Also hit Putin’s generals with sanctions

People look at damage at a school hit by a Russian attack March 20 in Zhytomyr, Ukraine.


Chris McGrath/Getty Images

The scenes of slaughter and cruelty in Ukraine are incomprehensible. It may be Vladimir Putin’s war and strategy, but ground operations are being coordinated by Russian generals on the front lines, and they are just as culpable as their commander in the Kremlin. These generals will henceforth be prosecuted as war criminals. They should now be sanctioned.

The Biden administration has cleverly used sanctions as the primary means of punishing Mr. Putin and his close associates. These sanctions have paralyzed large parts of the Russian economy. Although they have not yet changed Putin’s behavior, the consequences of these sanctions are being felt widely. Russia’s oligarchs can only watch as countries confiscate their yachts, real estate and bank accounts. Few generals may enjoy great wealth, but travel bans sting against them and their families.

Some may argue that the generals are too distant or too high up the chain of command to bear responsibility for events on the ground. Nonsense. I have had the privilege of commanding soldiers at all levels of US Army field artillery, from a battery of six howitzers to an artillery corps with hundreds of guns and rocket and rocket launchers. Any soldier who has ever pulled a ripcord or fired a missile regards with disgust Russia’s total disregard for technical and tactical control in Ukraine.

Most of the damage in Ukraine’s cities is caused by munitions falling from the sky: artillery, rockets and missiles fired far from the front lines. These weapons are well camouflaged and work with impunity. Sending grenades and rockets tens of kilometers into the air to hit a target is a simple math exercise. With today’s computers, advanced weaponry, and precision munitions, it’s rare for an artillery unit to miss significantly and even rarer for a mistake to repeat itself. Therefore, any suggestion that the devastation in Ukraine is the result of poor training, outdated equipment, or soldier fatigue is absurd.

While the generals may argue that the manner in which these attacks are carried out will be decided by junior commanders, they cannot escape responsibility for the tactical control of the attacks—the what, what, and who they target.

Ukraine is not an open desert and the maps are not a blank slate. While generals can delegate authority over technical details, they are responsible for tactical warfare, imposing restrictions such as B. Fire-free zones. Their job is to identify and declare off-limits civilian sites such as places of worship, medical facilities, and schools. They are also responsible for establishing collateral damage policies to ensure prohibited targets are not accidentally hit when attacking an authorized target. US artillery commanders have attorneys who carefully review battle plans to ensure they conform to long-established rules of land warfare.

It takes a willing suspension of disbelief to claim that generals conducting operations in Ukraine today are unaware of the destruction their weapons are wreaking. It takes similar willful ignorance to believe that targeting civilians, hospitals and schools is an accident. Most likely, the targeting is being carried out to inflict terror on the population, cause massive displacement of refugees, and withdraw front-line Ukrainian soldiers from the battlefield to help civilians. It’s cowardly and cruel, and it’s being orchestrated by the generals directing the military campaign in Ukraine.

The inescapable conclusion is that these attacks on civilians are premeditated. Mr Putin is primarily to blame, but so is the generals he relies on to plan, direct and conduct the operations. They also bear responsibility for the huge loss of life and destruction of infrastructure in Ukraine. The time will come to punish them. Now is the time to sanction them.

Mr. Kimmitt, a retired U.S. Army Brigadier General, served as Assistant Secretary of State for Politico-Military Affairs from 2008-2009.

Wonderland: Vladimir Putin is a modern day Adolf Hitler and he is trying to exterminate the Ukrainian people. But while Europe tries to reform itself, the American President is not stepping in. Images: Reuters/AFP/Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly

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