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This past week, the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague issued an arrest warrant on Russian President Putin on war crimes charges, specifically for the unlawful deportation of Ukrainian children from occupied territories to Russia, ostensibly for “re-education” and “de-Nazification”. This is but the first of many possible charges that Putin, his government and his military will be facing as various agencies of the UN and the ICC investigate what has been happening in Ukraine over the past year.

Russia’s “special military operation” has seen a veritable orgy of genocidal and criminal acts inflicted by the Russian forces on innocent civilians, as well as the wholesale and deliberate destruction of vital civilian infrastructure over all of Ukraine’s territory. Although it is hard to get precise statistics, it is highly likely that there have been far more civilian casualties at the hands of the Russians than military ones. One should emphasize that this has not come from so-called unintended “collateral damage”, but from a deliberate policy of the occupying Russian forces to deport, torture, rape and execute Ukrainians in the areas that they capture. Further, their bombing, missile and drone attacks have been mostly aimed not at military targets, but at schools, hospitals, theaters, power facilities, the railway system and residential buildings. No amount of official lying Russian propaganda can hide the scale of death and destruction that we can see with our own eyes on the nightly news broadcasts. All this has been intended to demoralize the Ukrainian population into surrendering. Ironically, this strategy has achieved the exact opposite effect in strengthening the Ukrainians’ will to resist and evict the Russian invaders regardless of the cost.

Russia’s response to the ICC arrest warrant was to declare it meaningless since it does not recognize its jurisdiction. Russia is one of the few countries that has never ratified the recognition of this legal body created under UN auspices in 1998. To date, 123 countries have ratified the legitimacy of the ICC including Canada. Interestingly enough, neither Ukraine nor the U.S. have done so as yet.

The ICC focuses on four primary categories of international crimes, namely genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and war crimes. There are eighteen judges on the court, each of whom serves for a nine-year term. Currently four of the judges are from western European countries, four from Africa, and three each from Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe, and one from Canada.

The ICC is a relatively new body and the successor to special tribunals set up by the UN to deal with specific cases of war crimes. The most recent and well known of these was the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which was set up to deal with the genocidal acts and war crimes committed primarily by Bosnian Serb military leaders in the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia. The most famous of these was the prosecution of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.

To date, most of the ICC’s cases have involved war crimes and atrocities committed by perpetrators in the various conflicts that have been on-going for a long time in Africa. However, with the onset of Russia’s brutal war on Ukraine, there will undoubtedly be a sharp increase in the prosecution of Russians involved in the well documented Russian atrocities happening in Ukraine.

As dramatic a move as the issuance of an arrest warrant against Russian President Putin is, it is not likely that he will ever have to face trial by the ICC or any other court for that matter. Should Russia lose this war, as is becoming increasingly likely, Putin’s fate will undoubtedly be determined by the Russians themselves, and one can hazard a guess that Putin will suffer some sort of fatal “accident” or just disappear entirely from the face of the earth. Putin will never allow himself to be humiliated in front of any court, nor will the Russian elite countenance him spilling their dirty secrets on a world stage. His remaining days on this planet are clearly numbered.

Nonetheless, there are a large number of top Russian military and political leaders that are directly complicit in war crimes and atrocities, that could conceivably be held to account by the ICC should a Russian loss result in the disintegration of the Russian state. In such a scenario, undoubtedly one of the conditions of any subsequent peace treaty would be for the Russians to turn over those individuals responsible for war crimes in Ukraine. If the world is to ever achieve real peace, the principle of accountability must be enforced.

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