What military danger could the maternity ward of Vilniansk, a small town of 15,000 inhabitants, represent? What is the strategic point of using a missile to kill a two-day-old newborn? The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, has an idea of the reasons which led the Russian army to bombard, this Wednesday, the maternity hospital in this town located in the region of Zaporizhia: “The enemy has once again decided to try to accomplish by murder what he could not accomplish in nine months.” Indeed, Vladimir Poutine does not manage to carry out the plan which it carries in him, and there is, as with all the suffering dictators, the imperious need to express its anger by terror.
But Zelensky’s words raise an aspect of repetition, and this “once more” reveals that the Kremlin did not wait for the difficulties of its army to strike at Ukrainian hospitals. As early as March 9, only fifteen days after the start of the “special operation”, when the hopes of a quick and crushing victory were very real, the Russian air force was already striking the Mariupol maternity hospital, making 17 dead and staggering the international community. Targeting hospitals is therefore not only a reaction, it is also a strategy. For General Dominique Trinquand, specialist in international relations, interviewed by L’Express, it is even a “typical attitude of Russia”. He explains: “During a conflict, the geographical locations of hospitals are shared with the belligerents, so that they are considered as zones to be excluded from strikes. However, we realized, during the war in Syria, that the Russian army used this information to specifically hit hospitals.” An attitude contrary to international law, which is part of the long list of war crimes of which Russia is guilty in the various territories where it operates.
If the hospitals are deliberately targeted by the Russian army, it remains to be seen for what purpose. “Obviously, there is the desire to sow terror among the population, notes General Trinquand, but there is also the assumption made by the Russians that hospitals can be used as command centers or military barracks. combatants. For them, this possibility is enough to justify strikes”. In Syria, jihadist fighters used hospitals as military bases, and Russia, which seems to have made this conflict a dress rehearsal for the invasion of Ukraine, applies the same methods. According to the NGO Syrian Archive, Russian troops have, in seven years of conflict, destroyed 270 medical facilities. And in March 2016, the director of Amnesty International’s “Crisis Response” program, declared that “wiping hospitals off the map” was an integral part of Russian military strategy.
Thus, in Ukraine, Putin is applying the methods that made him triumph not only in Syria but also in Chechnya: hitting everywhere and going after enemies “even in the toilets”, as he declared in 1999, after Moscow been targeted by an attack attributed to the Chechens. In short, he intends to make the lives of civilians an ordeal, so that the spirit of resistance crumbles as unnecessary deaths occur. “A wounded Ukrainian civilian brought to the hospital for treatment now knows that he can die there”, observes the former head of the French military mission to the UN, who also cites, as a demoralizing strategy, the destruction of energy infrastructure. “Aiming for maternity has a certain emotional aspect and spending a whole winter with recurring water and electricity cuts requires great courage”. Undermined militarily, Russia intends to continue to scare, by spreading the message that any civilian present on Ukrainian territory can never be safe.