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Putin Should Be Sentenced To Death for His War Crimes in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin 2017 New Year Address to the Nation.

Ukrainians recently unearthed hundreds of bodies in a forest near Izyum, many of which showed clear signs of torture. As Ukrainians recoup territory seized by Russia in its most recent invasion—and perhaps move on to recapture territories seized by Russia in 2014—Russian President Vladimir Putin faces open defiance at home. A St. Petersburg district council openly called for Putin’s ouster for “treason.” An ever-growing number of close Putin associates, meanwhile, have died under mysterious circumstances after challenging their leader’s policies.

In practice, seeking justice for war criminals is tricky. Indeed, there have been high-profile indictments. In 2009, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for then-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir for genocide. UN special international tribunals tried Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Often, however, diplomats and sitting officials refrain from indicting sitting leaders for fear that such action could create a disincentive for peace: If a leader knew he faced trial, prison, and perhaps death for surrendering, then there is no possibility of convincing them to stand down and accept exile in exchange for peace.

The ICC and UN processes are also slow and inefficient. Milosevic died in prison seven years after his indictment and the fourth year of his trial. The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda took more than a decade, cost over $1 billion, but ultimately convicted only 85 participants. Too often, international tribunals become a jobs program for human rights activists and lawyers, with justice seemingly a secondary concern. The long process can exacerbate open conflicts and impede peace. Treating war crimes and genocide strictly as legal rather than military issues can impede justice in other ways. Consider the Islamic State: While many observers might view Islamic State execution videos as a clear indication of crimes against humanity, tying Islamic State individuals to specific actions beyond any reasonable doubt can be far trickier given the lack of physical evidence and messy chains of custody for that which does exist.

Human rights organizations can also impede justice. Iraqi officials decided to create the Iraq Special Tribunal to try Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for his crimes because the UN was unhelpful. Privately, many Iraqi officials also worried about UN involvement given the complicity of top-level UN officials in the Oil-for-Food corruption scandal. While Human Rights Watch had gathered evidence of the Saddam regime’s chemical weapons use against the Kurds, when the Iraqis put Saddam on trial, its Executive Director Ken Roth refused to provide it to the elected Iraqi government unless Iraqi leaders first agreed to take the death penalty off the table. This ideological imperialism was unacceptable to the elected Iraqi government that chose instead to focus the initial trial on an incident of Saddam ordering collective punishment in the Shi’ite south where the Iraqis were able to gather evidence from mass graves without the interference of American and European human rights groups.

Back to Putin: The argument that seeking justice and capital punishment for the Russian leader might impede a peaceful resolution to the Ukraine conflict is void as there is no possibility that Putin will compromise, nor is there any location where he can live in exile. The question about whether Putin might use nuclear weapons centers not on whether his opponents seek retribution; rather, the fear that Putin could utilize nuclear weapons is tied to the fact that he has been unable to achieve his aims conventionally.

Russia’s status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council (an issue that should be open to debate following the conclusion of this war) also hampers a UN role in his accountability. While the European Union, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch might oppose his execution, its application should be a question for Ukrainians, not for those operating on ideological agendas for which accountability to the victims of war crimes is secondary to activism against capital punishment. The fact that Putin sought to kill Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky should undercut Putin’s own sovereign immunity defense.

Putin’s public execution would not simply be an act of revenge. Like Saddam’s hanging, it would be cathartic and allow society to move on; that corrupt Iraqi leaders seek to squander their opportunities is a different issue unrelated to Saddam’s hanging. After Russia’s eventual defeat, it is crucial that Russian liberals be able to rebuild society. Should Putin remain alive, he and the hundreds of billions of dollars he has embezzled would permanently undermine Russia’s reconstitution as a responsible member of the international community. That said, revenge for the sake of justice is warranted after the terror Ukrainians suffered.


Russian President Putin. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

Finally, as U.S. political debates blind American partisans, let us be clear: There is no equivalence between Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq. The U.S. goal was never conquest and annexation. And while some activists and intellectuals suggest George W. Bush was responsible for more than one million Iraqi deaths, this absolves those who actually did that killing: Iranian-backed militias and Sunni insurgents. The United States partnered with a freely elected Iraqi government to defend Iraqis from those forces at great cost in blood and treasure.  The United States is not Russia; those who assert moral equivalence are clowns.

Putin must pay the ultimate price for his crimes.

Expert Biography: Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).



  1. Bender

    September 18, 2022 at 11:38 am

    Putin’s place is in the Hague to be judged by an international tribunal.

  2. GhostTomahawk

    September 18, 2022 at 12:45 pm

    Pure fantasy. We have the Chinese during on the human rights board at the UN. They’re the largest human rights violators on earth and not only does the UN not do anything to them, American politicians including the current president does personal business with them. Putin isn’t going to be charged with anything. War is hell and that’s what’s up. America has bombed population zones. Last year we surgically struck a car full of children based on actionable intelligence.

    Stop with the stupid drivel.

  3. cobo

    September 18, 2022 at 2:34 pm

    Putin is the frontman. The entire Soviet leadership in Russia needs to be rooted out and destroyed. One way or another. Then, we rebuild a relationship with Russia.

  4. So random

    September 18, 2022 at 3:25 pm

    Got the guts to say the same about israeli war crimes? They killed thousands of civilians.

    Or that sissy dictator from Egypt? He killed thousands and destroyed the tiny bit of democratic Egypt ever was. West is his bff.

    The war criminal that gave the permission for the drone strike that killed car full of kids in Afghanistan?

    Putin should be executed a long time ago. But come on, this site is super selective and just a tool to spread some elites/governments agenda.

  5. Scottfs

    September 18, 2022 at 5:37 pm

    Agreed. Putin is a monster and must go. Russia must withdraw all troops from Ukraine, and Putin must be removed from office. Reparations must be paid to Ukraine and the families of those killed.

