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‘Ukrainian forces disproportionally harm civilians in the east’

Published time: August 07, 2014 14:20
A man inspects wreckage inside a damaged building following what locals say was shelling by Ukrainian forces in Donetsk August 7, 2014.(Reuters / Sergei Karpukhin)

In the open battlefields in eastern Ukraine it is almost impossible to use weapons without harming civilians, and their use could be very easily described as a war crime, former counter-terrorism intelligence officer Charles Shoebridge told RT.

RT: What kind of weaponry do you think might have caused the craters left by strikes in eastern Ukraine?

Charles Shoebridge: We can only speculate intelligently hopefully about the cause of these craters. There are reports today for the first time of the multiple launch rocket system being used allegedly by the Ukraine forces against rebels. This is called the Uragan system, it is also known as the BM-27. It is a system that is basically a multiple rocket launch system that is based on a track; Ukraine has its own version that can fire several rockets at the same time. Some of these craters that we have seen and these marks on roads and elsewhere could be caused indeed by this weapon. The weapon has a range of 30 kilometers and has an around 100 kilogram warhead, which again depending on the angle on which it strikes, depending how deep that penetration might go into the ground, the nature of ground itself, all of this affects on the nature of craters and the damage it causes.

RT: The Ukrainian army is believed to be using multiple rocket launchers. How dangerous are they when used in populated areas?

CS: If that can be the BM-27 system that would be consistent with at least the majority of pictures I have seen of the craters. This is quite a crude system, it’s a very effective battlefield weapon system because it is an area weapon, it would devastate certainly troops on the ground with little protection, it would devastate an entire area, quite a large area because of course that is a weapon fired with many rockets in one go. It is also not particularly accurate, it is less accurate than artillery, and it is less accurate than air strikes. To use this kind of weapon against an urban area would be the highly irresponsible if indeed that is what has been happening. It simply cannot be in any way described as an opposition weapon, it cannot be described as a weapon system that can in any way discriminate between civilians and military targets.

RT: And what about the reports Kiev is using ballistic missiles against anti-government forces? How likely is that in your opinion?

CS: These reports were confirmed not only by US intelligence sources, CNN told about this last week, but also Deutsche Welle, the German broadcaster, and NATO has confirmed this too a few days ago by themselves. Remember, NATO, US intelligence and Pentagon sources, and the State Department are of course backing the Ukrainian government. The fact that they have gone on the record saying that Ukraine is at least deploying if not using at the moment (that has not been confirmed to my understanding) these weapons one would wonder why they confirmed this case, because it does not help the West because the West is backing the Ukrainian government. It does not help the Ukrainian government to sell its case that it is trying not to harm its civilians. These kinds of weapon are ballistic missiles and indeed even today it was reported that cruise missiles were being used in Ukraine against these rebel forces. These are weapons that almost certainly, given the nature of this battlefield which is an urban area, will kill civilians and many of them.

RT: Is the use of ballistic missiles allowed in an internal civil conflict?

CS: The states are entitled to use weapons, particularly if as they say they are acting in self-defense. But in all times the state has an obligation to save civilians, that means they can’t target civilians with these weapon systems and they can’t target areas in which civilians are so predominant that it becomes a disproportion attack - not against military targets but against the civilian population in that area. Of course the larger is the weapon and here we talk about ballistic weapons allegedly being used that have very large warheads, and indeed if it is true there are cruise missile that are used, that places even more responsibility on those using these weapons to ensure that they do not disproportionally harm civilians. In this kind of open battlefields that has marked the east Ukraine theatre, it is almost impossible to use these weapons without harming civilians. Their use could be very easily described as a war crime.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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