Ukraine war crimes trial: Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin's weakness shows 'banality of evil' – Scotsman comment

The first war crimes trial held by Ukraine of a Russian soldier who shot dead a 62-year-old civilian has produced a chilling example of what the philosopher Hannah Arendt called the “banality of evil”.

The court heard that Vadim Shishimarin, 21, a seemingly meek individual who looks younger than his years, and several other Russian soldiers were retreating after their column of tanks was ambushed.

After taking a civilian car, they drove past Oleksandr Shelipov, who was carrying a mobile phone. Another Russian soldier ordered Shishimarin to shoot him, so that Shelipov would not be able to report their position.

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According to Ivan Maltysev, also in the car, Shishimarin initially did not do so, but the soldier “turned round... and shouted that Vadim had to carry out the order, or we would be informed on. At this point, we were almost alongside the civilian and, under pressure, Vadim fired.”

From his demeanour in court, it is easy to imagine that Shishimarin would have hesitated to kill someone, but also that he could be intimidated into committing an unjustified act of murder.

In peaceful times, the weakness of someone relatively new to adult life would usually not have mattered anything like as much. But when Vladimir Putin ordered his badly trained and ill-disciplined soldiers into battle, he forced them to make life-and-death decisions and also to live with the consequences.

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The Kremlin appears to be unconcerned by Shishimarin’s crime or his fate. According to the BBC, his Ukrainian lawyer said Russian officials had not been in touch, while Putin’s spokesperson simply said they had “no information” about the case. Like many of the bodies of Russian troops killed in battle, he has been abandoned.

Russian soldier Vadim Shishimarin has apologised for killing Ukrainian civilian Oleksandr Shelipov (Picture: Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images)

Ukrainian officials are investigating more than 10,700 potential war crimes by Russian soldiers and officials. Human Rights Watch has also reported “indiscriminate attacks in violation of the laws of war”, “summary executions” of civilians, cases of torture, and other apparent war crimes by Putin’s forces.

Evil comes in many forms, but it is not always as obvious as the Russian tyrant’s callous disregard for human life. Shishimarin’s hesitation suggests he knew the order was wrong but, in that moment, he was too weak to do the right thing. In dealing with Putin, the West must not make the same mistake.

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