Putin is a War Criminal and Should be Recognized as Such

Marco Levytsky, National Affairs Editor.

On January 28, the Government of Canada rejected an electronic petition calling for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be labelled a war criminal.

In its response, which was signed by Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland, and tabled along with 123 other responses in the House of Commons that day, the Government stated that “Canada is deeply concerned by Russian actions that undermine the rules-based international order,” adding that “the Minister of Foreign Affairs has repeatedly spoken against Russian actions that disrespect and challenge acceptable global norms.”

This was followed by several examples in which the Government did condemn the Russian Federation for actions taken.

However, the response did not address the issue at hand, namely labelling Putin a war criminal.

As Conservative Defense Critic and MP for Selkirk—Interlake—Eastman, James Bezan, who sponsored this e-petition, told CTV News: ““I thought it was a very shallow response. All they did was reiterate their own talking points about what Canada is doing in defense of Ukraine about Russian aggression, but never talked about the whole issue of Vladimir Putin – who is the primary reason that we have the illegal occupation of Crimea and the war in Donbas.”

New Pathway – Ukrainian News sent an email to Freeland’s spokesperson Adam Austen asking for clarification why any reference to the war criminal label was omitted, but has not received a response to date.

The e-petition, which was initiated by Roman Hruby of Ottawa, stated the following reasons why Putin should be declared a war criminal.

  • The President of the Russian Federation, V. Putin, has unleashed wars of military aggression against Georgia, Ukraine and exacerbated the violent conflict in Syria and the brutal suppression of the people of Chechnya;
  • In 2008, Putin unleashed military aggression against Georgia resulting in the continuing occupation of Abkhazia and South Ossetia;
  • Putin abetted the cruel bombing of civilians in Syria, including use of chemical weapons, causing hundreds of thousands of deaths, massive destruction and millions of refugees;
  • In 2014, Putin invaded and illegally annexed Crimea, covertly invaded Ukraine’s Donbas region – which caused more than 10,000 deaths, more than 20,000 injuries, millions of displaced people and tremendous destruction;
  • Putin has covertly sponsored assassinations and terrorism activities to destabilize Ukraine;
  • Armed groups under Putin’s covert command shot down MH-17, over eastern Ukraine, which resulted in 298 civilian deaths;
  • Putin regime has killed Russian dissidents, journalists, human rights advocates some even living abroad, and severely repressed Crimean Tatars and Ukrainians, killing a number of them and imprisoning many.
  • The petiton closed by calling upon the Government of Canada “to declare Putin a War Criminal and refer him to the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague for crimes of aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity and for sponsoring terrorism.”

As such, the petition is more symbolic than practical as its is highly unlikely Putin will ever be brought to justice before the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague. Nevertheless, the points it raises are very valid.

What’s more, Putin has been brazenly violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) which eliminated all land-based ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as their launchers, with ranges of 500–1,000 kilometres (short medium-range) and 1,000–5,500 km (intermediate-range) causing the United States to suspend the treaty on February 1, which prompted the Russian Federation’s reciprocal action on February 2. This is yet another demonstration of his total disregard for international law and the very real threat he poses to global security.

Whether or not Putin is ever brought to justice for his crimes, it is very clear that the actions listed in the petition do constitute crimes of aggression, war crimes, crimes against humanity, sponsorship of terrorism and should be recognized as such on the global arena.

In this nuclear age, military options are severely limited. But the Russian Federation should be recognized on the world stage as the pariah state it is and appropriate measures should not only be applied, be they in the form of economic pressure or diplomatic isolation, as they are now, but increased most substantially, including even to the point of excluding the Russian Federation from the SWIFT banking system.

Recognizing Putin as a war criminal may not be the end all solution, but it is one of many measures, big or small, practical or symbolic, which will increase the pressure on this pariah state.