Russia has used "scorched-earth" tactics in the fight for the war-torn city of Bakhmut, now in ruins.
Moscow's troops have often carried out relentless bombing and shelling campaigns in Ukraine.
It's the same playbook Putin's military used against rebel forces during Syria's civil war.
The Russian military has a war-fighting playbook that involves devastating cities, and it is being used in Ukraine to horrifying ends.
Drone footage taken of Bakhmut, a city in eastern Ukraine that has been the epicenter of intense and bloody fighting for months, captures an urban sprawl in utter ruins, a once-thriving town that's been completely flattened by ceaseless bombing and shelling.
It's a shocking but familiar sight nearly 15 months into Russia's full-scale war against its neighbor. The current scenes in Bakhmut resemble Russia's deadly siege of the southern port city of Mariupol last year, and this Russian tactic of inflicting complete destruction isn't new — Russia did the same thing in Syria helping the Assad regime in its years-long civil war.
Bakhmut, which has been the site of the war's longest battle, has been all but obliterated, with most of its residents gone and buildings reduced to rubble. Satellite images from Maxar Technologies and drone footage captured from various news agencies show a scarred landscape with the occasional plume of smoke — a stark contrast to what the city used to look like.
"The fighting is fierce on both sides. The enemy switched to the so-called 'Syrian' scorched-earth tactics," Colonel-General Oleksandr Syrskyi, a Ukrainian military commander, said of Russia's relentless and brutal efforts to capture the city in April. "They destroy buildings and positions with air strikes and artillery fire. Bakhmut's defense continues."
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Sunday that the Russians have not yet fully occupied the city. But he also noted that there is nothing left of Bakhmut.
"You have to understand that there is nothing," he said. "They destroyed everything. There are no buildings. It's a pity. It's tragedy. But for today, Bakhmut is only in our hearts."
In Ukraine, Russian forces first really resorted to the use of the scorched-earth tactics referenced by Syrskyi during their months-long campaign to capture Mariupol in the early weeks of the war after the Russian initial assault on the capital, Kyiv, failed. A brutal siege on the city saw Moscow's troops relentlessly and indiscriminately bombard everything from hospitals to residential areas, giving way to scenes that would later be mirrored by the devastation of Bakhmut.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin's playbook of using total destruction to completely annihilate cities is not a new approach that the Russian military introduced in Ukraine. It's done the same thing in other countries. Moscow deployed its military in 2015 to help Syrian regime forces crush a rebellion, and Russian troops soon began using artillery and air power to bomb populated areas and civilian infrastructure.
This same tactic was used in the rebel stronghold of Aleppo, a major city in the northwest corner of Syria, where Moscow's troops were accused of targeting hospitals — just like they've done in Ukraine. The Syrian Civil Defense, a humanitarian group also known as the White Helmets, described the air strikes at one point in 2016 as "horrific indiscriminate bombardment."
"What Russia is sponsoring and doing is not counterterrorism, it is barbarism," Samantha Power, then-US ambassador to the United Nations, told Security Council members in 2016. "Instead of pursuing peace, Russia and [Syrian President Bashar] Assad make war. Instead of helping get life-saving aid to civilians, Russia and Assad are bombing the humanitarian convoys, hospitals, and first responders who are trying desperately to keep people alive."
The Russian tactics used in both Ukraine and Syria extend beyond just indiscriminate bombing campaigns. In the conflicts, Moscow's troops have repeatedly attacked humanitarian convoys and launched double-tap strikes — brutal attacks where the same target is bombed moments apart to inflict additional casualties on the rescue crews who respond to the first attack.
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