    The Russian people must know this. They are by and large good people; but like Germans under Hitler must share some of the blame.

    May this be a new dawn in Russia; to once and for all turn its back on oligarchs and piwer-mad dictators.

  6. CRS, DrPH

    September 18, 2022 at 6:16 pm

    Interesting column, but I’d prefer to have Putin done it with Novichok nerve agent by his own military.

  7. Putin is a war criminal

    September 18, 2022 at 8:09 pm

    Pay no attention to those spouting ‘whataboutism’, Putin has painted a target on his back. If he is not brought to trial he will likely be assassinated and the world will be better off. There are few safe places for him to travel outside of Russia.

  8. xheavy

    September 19, 2022 at 12:51 am

    Let’s say BANG! No more Putin.

    If you really want that to mean something then Russia will just have to let go of Ukraine and then actively help fix everything.

    Personally I would prefer to do commerce and trade rather than War with Russia. But what Putin has done is no better than Saddam invading Kuwait. Or any number of a whole line of bad people doing silly things in power through our Human History.

    Most everyone agrees he has to go. Unfortunately the heming, hawing, dithering and so forth with inaction shows no one has the balls to actually make Putin dead. To make him dead potentially ends this Ukraine and European Nightmare. The sooner done the better before winter. Billions might have a future. Maybe.

    However. If you did eliminate Putin and when the sun comes up and the same evil black mold crawls up the once glorious Kremlin Walls and continues to threaten the world with anything all the way up to all out nuclear war due to the failure to root out the evil within… well…

    It probably will take megatonnage to burn that out as we take dead trees and what not to the burn pit where I live to dispose of it before it attracts infestations, mold, fungus and all sorts of other problems. The quicker the better.

    It is a shame though. I actually at one time liked Putin in some ways. But when you recognize that something has to be destroyed, so be it. Make it count and then have done with the whole mess. Then to clean it up.

  9. The Real Deplorables

    September 19, 2022 at 4:50 am

    This is absolute garbage from start to finish, nobody can be this ignorant to what Ukraine is really all about, therefore it can only be western propaganda. The ICC is a private business set up by regime change experts Mark Malloch Brown and George Soros and is unaccountable to anyone. Saddam didn’t gas the Kurds, Assad didn’t gas his own people either. 14,000+ innocent civilians have been killed in the Donbass since 2014 by the Ukraine military, where was the outcry…and the media then?

  10. Yrral

    September 19, 2022 at 6:12 am

    Ghost,I second the motion,lots of these politicians, especially these European,will be business as usual,as Ukraine smother in the ashes,and do nothing

  11. Konstantin

    September 19, 2022 at 6:44 am

    It seems to me that the author has big problems with his head. Today, Americans are fighting in seven countries at once – Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Niger. USA is a sponsor of terrorism. USA is EVIL. In this case, Bush and Obama should be tried by death, preferably in the electric chair. More than 50 wars of all time around the world. No USA, no problem. Russia will win in Ukraine, no matter how much you supply weapons. Putin is the best leader of our time and you are far from him. US invasion of Iraq. Only years later did it become known that the “evidence” had been falsified. According to Colin Powell. also in the electric chair. Greetings to you from Yekaterinburg Russia.

  12. Gary Jacobs

    September 19, 2022 at 10:30 am

    To ‘So Random’:

    In the real world Israel is analogous to Ukraine in this situation. Israel has been defending itself against genocidal enemies since before 1948. On day 2 of Israel’s rebirth, 7 national armies of Arab countries invaded with the public declaration that genocide of Jews in Israel was their goal. Just as Russia speaks of destroying Ukrainian identity, so did the Arab states speak of destroying Israel. Many Palestinians continue to speak exactly the same.

    Ironically, this round of Zionism began with the Crimean Wars in the 1850s. The British and French allied with Ottoman Turkey against Russia. As a condition of that alliance, Turkey was forced to roll back some of the more intolerant tendencies of Sharia law so that non-muslims would have more rights in the Land of Israel.

    Almost immediately Jews began buying land there again.

    But This time the Jews formed an Army to break the cycle of slaughter inflicted upon Jews by the whims of Islamic Rulers who have alternated between allowing Jews back and then oppressing them.

    Bottom line: If you are upset at how many Palestinians die as Israel defends itself against repeated attempts at genocide, you should try channeling your energy towards the Palestinians to get them to try peace for a change. Just as the Russian trolls on this site should refocus their energy towards Putin and Russia ceasing their aggression against Ukraine.

    Have a nice day.

  13. Sanel

    September 19, 2022 at 7:04 pm

    I use this opportunity to appeal directly to the 19fourtyfive magazine. What this article calls for and is about has gone past point of no return. The author here has been consistently demonstrating over last couple decades not only lack of knowledge on most of his topics but more so shameless bias and deception not to mention disgusting levels of hypocrisy. For someone like Michael Rubin who was the frontman for a criminal group of neocons in 2003 and being the loudest mouth instigating Iraq war repeating lie after lie to be here passing judgement is bit too much. This author himself should be investigated at the Hague for cheering the destruction brought upon Iraq. Instead of preaching nonsense here go to Iraq and seek forgiveness U sad excuse for human being. My msg is however to the magazine and the editors here. If U consider yourselves worthy of respect then I urge U to think lot harder next time U give space in your magazine to this type of nonsense. Cheers

  14. Jai

    September 19, 2022 at 7:18 pm

    You’d have to guess there’s at least an even chance that this adventure in Ukraine will end up being the (literal) death of Putin. Probably not through a formal death sentence in an international forum though. More like Gadaffi and Hussein. Beaten, spat on, left in a ditch – still too good for him, but probably as close to justice as we’ll see.

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