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• Not only does independent reporting find this notion to be wrong, but it is undermined by multiple statements by Russia’s own government relating Russian troops’ control of the Ukrainian cities of Chernobyl, Melitopol, and Kherson.
• Russia currently controls a variety of areas that had been internationally recognized as Ukrainian territory since 1991, which would meet the definition of occupation under international law.
As Russian troops were pushing deeper into Ukraine, the Russian Embassy in Canada sent a tweet depicting a situation starkly at odds with what was being reported on the ground.
"Russia continues its special military operation to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine. The Russian army does not occupy Ukrainian territory and takes all measures to preserve the lives and safety of civilians," the March 1 statement posted on the embassy’s verified Twitter account said.
Raging against "an unprecedented wave of lies, fake news, distorted and fabricated facts," the embassy asserted that "the Russian Army is fighting neither Ukraine nor the Ukrainians. ... Russia is not starting wars. It is ending them."
This message echoes a point publicly asserted by Putin on the eve of the invasion. Putin said his government’s plans "do not include an occupation."
This is undercut by a wealth of evidence, starting with independent reporting. (The Russian Embassy in Canada did not respond to an inquiry.)
For instance, a map produced by Reuters to track the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine showed broad swaths of Ukrainian territory held by Russia as of March 1. It included two separate corridors heading from Belarus and Russia towards the capital, Kyiv. It also included corridors heading for Russia towards Kharkiv and north from Crimea, a region of Ukraine that Russia had already occupied before the current incursions.
In several cases, not only media reports but several public statements by Russia’s own government conflict with the notion that Russia is not occupying Ukrainian territory.
One of the earliest locations to fall to Russian troops was Chernobyl, the site of the major nuclear disaster in the 1980s:
"On February 24, Russia’s paratroops put under control the territory around the Chernobyl nuclear power plant," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said, according to TASS, the Russian state-owned news agency. "An agreement was achieved with Ukraine’s separate battalion guarding the country’s (nuclear plant) to jointly ensure the safety of nuclear reactors and the nuclear shelter."
Two days later, Russian officials claimed that troops controlled the southwestern city of Melitopol.
"In the evening of February 26, after an amphibious landing near the populated locality of Azovskoye (Ukraine), Russian units were on the march, and entered Melitopol, meeting no resistance," the defense ministry said, according to TASS. "Melitopol residents welcomed the Russian troops who were moving around the city. Some elderly citizens took to the streets (waving) red flags." (Western news reports cast doubt on the residents’ welcome of troops, as did government officials in the United Kingdom.)
And just hours after the tweet was sent, Russian officials announced that troops had secured the southern city of Kherson.
"The Russian divisions of the armed forces have taken the regional center of Kherson under full control," Konashenkov said in televised remarks.
Military experts said that they can’t envision how what is occurring on the ground in Ukraine qualifies as anything other than an occupation.
"They are certainly holding territory, and seeking to expand their area of control," said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org.
Pike pointed to the 1907 agreement known as the Hague Convention IV Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land, which Russia signed shortly after its establishment. According to this agreement, "territory is considered occupied when it is actually placed under the authority of the hostile army."
The Geneva Convention Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, established in 1949, further outlines various responsibilities of occupying powers and rights of people located in occupied territory. And the International Committee of the Red Cross, who are widely considered to be a key voice on international humanitarian law, "occupation basically equals ‘effective control,’" said Tanisha M. Fazal, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota.
Lance Janda, a military historian at Cameron University, said that a series of actions by Russia since 1991 lay a clear predicate for considering Russia’s military actions to be an occupation.
"Russia recognized Ukraine’s independence and borders in 1991," Janda said. "More than 90% of Ukrainians voted for independence. Ukraine retained approximately 1,700 nuclear warheads under Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) control and agreed to give them up in 1994 based on the Budapest Memorandum, which was signed by the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom."
Collectively, he said, this means that Russia "recognized Ukraine as an independent state that it would negotiate agreements and treaties with. The whole world has seen Ukraine as independent, and that means their territory is theirs."
The Russian Embassy in Canada said, "The Russian army does not occupy Ukrainian territory."
Not only does independent reporting find this notion to be wrong, the assertion is undermined by multiple statements by Russia’s own government, relating Russian control of Chernobyl, Melitopol and Kherson.
Russia currently controls areas that had been internationally recognized as Ukrainian territory since 1991, which would meet the definition of occupation under international law.
We rate the statement Pants on Fire!
Reuters, "Russia invades Ukraine," accessed March 2, 2022
Reuters, "Chernobyl power plant captured by Russian forces -Ukrainian official," Feb. 24, 2022
Al Jazeera, "Russia claims control of southern Ukrainian city of Kherson," March 2, 2022
TASS, "Russian troops welcomed with flags in Ukraine’s Melitopol," Feb. 25, 2022
TASS, "Russian paratroopers take control of area around Chernobyl," Feb. 25, 2022
CBS News, "Putin attacked Ukraine after insisting for months there was no plan to do so. Now he says there's no plan to take over," Feb. 24, 2022
New York Times, "Putin’s Case for War, Annotated," Feb. 24, 2022
Email interview with Tanisha M. Fazal, political scientist at the University of Minnesota, March 3, 2022
Email interview with Lance Janda, military historian at Cameron University, March 2, 2022
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