Russian investigators said Thursday they had opened more than 1,100 cases for “crimes against peace” committed by the Ukrainian government, paving the way for what could culminate in a massive show trial of hundreds of Ukrainian military personnel.
From the outset, Russia has justified its invasion of Ukraine with a false claim that the government in Kiev is controlled by far-right, pro-Nazi groups that have committed “humiliation and genocide” against the Ukrainian people.
President Vladimir V. Putin, who announced the invasion in February, claimed that the aim of the offensive was to “demilitarize and denazify Ukraine, and bring to justice those who committed numerous bloody crimes against civilians.”
Russian investigators are now moving forward with cases against Ukrainian soldiers, fulfilling Putin’s promise. Among the military are members of the Azov regiment, whose roots in far-right movements have provided a veneer of credibility for Mr Putin’s vague claims that Ukraine is tainted with Nazism.
In addition to holding trials to support its war story, the Kremlin could also turn the fate of these prisoners into a powerful bargaining chip in future talks with Kiev.
The Commission of Inquiry, the country’s main investigative body, said in a statement that hundreds of Ukrainian military personnel, including more than 200 officers, had already been questioned. Among them were those caught in the sprawling Azovstal steel mill in the southern Ukrainian city of Mariupol.
On Tuesday, Sergei K. Shoigu, the country’s defense minister, said Russia is currently holding 6,489 Ukrainian POWs. About 2,500 soldiers were captured at the Azovstal factory, President Volodymyr Zelensky said Monday.
The researchers interviewed more than 75,000 people who are described as victims. On Thursday, they reported their progress to Aleksandr Bastrykin, the bureau chief, who came to Mariupol to chair a meeting with them. Mr. Bastrykin ordered his subordinates to speed up the process.
“These are not simple street sweepers, drivers and cooks,” Mr Bastrykin told those in attendance, referring to the detainees. “These are commanders.”
Together with forensic experts, investigators formed 30 mobile groups that began scouring the city of Mariupol “block by block” in search of evidence, the researchers said.
On its website, the Commission of Inquiry opened a special section listing dozens of Ukrainian military and government officials it had accused of committing crimes.