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German secret service intercepts radio traffic of Russian servicemen discussing killings of civilians

Earlier, the German government had found satellite images from last month that provided strong counter-evidence against Russian denials of involvement in civilian deaths in the Ukrainian town of Bucha.

File image showing the corpse of a killed civilian, before being transported to the morgue, in the Bucha cemetery, on the outskirts of kyiv, Ukraine, April 6, 2022. AP

Amid Russian denials of the massacre of more than 400 civilians in Bucha, the German press agency SPIEGEL learned that the BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst, German foreign intelligence service) intercepted Russian military radio traffic in which the killing of civilians in Bucha was discussed.

He also claimed that some of the intercepted radio traffic “can be directly linked” to dead bodies that were photographed in Bucha.

SPIEGEL reported that the BND informed parliamentarians on Wednesday of its findings. Some of the intercepted traffic apparently matches the locations of bodies found along the main road through town. In one of them, a soldier allegedly told another that he had just shot someone on a bicycle. It corresponds to the photo of the corpse lying next to a bicycle that has been around the world. In another intercepted conversation, a man reportedly said, “You interrogate the soldiers first, then you shoot them.”

This also corresponds to a ratio of New York Times, which indicates that a new video has surfaced that shows a cyclist traveling down a street in Bucha, dismounting and walking a bicycle around the corner on a street occupied by Russian soldiers. As soon as the cyclist rounds the bend, a Russian armored vehicle fires several large-caliber shells along the lane. A second armored vehicle fires two shots in the direction of the cyclist. A plume of dust and smoke rises from the scene.

“The video is aerial footage recorded by the Ukrainian military in early March while Russian forces were still holding the city. It has been independently verified by The New York Times,” the news agency report said.

Premeditated move?

The BND material also apparently provides evidence that members of the Russian mercenary unit called the Wagner Group played a leading role in the atrocities. The group is known to have carried out similar atrocities in Syria.

Eyewitnesses recently reported that the occupying force in Bucha initially consisted of “young soldiers”. Once they were replaced by other units, witnesses said, attacks on civilians became more frequent. Some eyewitnesses said that Chechen units were in the city. The testimonies raise the question of whether this advance was part of the occupation plan.

SPIEGEL said more intercepted radio traffic is being analyzed, although it is apparently difficult to pinpoint some of the audio precisely. Some of the recordings apparently indicate that incidents like Bucha’s also happened elsewhere. There are reportedly indications of potential atrocities in the vicinity of Mariupol, the major city in southern Ukraine that has been besieged by the Russian military.

The Bucha Massacre

At the beginning of April, dozens of corpses in civilian clothes were discovered in Bucha, at the northwestern gates of the Ukrainian capital, in the streets or in mass graves, following the Russian withdrawal. The footage from the city sent shockwaves across the world, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky calling the killings “genocide”.

Russia denies

But Russians have remained firm in their denial of the massacre, saying images emerging from Bucha and other towns are fakes produced by Ukrainian forces, or that the deaths occurred after Russian troops withdrew.

Satellite images

News of the interception of Russian military radio traffic comes after the German government said on Wednesday that satellite images from last month provide strong counter-evidence against Russian denials of involvement in civilian deaths in the Ukrainian town of Bucha. .

Government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit told reporters that ‘evaluation of satellite images’ had led Berlin to conclude that ‘Russian claims’ that images of civilian deaths ‘were posed scenes or that they were not responsible for the murders are in our view not tenable”.

He said the footage available to Berlin covered the period from March 10 to 18 and “led to the conclusion that the victims whose footage we have all seen had been lying there since at least March 10”.

“Reliable evidence shows that Russian combat and security forces were deployed in this area from March 7 to March 30,” he said.

“They participated in the interrogation of prisoners who were later executed. This is the information we have,” Hebestreit said, adding that “the targeted assassinations by the Russian armed forces are proof that the Russian president and Commander-in-Chief (Vladimir) Putin at least tacitly endorsed human rights abuses and war crimes”.

World powers, including the United States, have called for Russia to be tried for war crimes.

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