Can Putin be held accountable?

“The 360” shows you a diverse perspective on the main stories and discussions of the day.

What’s happening

Demands for Russia to be held accountable for war crimes in Ukraine have increased in response to reports of massacres of civilians in areas previously held by Russian troops.

“The Russian military and those who instructed it must be brought to justice immediately,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky demanded in a speech to the UN Security Council on Tuesday. President Biden said on Monday that images of corpses lying on the streets of Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv, strengthened his administration’s belief that Russian President Vladimir Putin was a “war criminal.”

The US State Department formally accused Russia of war crimes almost two weeks ago after reviewing reports that Russian troops had deliberately fired on civilian places, including schools, hospitals and theaters used as bomb shelters. Russian troops have also been accused of carrying out a long list of other atrocities that have been carefully documented by international organizations and independent watchdogs.

The phrase “war crimes” is often used as a general term to describe the many horrific acts committed in conflict. But in order to be prosecuted as a war crime, it must fit a much more precise definition as described in a number of international conventions – in particular the Geneva Conventions. The main body of war crimes trials is the International Criminal Court, an independent body with the power to prosecute international crimes.

individual nations can not or will not prosecute themselves. The ICC launched an investigation into Russia’s actions in Ukraine in late February, just days after the invasion began.

Why is there a debate

Although there is strong evidence that Russia’s actions in Ukraine fall within the legal definition of war crimes, many experts in international law say there is good reason to doubt that senior Russian officials – including Putin himself – will be held accountable. The ICC and other international courts are bound by a complex web of procedures and jurisdictions that can mean that even the most serious actions could not lead to a real trial. Even cases that go ahead can take an enormous amount of time, sometimes decades, to adjudicate. Because of this, many experts say, war crimes allegations are unlikely to stop Putin’s brutal crackdown.

Others see value in prosecuting war crimes, even if the chances of convicting Putin are slim. At the grassroots level, they argue, failing to prosecute Putin and other senior Russians would send a message that the international community is ready to look the other way, even in the most difficult of circumstances. They also say that war crimes would further isolate Putin, undermine his attempts to use false information to legitimize his invasion and possibly persuade exiled Russian troops to oppose orders for fear of being prosecuted.

There are concerns, however, that accusing Putin of war crimes could make him even more dangerous. Some experts argue that if Putin fears that he could face charges at the end of the war, he is likely to reject any diplomatic solution to the conflict and launch an even more brutal attack on Ukraine.

Point of view


The main architects of the war are unlikely to face any responsibility

“You have to prove that they knew or they could have known or should have known. There’s a real risk that you’ll end up in a trial of mediocre people in three years’ time and the main culprits responsible for this horror will get rid of the hook. ”- Philippe Sands, International Law Specialist, Associated Press

Only military power can protect the Ukrainian people from Russian atrocities

“The inevitable truth is that the way to protect civilians from war crimes during war is not just to threaten punishment for crimes at some point in the future, but to stop them now. And in Putin’s case, this moratorium can only come from military power, not just from judges. “- Charli Carpenter, Foreign Policy

All attempts to hold Putin accountable are being undermined by US hypocrisy

“Justice is not the issue. Politicians like Biden, who do not take responsibility for our well-documented war crimes, strengthen their moral faith by demonizing their opponents. They know that there is no chance that Putin will face justice. And they know that their chances of meeting justice are the same. – Chris Hedges, Salon

Accusations of war crimes could lead to even more brutality from Putin

“It is also possible that international efforts to hold leaders accountable for human rights abuses could be successful. Leaders who expect punishment at the end of the conflict have incentives to prolong the conflict. And a leader who commits atrocities has a strong incentive to avoid stepping down, even if it means using increasingly brutal methods – and committing more atrocities – to stay in power. – Joseph Wright and Abel Escribà-Folch, Conversation


Technology makes it more realistic to prosecute war crimes in Ukraine than in any other previous war

“More than any conflict before, the war in Ukraine is on the record. About 70% of the country has internet access, which means that almost anyone with a smartphone can watch. And there are prosecutors. … The large number of investigators, along with almost unlimited open information – from videos of Russian attacks to satellite images of troops – makes it more likely that special charges will be filed, which is rare in these investigations. ”- Noah Robertson, Christian Science Monitor

Prosecution of war crimes would send an important message to the world

“What matters is that the war crimes in Ukraine are investigated and, no matter how difficult it is to prosecute, at least a diligent and determined effort is made to do justice so that the world can see that Mr Putin’s war signs can not be tolerated.” Editing, Wall Street Journal

The world should focus on gathering evidence now and leaving the debate on war crimes pending.

“Choosing a legal platform is tomorrow’s problem. Today is the day to ensure that evidence of these crimes is gathered, documented and preserved so that the world will never forget the horrors perpetrated against the people of Ukraine as part of Putin’s election war. – Editorial, Boston Globe

Fear of prosecution could prove convincing to Russian troops on the ground

“While these steps are unlikely to change Putin’s current policy, if Russian troops and lower-level leaders see that there is a united and determined effort to ensure that they are held accountable for atrocities committed against the Ukrainian people, they could changed his calculations in carrying out Putin’s orders. – Carolyn Kenney, Center for American Progress

It is important for international leaders to remove all doubt about the illegality of Putin’s war

“In our time, the importance of war crimes allegations to those who were concerned about the abuse of American prisoners, and especially torture, was not just to see if they could put an end to the execution, and not just to pave the way for American involvement. the exercise, but also to make the war seem less legitimate. And that’s why I would say it’s probably the main goal of those who say so. ”- Samuel Moyn, an expert in international law, told MSNBC

Threats of prosecution could be a powerful tool in negotiations to end the war

“The ghost of war crimes charges could prove useful as leverage for Ukraine in ending the war. For example, the Kyiv government could agree to limit the scope of the investigation into Moscow’s concessions. By considering a long stay in The Hague, members of Putin’s inner circle could find such an agreement recently attractive. – Editor, Bloomberg

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Illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Getty Images

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