Russian President Vladimir Putin and his closest ally, President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, unveiled a new theory on Tuesday about who was to blame for the murders, rapes and torture of hundreds of civilians in Bucha, Ukraine while the town was occupied by Russian troops.
It was not, they insisted, the Russian soldiers who witnesses, satellite imagery and forensic evidence all suggest went on a monthlong rampage of looting and killing.
The real culprits, Lukashenko claimed without evidence, were British operatives who conducted a “psychological special operation” in the leafy suburb of Kyiv.
Lukashenko and Putin spoke during a carefully orchestrated news conference at a space launch facility in Vostochny, in Russia’s Far East. It was Putin’s first public appearance outside of Moscow since Russia launched its brutal Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine.
Lukashenko said he and Putin discussed in detail “the psychological special operation in Bucha carried out by the British.”
The Belarusian autocrat then told reporters that the Russian Federal Security Bureau would provide them with materials to back up his seemingly absurd claim.
“If you need addresses, passports, license numbers and brands, on which date they arrived in Bucha, and how they did it, then the FSB can provide these materials,” Lukashenko said, according to an NBC translation of his remarks.
Putin said that Lukashenko had given him “papers” on the murders in Bucha that he gave to the FSB.
“How, who came to that settlement, and created conditions to organize this provocation and fake, the FSB have relevant intercepts,” he told reporters.
The British Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday on Lukashenko’s allegations.
Putin has said before that the deaths in Bucha were “fake,” and the Kremlin insists the hundreds of bodies discovered were staged there.
But Tuesday appeared to be the first time that Belarus and the Russian security services have both helped promote the claim that Great Britain was the secret power behind the conspiracy.
Russian troops took control of scores of towns like Bucha in northern Ukraine during the first weeks of their failed drive to take the capital, Kyiv. When it became obvious the Kremlin could not capture the city, Russian troops withdrew, leaving a trail of carnage and destruction in their wake.
In Bucha alone, more than 400 civilians have been found dead since the Russians withdrew, many of them with marks of execution, rape and torture. Almost overnight, an international consortium to document alleged war crimes came together and more than a dozen countries are assisting in the process.
Speaking in Vostochny, Putin used both whataboutism and misinformation to try to shift attention away from Russian soldiers’ atrocities.
At one point, he complained that NATO had also caused the death of civilians in combat, suggesting Western outrage at Russia over civilian deaths in Bucha was hypocritical.
Then he compared Bucha to cities in Syria where Russian backed President Bashar al Assad used chemical weapons during a civil war in 2013 and later accused rebels of having gassed their own supporters in order to frame Assad.
As Putin and Lukashenko spun elaborate conspiracies to try to explain away the atrocities coming out of Syria, the international community this week hardened its resolve as more and more evidence emerged of likely war crimes by Russian troops.
Hours after Putin and Lukashenko’s meeting and their bizarre claims about British agents, President Joe Biden said this same evidence looked to him like something worse than isolated war crimes — it looked like genocide.
“It’s become clearer and clearer that Putin is trying to wipe out the idea of being Ukrainian,” Biden said late Tuesday evening. “The evidence is mounting. It looks different than last week. More evidence is coming out literally of the horrible things that the Russians have done in Ukraine.
“And we’re gonna only learn more and more about the devastation and we’ll let the lawyers decide internationally whether or not it qualifies but it sure seems that way to me,” said Biden, en route back to Washington after a day in Iowa.