(CNN)Never again, the phrase often uttered after crimes against humanity, in practice, almost never means never again.
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Sickening scenes of mass graves and murdered civilians in Ukraine this weekend, revealed by the pullback of Russian troops from Kyiv, are jolting the world back to some of humanity"s cruelest outrages.
On Sunday, a CNN team saw at least a dozen dead in toàn thân bags piled in a mass grave in the town of Bucha, northwest of the capital. Residents said around 150 people are buried there, while the mayor had said in public remarks a day earlier there could be up to 300 victims buried there. CNN was unable khổng lồ independently verify those numbers or the identities & nationalities of those buried in the grave.
Zelensky"s poignant statement in a đoạn phim address was a variation on the familiar refrain -- after atrocities from Syria lớn Cambodia, and Rwanda to Bosnia over the last 50 years, và dating further back to the Nazi Holocaust -- that such inhumanity must never be allowed không lấy phí reign again.
Yet this conflict in Ukraine is susceptible to lớn the same caveats & restrictions on global kích hoạt to protect civilians from tyrants as many others -- including China"s current repression of the Uyghur Muslims or Myanmar"s recent genocide against the Rohingya.
The West simply lacks the political will, the all-out military commitment, the international legal mandate -- or an acceptance of the geopolitical consequences that would follow -- lớn undertake interventions to lớn prevent widespread war crimes.
The most pressing question now is whether the individual tragedies of civilians being ruthlessly killed in Ukraine will vày anything khổng lồ mitigate the wider tragedy of the conflict that indirectly led to lớn their deaths.
The people of Ukraine have been left mở cửa to such reprisals since Biden & other Western leaders have decided that direct, military intervention in the conflict -- including the establishment of no-fly zones over non-NATO-member Ukraine -- could trigger a hot war with Russia, which would risk a nuclear escalation that would threaten all humanity.
In the long term, such evaluations may well be prudent. An elected leader"s first duty is the safety & security of their own people.
Putin clearly understands the West"s dilemma. His nuclear saber rattling at the start of the invasion, for example, triggered widespread alarm in the West and speculation about the mental and emotional state of the man with his finger on Russia"s nuclear button.
While the US has provided huge hauls of anti-tank và anti-aircraft missiles khổng lồ Ukraine, concern about encroaching over an invisible red line và provoking Putin caused Biden and other NATO leaders lớn thwart a plan by Poland khổng lồ send Soviet-era jets to lớn help Zelensky"s pilots establish dominance of the skies.
The next few days will determine whether the horror of the weekend will lead Biden khổng lồ edge closer to lớn that line. Before news of the atrocities in Bucha broke, sources told CNN"s Jim Sciutto và Kaitlan Collins that the US was ready to lớn facilitate the transfer of Soviet-era T-72 tanks to lớn Ukraine.
The immediate practical impact of the terrible footage from Bucha was to lớn trigger dismay & condemnation from Western governments, demands for war crimes investigations và promises for even tougher sanctions against the Putin regime.
It"s possible the descent into even deeper horror in Ukraine this weekend could initiate some formal war crimes investigation. But the UN tribunal in the Hague does not conduct trials in absentia. So justice could be years away at best. And while there is value lớn investigating and documenting war crimes và for holding those lower in the chain of command responsible, it"s hard khổng lồ see any circumstances in the near future in which Russia would hand Putin over.
Any United Nations action would surely face a veto in the Security Council by Russia. Another of the permanent five members of the council, China, would also likely see any such investigations as potentially threatening given its own poor human rights record.
That limited possibility for accountability means the West could reach for its most familiar tool -- more sanctions against Russia, the people around Putin và the Russian leader himself. The alleged atrocities in Ukraine will also certainly lead to more demands for Western leaders to send more lethal aid khổng lồ the government in Kyiv. It"s even harder to lớn see Russia being allowed back into regular diplomatic activity with Western leaders, at least while Putin is in power.
But despite the potency of Western anti-tank và anti-aircraft missiles, the debilitating costs being imposed on the Russian economy & the pariah status now stigmatizing Russia, there"s little evidence that Putin will be influenced lớn let up on civilians. It"s just never been part of his character in more than trăng tròn years of strongman rule.
And while Russian forces appear lớn be regrouping away from Kyiv -- a factor in discovering the atrocities they apparently left behind -- Putin is giving every indication of digging in for a long war cemented on eastern Ukraine.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the attacks against innocent civilians "despicable" and promised justice through the International Criminal Court. Speaking to CNN"s "State of the Union," US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday said images of dead civilians were "a punch khổng lồ the gut" & promised the US would document war crimes by Russia và seek accountability. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez expressed "horror, pain và outrage." Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said the images left him "astonished."
No doubt the expressions of disgust were sincere. But at times lượt thích these, world leaders often seem caught up in contests over who can register the most horror in a process of rhetorical inflation that hides the real questions at stake.
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Johnson, for instance, warned that "no denial or disinformation from the Kremlin can hide what we all know to lớn be the truth -- Putin is desperate, his invasion is failing, & Ukraine"s resolve has never been stronger."
But nothing that Johnson said is likely to lớn change the Russian leader"s ruthless approach và willingness lớn inflict the most brutal pain on civilians. The lessons of history và the strategic limitations of the West furthermore mean it"s almost certain the horrific scenes uncovered in Bucha this weekend are far from the last, or the worst, crimes against humanity of this vicious war.