of enforced disappearances, but they are still trying to corroborate evidence, a task that’s all the more difficult in Russian-occupied areas. Other times, family and friends of the suspected victims fear making that information public.”

” All of this foreshadows how Russia might try to consolidate control in Ukrainian areas it captures by force.”

“Extrajudicial arrests happen within Russia, but they are documented more frequently in Russia’s other territories, including Dagestan and Chechnya, where enforced disappearances became what Human Rights Watch described as an “enduring feature” of the conflict.

In Crimea, ethnic Tatars, who tended to oppose Russia’s annexation in 2014, were targeted, including one local activist and leader who was allegedly kidnapped by men in Russian traffic police uniforms in 2016. In the Donbas, militias kidnapped, tortured, and killed a local city council member who tried to take down a flag of the so-called Donetsk People’s Republic. “They hunted after the activists, after the persons who supported the Ukrainian army, Ukrainian volunteers,” said Oleksandr Pavlichenko, executive director of the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union.

“Now we see the same scheme,” Pavlichenko added, “and it’s only the beginning of this scheme.””

“Human rights watchers and experts say it is often difficult to say who is carrying out disappearances, or subsequent mistreatment — including in Ukraine right now. “The state actors are not interested in accountability for those kinds of abuses, so it creates this environment of impunity,” said Saskia Brechenmacher, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who has researched Russian civil society.

That can make it hard to know exactly how organized these actions are, or whether they are directed top-down from Moscow, the work of local units or security services, or militias affiliated with Moscow.”

“Ahead of the invasion, the United States told the United Nations it had credible information that Moscow was compiling lists of Ukrainians to be “killed or sent to camps.” Advocates do not have confirmation of such lists, or who may have compiled them if they do exist, but emphasized that this campaign of disappearances is not random.

“It’s not happening as some chaotic or spontaneous thing,” Andreyuk said. “This is very targeted detentions — and it’s a very targeted policy to get more control over society.””

“Added together, these disappearances help create a “Stalin-like” police state, a rule through terror and mistrust, and where nobody knows what — or who — might make them a target of disappearance. “If you just keep silent, it is also suspicious,” Pavlichenko said.”

War Crimes Charges Could Help Putin, Not Hurt Him

“The role of popular elections as the source of ruling legitimacy is just one way in which it is hard to categorize the Russian political system. For all the talk of Putin’s dictatorial personality and wide latitude to crackdown on civil liberties, the institutions of Putinism were built by his democratic predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, enshrined in his 1993 constitution. Flawed and imperfect in practice during the tumultuous 1990s, these foundations were democratic in principle: Grassroots civil society flourished alongside a lively media environment, as legislators and leaders were chosen from a variety of contenders. Even as those liberties have subsequently been eroded and independent media curtailed, the institutions still specify that Russia’s leaders serve at the will of the people. Indeed, the ratcheting-up of Kremlin propaganda is meant, more than anything, to reassure Russians that Putin’s leadership is worthy of their continued support. Such peans to the people would be unnecessary in a classic, run-of-the-mill dictatorship.

Consequently, political scientists are at odds with how to describe Putin’s Russia. Some call it a “competitive authoritarian” regime, where democratic institutions and procedures simply provide a facade of legitimacy for the dictatorship. Others label it an “information autocracy,” in which the powers of state-run media are marshaled to build a public image of Putin as a competent leader, deserving of political support, and it works to generate the popular support he needs. What these different perspectives have in common is what Peskov said: that Putin’s political sovereignty ultimately lies with the Russian people, however manipulated or misinformed they might be.”

“Western hopes that the Russian people would rise up and topple Putin in a popular revolution seem further from reality today than at the start of the war. The smattering of protests across Russia during the first weeks of the war have largely fizzled out. Between the Kremlin propaganda machine in overdrive and criminalization of expressions of opposition, Putin’s approval in nationwide polls is now up to 83 percent, with 81 percent support for the “special military operation.”

