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Putin’s Next Problem: A Ukraine War Crimes Tribunal?

M777 Marine Corps
SYRIA - U.S. Marines with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit fire an M777 Howitzer during a fire mission in northern Syria as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, Mar. 24, 2017. The unit provided 24/7 support in all weather conditions to allow for troop movements, to include terrain denial and the subduing of enemy forces. More than 60 regional and international nations have joined together to enable partnered forces to defeat ISIS and restore stability and security. CJTF-OIR is the global Coalition to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria. (Note: these are similar weapons to the ones being sent to Ukraine).

The Ukrainian government wants help from the White House to establish a tribunal designed to investigate and try Russian leadership figures who are responsible for war crimes committed on Ukrainian soil this year.

Andriy Yermak, the head of the Ukrainian presidential office, said in a message to the White House on Wednesday that establishing peace in Ukraine would be impossible without “justice,” and suggested that justice cannot be achieved “without judiciary.”

“To start a criminal and unprovoked war is to open the door to thousands of crimes of various levels committed during hostilities and in the occupied territory,” Yermak said during a talk hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Atlantic Council.

The Ukrainian official that trying individuals and holding investigations into individual war crimes was not sufficient, and that a tribunal should examine the circumstances of the war crimes committed – and those who ordered them – more thoroughly and broadly.

“Ukraine appeals to you and the United States of America to support our efforts to establish a special tribunal for the crime of Russian aggression,” Yermak said.

What War Crimes Has Russia Committed?

Russia stands accused of committing war crimes – violations of Geneva Conventions and other international laws that govern war and conflict – since the early days of the invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said that over 400 war crimes have been documented by investigators in Kherson Oblast alone.

Andriy Kostin, the Ukrainian prosecutor general, also revealed in September that more than 34,000 potential war crimes committed by Russian forces have been logged so far – and that the number is constantly increasing.

Russian troops are accused of looting, torturing Ukrainian civilians, and murdering and starving Ukrainian prisoners of war. Mass graves have also been found throughout Ukraine following Russian withdrawals, with one of the most notable cases of civilians being discovered in mass graves coming from Izium, Kharkiv Oblast. When Russian forces withdrew from the area, 450 bodies – mostly civilians – were discovered by Ukrainian troops.

Russia’s dependence on the private mercenary organization Wagner will also likely be analyzed by a possible future tribunal. Wagner troops have been caught on camera torturing Ukrainian soldiers, including mutilating one soldier with a pair of pliers. In a video published last month, one Wagner soldier could even be seen murdering a Ukrainian soldier by hitting him in the head with a sledgehammer until he died.

Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive’s Breaking News Editor.

Written By

Jack Buckby is 19FortyFive's Breaking News Editor. He is a British author, counter-extremism researcher, and journalist based in New York. Reporting on the U.K., Europe, and the U.S., he works to analyze and understand left-wing and right-wing radicalization, and reports on Western governments’ approaches to the pressing issues of today. His books and research papers explore these themes and propose pragmatic solutions to our increasingly polarized society.