In Putin’s brutal war against Ukraine, Russian forces have repeatedly and intentionally targeted civilians in hospitals, schools, and their homes.
Russian forces have also reportedly pretended to surrender to Ukrainians, drawing the Ukrainian soldiers from cover and then opening fire on them. Iraqi forces did that to ours in 2003.
In both types of events, Russians have committed war crimes under the Geneva Conventions and also under the 1998 Rome Statute which created the feckless International Criminal Court.
Last Tuesday, when Russian missiles struck the heart of Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called that attack a war crime. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said, “… thousands of children have been killed as a result of strikes from the air. Russia ruthlessly uses its air force to bombard cities, critical infrastructure, [and] destroys the supply of electricity and water to cities.”
The Wall Street Journal has reported nighttime Russian strikes on civilian targets and Russian violations of limited cease-fire agreements to protect civilians fleeing the war zones. Russians have reportedly shelled a nuclear power plant in an effort to cut electricity to Ukrainian cities, regardless of the obvious dangers.
Sonya Koshkina is a prominent Ukrainian journalist. She is editor-in-chief and part-owner of the Ukrainian news website Livyi Bereh. At my request, she gathered several examples that illustrate the enormous evidence of Russian war crimes. These summations are attributed to her (and her website’s) reporting.
There are, to be sure, many other instances of such attacks on civilians that have yet to be documented. Atrocities against the Ukrainian military, such as faked surrenders, are also yet to be documented.
As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, Russia continues to pound Ukrainian civilian targets with missile and rocket attacks. There is no end to such attacks in sight.
Russia has threatened that anyone who is not a Ukrainian but who fights for Ukraine will not be treated as a prisoner of war under the Geneva Conventions. That would apparently apply to anyone — U.S. and U.K. volunteers — even if they are in Ukrainian uniform and fighting under Ukrainian command.
The International Criminal Court is a highly politicized organization. Its former prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, spent her time trying to prosecute Israelis for alleged war crimes against Palestinians. The current prosecutor, Karim A. A. Khan, is a lawyer from the U.K. and apparently wants to do better. He has said that he wants to investigate the allegations of Russian war crimes in Ukraine.
Ukraine signed the 1998 Rome Statute, a treaty that established the ICC’s jurisdiction and enumerated many illegal acts and war crimes. Russia did as well, but “unsigned” it after the UN criticized its 2014 conquest and annexation of Crimea, which was a part of Ukraine.
As much as the ICC might want to investigate Russia’s war crimes against Ukraine, there is every doubt that it can. Ukraine will want to aid the investigation but it is and will be, for an indeterminate time, at war. Russia won’t cooperate in the investigation, far less extradite its soldiers and government officials who should be tried for war crimes.
That could mean the Russians’ war crimes may be forgotten and Putin and the other Russians responsible for these atrocities will go unpunished.
If President Joe Biden wants to prevent that, he should go before the UN Security Council to denounce Putin and Russia’s war crimes and demand the establishment of a tribunal under the Geneva Conventions to investigate and punish these crimes.
Biden won’t do that. He’s more interested in appeasing Putin and getting his help to persuade Iran into another nuclear weapons deal like the awful deal Obama made in 2015.
That leaves us with little alternative other than to document Russian war crimes as best we can and hope that our next president has more competence and integrity.
Even the UN has said that Russian attacks have killed more than 400 Ukrainian civilians and the number is certainly much higher. Putin and his nation are, deservedly, international pariahs. He and other responsible individuals should be punished for their war crimes. It is very unlikely that will happen.