What’s more, Russian elites appear to be consolidating behind Putin. Rather than diversifying internationally and finding safe havens abroad, powerful oligarchs and cosmopolitan elites—many of them under Western sanctions—now understand that they are tethered to Russia and to Putin personally. Once-feuding factions are realizing they’re all now in the same boat. Few will bolt for greener pastures in Europe or the U.S., even if they could.

In an eye-opening account by independent Russian journalist Farida Rustamova on the tribulations of Russia’s political elites since the war, she quotes a high-ranking source in a sanctioned Russian company as saying “All these personal sanctions cement the elites. Everyone who was thinking about a new life understands that, for the next 10-15 years at least, their lives are concentrated in Russia, their children will study in Russia, their families will live in Russia. These people feel offended. They will not overthrow anyone, but will build their lives here.”

Before the war, the dominant narrative of Kremlin-controlled media was that Russia is a mighty superpower—besieged on all sides by enemies and conspirators, both Western and homegrown—and only Putin could lead them. Lamentably, the coordinated international response to Putin’s bloody war has only solidified and reinforced that us-against-the-world narrative, and largely rallied the Russian people behind Putin.

In this context, the Russian response to the accusations of genocide in Ukraine have been predictable: It is all a Western “fake” meant to further impugn the dignity of Russia and its leader. Pro-Russian social media accounts have claimed that the corpses are either fake, or are actors, or were killed after the Russians left. The Russian Defense Ministry has claimed “not a single local resident has suffered any violent action” while Bucha was under Russian control. These are all claims that have been easily debunked. By parroting the official line of the Foreign Affairs Ministry that it could not have been Russia that committed such atrocities, but rather the United States staging a “provocation,” Kremlin state-run media only reinforces and retrenches the us-against-the-world narrative already widely accepted among the Russian people.”

What the US’s diplomatic boycott of the 2022 Beijing Olympics does — and doesn’t — mean

“President Joe Biden’s administration said this week that it would not send US government officials to the Beijing Games in protest of China’s human rights violations, including its abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and anti-democratic crackdown in Hong Kong. The United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada also said this week that they will keep their delegations home.

This diplomatic boycott isn’t a full-on protest of the games, and won’t prevent athletes from participating in the 2022 Olympics. It won’t affect the spectacle of the event all that much, although lots of skiers will probably be asked about it. And despite some pressure from activists and human rights advocates, corporate sponsors — a.k.a. the money behind it all — have been largely silent.

All of this makes the US diplomatic boycott “more symbolic than substantial,” Zhiqun Zhu, a professor of political science and international relations at Bucknell University, wrote in an email.

That symbolism can still needle the Chinese government, especially now that countries beyond the US have joined, and even more so if others follow suit. The Olympics matter to Beijing — maybe not as much as its coming-out party in the 2008 Summer Games, but President Xi Jinping still wants to signal international prestige to the world and to his domestic audience, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Chinese government has pushed back pretty hard against the boycotts. Before they became real, China warned of “resolute countermeasures,” without specifying what those might be. Since the boycott announcements, Chinese officials basically said that’s cool, but you actually weren’t even invited anyway.”

Terrorwashing a Genocide

“In The War on the Uyghurs, Sean Roberts begins the arduous task of probing these and other mysteries of the first two decades of the global war on terror. In doing so, he shows how the United States’ efforts to build an international consensus for its counterterrorism projects had far-reaching consequences on the other side of the world, changing the relationship between the Chinese state and its long-oppressed Uyghur minority. He also shows how, during that same period—apart from any Western influence—the Chinese government became increasingly brazen in its oppression of Muslim and Turkic minorities, steadily curtailing freedoms of movement, assembly, and speech in Xinjiang long before the moment in 2016 when it began secretly interning hundreds of thousands of people in extrajudicial “Transformation Through Education” centers.”

