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Putin adds ‘Guards’ to title of military unit responsible for Bucha massacre: what this means 

Despite widespread criticism of the Bucha massacre, Russian President Vladimir Putin has praised the military unit for displaying “great heroism and courage”, and has awarded them the title of ‘Guards’ for “protecting Russia’s sovereignty”.

Written by Rahel Philipose , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: April 21, 2022 11:29:40 am
The bodies of people who died during the Russian occupation await burial during funerals in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, Wednesday, April 20, 2022. (AP Photo: Emilio Morenatti)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday (April 18) bestowed an honorary title on the military unit believed to be behind the alleged war crimes committed in Ukraine’s Bucha region, where hundreds of bodies were found strewn across the streets of the battle-scarred town, located just north of Kyiv.

The massacre in Bucha drew global condemnation and its alleged perpetrators — Russia’s 64th Detached Motor Rifle Brigade — were named war criminals by Ukraine’s Ministry of Defence. But despite widespread criticism, Putin praised the unit for displaying “great heroism and courage”, awarding them the title of ‘Guards’ for “protecting Russia’s sovereignty”.

First, what happened in Bucha?

In early April, Ukrainian officials recovered the bodies of at least 410 civilians from towns around Kyiv. Some of the grimmest discoveries were made in Bucha, where over 300 bodies were found, some with their hands bound, flesh burned, and shot in the back of the head.

In an address to the United Nations Security Council, Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskyy accused Russian troops of committing “the most terrible war crimes” since World War II in these areas.

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US President Joe Biden was among the legion of world leaders who called for a trial to take place against Putin for the atrocities committed in Bucha.

Soon after the gruesome incident took place, the Ukrainian Ministry of Defence took to Facebook to share the names, ranks, and passport photos of the members of the 64th Detached Motor Rifle Brigade believed to be behind the attack.

So, what has Vladimir Putin said?

On the 54th day of Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine, Putin announced that he was bestowing the title of ‘Guard’ upon the 64th Detached Motor Rifle Brigade because of their “astute and bold actions” during the “special military operation” in Ukraine. “The unit’s staff became a role model in fulfilling its military duty, valour, dedication and professionalism,” Putin wrote.

Sleeve patch of the brigade (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

With this, the unit will go from being called the 64th Detached Motor Rifle Brigade to being called the 64th Guards Detached Motor Rifle Brigade.

While it was formally established on January 1, 2009, the unit’s history traces back to the 60th Reserve Army, which was formed in the city of Gorky in the Moscow region in 1941 and fought during World War II for what was then the Soviet Union.

Over the years, it was reorganised several times — first to form the 3rd shock army in 1942, and later to form the 60th Tank Division in the early 1950s. Presently, it is based in the village of Knyaz-Volkonsky.

What does the title mean?

Since World War II, the prestigious title has long been awarded to military units that prove themselves during combat or distinguished themselves in service. It implies the unit has elite status.

In March, Putin awarded the honorary title to two Russian Naval brigades — the 155th Marine Brigade (Pacific Fleet) and the 126th Coastal Defense Brigade (the Black Sea Fleet) — for protecting their “Fatherland” amid the war in Ukraine.

Now, amid widespread criticism of the alleged atrocities carried out by Russian troops in Kyiv’s suburbs, the move sends a strong public message to the Ukrainian government and to the West.

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