A brigade accused of committing war crimes in the Ukrainian town of Bucha has been awarded an honorary title by Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Troops in the 64th Separate Guards Motor Rifle Brigade were named by the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense as war criminals earlier this month, after mass graves containing murdered civilians were discovered and dead bodies lay in the street following the withdrawal of Russian forces from the Kyiv region.
In a signed letter on Monday, Putin congratulated the unit for their “great heroism and courage” and awarded the unit the title of “Guards” for “protecting Russia’s sovereignty.”
“Through astute and bold actions during the special military operation in Ukraine, the unit’s staff became a role model in fulfilling its military duty, valor, dedication and professionalism,” the president’s congratulatory statement read.
The move will be seen as a public message to Ukraine’s government and the West, after numerous international leaders condemned the alleged atrocities by Russian troops in the Ukrainian towns of Bucha and Borodianka.
Earlier this month, accounts of summary executions, brutality and indiscriminate shelling emerged in the wake of Russia’s hasty retreat from central Ukraine. CNN teams saw dozens of bodies buried or strewn across the ground in the devastated suburb of Bucha, after a brutal occupation that lasted over a month.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has blamed Russia for the killings and called on Moscow to stop committing “war crimes.”
The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the mass killings, while reiterating baseless claims that the images of civilian bodies on the streets of Bucha are fake.
But during a visit to the towns of Bucha and Borodianka last week, International Criminal Court (ICC) Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan said there were “reasonable grounds to believe that crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC are being committed.”
Khan also warned that it would be “challenging” to guarantee justice would be served in Ukraine, given Russia’s decision to withdraw its signature from the ICC statute, which gives the court jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression. Russia does not extradite its citizens to other countries.
Since Russia’s failed attempt to capture Kyiv, it has refocused its invasion of Ukraine with an assault on the eastern Donbas region.