“It is tempting to think of Xinjiang as a vast and arid Guantanamo Bay, one roughly as large as Alaska and as populous as Texas. Like Donald Rumsfeld’s own “world-class operation,” on a much grander (albeit largely domestic) scale, it is a hypertrophied state-within-a-state where minority residents are guilty before judgment and where the rule of law is reengineered in the name of fighting a pervasive, unbounded, and infinitely flexible terrorist threat. According to Darren Byler, another scholar of the region, China’s counterterrorism campaign in Xinjiang “rests on the assumption that most Uyghurs and significant numbers of Kazakhs are terrorists, separatists, and extremists-in-waiting.” But while Guantanamo Bay’s purpose is containment, Xin-jiang’s state of exception is intended to cure a diseased population. This philosophy is made explicit in government statements dating to the 2014 start of China’s “People’s War on Terror.” In the words of one 2015 report from Hotan City, anyone whose thinking has been “deeply affected” by “religious extremism” must be transformed through “military-style management.”

Roberts argues that this state of exception is facilitating cultural genocide. In addition to the system of extrajudicial detention that has incarcerated hundreds of thousands of people—possibly more than a million—in camps, more than 300,000 residents have also received formal prison sentences in the last three years, an order of magnitude more than in previous periods. An entire generation of Uyghur academics, artists, and businesspeople has disappeared, probably into prisons; they include internationally respected anthropologists, poets, comedians, novelists, and economists. There have been many credible reports of torture, sexual violence, and forced sterilization among Xinjiang’s minority population. Children are routinely taken from detained parents and placed in state orphanages where minority language and culture are demonized. And more than a million Communist Party cadres have been sent to live temporarily with Uyghur and Kazakh families, where they perform searches of homes, lecture their hosts on the dangers of Islam, and even sleep in the same beds as their “brothers” and “sisters.” Meanwhile, birth rates have plummeted in minority areas. The end result, scholars and activists fear, will be the eradication of Uyghurs as a distinct people.”

“It’s true that small numbers of Uyghurs have sometimes pushed for political independence in their homeland, even founding two short-lived Republics of East Turkestan in the years before China’s Communist revolution. But in case after case, Roberts shows, the Chinese government has used deceptive framing, official secrecy, and the framework of the war on terror to artificially inflate the danger of Uyghur separatism in order to justify increasingly ruthless policies in Xinjiang. “Often,” he writes, “what was framed as a ‘terrorist attack’ by authorities at this time was really armed self-defense against police and security forces, which were seeking to aggressively apprehend Uyghurs they viewed as ‘disloyal’ to the state, often merely determined by their religiosity.””

“As the war on terror escalated outside of China, state-conjured threats of separatism led to harsher policies in Xin-jiang. Roberts argues that this environment created a “self-fulfilling prophecy” where state tactics made spontaneous acts of rage and violence—eventually including genuine acts of terrorism, such as a coordinated knife attack in Kunming in 2014—all but inevitable, retroactively justifying the policies that caused the violence in the first place.”

Biden’s diplomacy push meets its match as Ethiopia unravels

“Visa bans. Trade restrictions. Threats of economic sanctions. And visit after visit from top emissaries, including a U.S. senator bearing a message from President Joe Biden.

For a year, U.S. officials have used these and other instruments in their diplomacy toolbox to persuade, push and pressure Ethiopia’s government and rebel forces to end a vicious civil war believed to have killed thousands of people, left hundreds of thousands starving and displaced millions.

But nothing is working. And things are getting worse.”

Why Ethiopia wants to expel UN officials sounding the alarm on famine

“A civil war between Ethiopia’s federal government and the country’s northern Tigray region, which began late last year, has led to widespread atrocities and created famine conditions in parts of the country. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s decision to expel UN officials from the country comes after they raised concerns about the worsening humanitarian situation.

UN officials have repeatedly warned that Ethiopia’s government is blocking the movement of critical supplies — like medicine, food, and fuel — into the Tigray region, with as little as 10 percent of the needed humanitarian supplies being allowed in. Those accusations were echoed this week by the head of the UN’s humanitarian aid arm, as well as by a UN report finding the region on the brink of famine.”