A Price on Life in Belgorod

Despite anything you’ve heard to the contrary, it is possible to put a price on human life. At least, it is if you’re Vyacheslav Gladkov. The Belgorod Regional Governor has committed to paying compensation to the families of civilians killed as a result of fighting in Ukraine (for example, by Ukrainian missiles hitting the city). A death will be compensated with 3 million rubles (AUD$74,866.81) and injuries by 500,000 rubles each (AUD$12,477.04). Compensation also appears to be available for property damage (at least, fraud on property damage claims has been identified).

A harder approach to compensation, however, seems to be creeping in. A Telegrammer identifying himself as “Oleg” appears to write from Russian occupied Ukraine or the Russia-Ukraine border. He is pro-Russian. He recently posted –

Screenshot from here

Telegram’s helpful auto-translate function translates this as –

The governor of the Belgorod region refused to pay compensation to the son of a woman who died under shelling from Ukraine

The woman died on May 27 in the village of Zhuravlyovka. Her son turned to the social protection of the Belgorod region. The authorities verbally denied the payments, saying, “You’re not supposed to.”

The son decided to ask the governor a question during a direct line, but he could only get a tough answer: “Are you sure you are a son?”

Earlier, the authorities of the Belgorod region promised to pay compensation to the families of the dead civilians.


Common law and civil law systems have been hesitant to award fault-based compensation for military injuries: See Shaw Savill & Albion Co Ltd v Commonwealth (1940) 66 CLR 344; [1943] ALR 264 and BGH NJW 1952, 1010 III. Civil Senate (III ZR 100/51) = VersR 1952, 352

Shell fire may make anyone, even healthy persons, liable to be hit. It is in no way foreseeable how hostile fire may be directed. For the civil population being struck by a shell was a ‘new and independent event’ of a purely accidental character. The danger might be avoided to a certain extent by seeking shelter at once. Whether it was generally ‘right’ to run to a neighbouring house or a bunker could be at least doubtful. The probability that the plaintiffs could be hit, when they ran to seek shelter, was, according to general experience, not less than the danger for the injured party in case he remained standing or lying down. In view of this ‘accidental effect’ of a few shots happening at short intervals, running away might have proved ‘wrong’ and standing or lying down ‘right’.

There is no reason to think the government of President Putin will submit itself to legal liability over the invasion of Ukraine: see its lack of reaction to the International Court of Justice decision in Allegations of Genocide under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Ukraine v. Russian Federation), 2022 ICJ __, ___ (March 16) (Order on request for the indication of provisional measures). For better or worse, the Belgorod deceased’s family are likely to be left to the mercies of Russia’s social welfare system.

Russian Warfare: Comedy & Death

Douglas Adams has one of his characters say ‘I’ve seen the future. It’s the same as the present, but with better gadgets’. This also applies to breaches of the laws of war.

On 25 May 2018 the representatives of Australia and the Netherlands at the United Nations presented a statement to the representative of the Russian Federation. The statement concerned the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17. It noted that

An investigation into the causes of the downing of flight MH17 was carried out by the Dutch Safety Board (DSB)…. The report of the DSB has revealed that the aircraft was shot down with a missile launched from a BUK-installation from the territory of Ukraine in an area that was under the effective control of separatists…. The Joint Investigation Team announced on 24 May 2018 its conclusion that the BUK-installation belonged to the Russian Federation Army’s 53rd Anti-Aircraft Missile Brigade.

Based on these facts, Australia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands consider that the Russian Federation, through its role in the downing of flight MH17 on 17 July 2014, has breached several obligations under international law …. That responsibility gives rise to legal consequences for the Russian Federation to …[p]rovide Australia and the Kingdom of the Netherlands full reparation for the injury caused by these internationally wrongful acts.

It remains to be seen whether reparations of any sort will be forthcoming, although under the ‘bearish’ United Russia government one would not be hopeful. That said, a long-ago international case might give room for hope.

By Source, Fair use,

In the early Twentieth Century Russia and Japan went to war. To bolster its Pacific fleet, the government of Tsar Nicholas II dispatched part of its Baltic fleet around the world. The fleet was commanded by Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky, although early on he seems to have relinquished command to the Three Stooges: before the fleet had left European waters – and despite being 20,000 miles from Japan – it had fired on Danish and German fishing boats and merchant vessels from Sweden and France, believing all of them to be Japanese warships, carefully navigated a non-existent minefield, and observed Japanese military balloons (apparently the Three Stooges brought along some hallucinogenic drugs).

Farce turned to tragedy on the night of 21-22 October 1904 when the fleet encountered a group of British trawlers, concluded that they were Japanese torpedo boats and opened fire. One trawler was sunk and four others damaged. Two fishermen were killed and six were wounded (one of whom later died of wounds). Presumably for comic relief, the Russian fleet also concluded that two of its own cruisers were Japanese warships and opened fire on them as well.

An International Commission of Inquiry was established to investigate the incident. Its ruling concluded that

[T]he vessels of the fishing fleet did not commit any hostile act, and the majority of the commissioners being of opinion that there were no torpedo boats either among the trawlers nor anywhere near, the opening of fire by Admiral Rojdestvensky [sic] was not justifiable. … [However] Admiral Rojdestvensky personally did everything he could … to prevent trawlers, recognized as such, from being fired upon by the squadron. … Nevertheless, the majority of the commissioners regret that Admiral Rojdestvensky, in passing the Straits of Dover, did not take care to inform the authorities of the neighboring maritime powers that, as he had been led to open fire near a group of trawlers, these boats, of unknown nationality, stood in need of assistance.

Following this finding, the Russian government paid compensation of £66,000. That sum would have a modern value of £7,629,032.26.

The Dogger Bank Case (Great Britain v. Russia), 2 Am. J. Int’l L. 931 (Int’l Comm’n of Inq., 1905).