Putin the War Criminal must be Punished
The Russian invasion of Ukraine illustrates the dichotomy between countries that defend international principles, law and order, and right of a people to choose its own destiny, and those countries supporting or tolerating autocratic and non-democratic systems that flout international law and human rights.
Most of the sane countries in the world have pronounced Russia guilty of an unprovoked attack on a sovereign European state and called for it to cease its use of force against Ukraine and to withdraw its troops immediately. They have recognized that the attack is a flagrant violation of international law, an assault on freedom and democracy, and politically and morally unacceptable. The sane world asserts that no action by Ukraine justifies this aggression. It will assert in the future that the reckless Russian President Vladimir Putin and his military commanders are guilty of war crimes, including barbaric and indiscriminate shelling of cities and residential neighborhoods and the murders of innocent civilians, and should be condemned and punished for the. No one can accept the view of Putin that a man who he does not name is the leader of “a gang of drug addicts and neo-Nazis.”
Many large-scale anti-war demonstrations have taken place around the world. The less momentous consequences include the distinguished conductor Valery Gergiev, friend of Putin, being fired as chief conductor in Munich; the diva Anna Netrebko being dismissed from the Bavarian State opera; Russian, and also Belarusian, athletes being banned from the Paralympic winter games in Beijing; the international cat federation not allowing cats bred in Russia to compete in their shows; the dish “chicken kiev” in restaurants being renamed “chicken kyiv;” bars are not serving Russian vodka; and oligarch Roman Abramovich selling the Chelsea football club. Putin’s honorary black belt has been revoked by the International Federation that governs the sport. No Russian national flags or anthems will be played at events of the International Olympic committee.
More significantly, a historic shift is taking place in Europe. The EU will finance the purchase and delivery of arms, and is planning to send more than half a billion dollar’s worth of military aid to Ukraine. Almost all European airspace is closed to Russian aircraft. Sweden, a non-NATO country, will send 5,000 anti-tank weapons to Ukraine. Germany, which at first refused to send weapons and prevented other countries from sending their German-made weapons to Ukraine, changed policy and agreed to send 1,000 anti-tank weapons and 500 Stinger anti-aircraft defense systems to Kyiv.
Most surprisingly, Switzerland has suspended, or perhaps reinterpreted its principle of neutrality, which dates back to the Reformation. This neutrality was upheld at the Congress of Vienna in 1815, and was said to be in the true interest of the whole of Europe as a valuable buffer zone and contributor to stability. Switzerland joined the UN only in 2002.
Putin’s unprovoked military attack has led Switzerland to abandon neutrality for the moment. It decided to freeze the very considerable amount, estimated at $11 billion, of Russian financial assets in the country, stopped Swiss banks from accepting new Russian money, and barred entry to the country of some Russians. Switzerland joined members of the EU in freezing the assets of Putin, prime minister Mikhail V. Mishustin, foreign minister Sergey Lavrov, and 367 other individuals. It also closed its airspace to Russian aircraft.
Similar changes have occurred in other traditionally neutral countries. Sweden, an EU partner but not in NATO, announced it would send 5,000 anti-tank weapons and $50 million to Ukraine. Finland, also EU but not NATO, will send military supplies, assault rifles, cartridges, anti-tank weapons, and 70,000 combat ration packages to Ukraine.
It is encouraging that most of the world has recognized that Russia is committing war crimes, with heavy bombardment of residential areas in Kharkiv and other cities. The majority has understood that a core principle of the UN Charter has been violated. On March 2, 2022, the UN General Assembly voted 141-5 with 35 abstentions in a non-binding resolution that rebuked Russia, called for an end to fighting and demanding that Russian troops leave Ukraine.
The UNGA vote is a timid commentary on Russian aggression. The resolution calls only for “peaceful resolution of the conflict through political dialogue, negotiations, mediation, and other peaceful means.” There is no “conflict,” only unilateral aggression by Putin who chose it. Putin must be held to account and punished for the killing of thousands of civilians and causalities.
The minority vote is an indication that Russian military action has not been condemned by some nations, either because of historic or trade ties, to maintain what they conceive as a balance in international affairs, or because they are hostile to the United States and to democratic values. It is interesting to survey the rogue’s gallery of the five countries. Besides Russia, they are Belarus, Syria, Eritrea, and North Korea. The abstainers included China, which is concerned with wheat import restrictions, and India, which is connected with Russia as its largest arms supplier.
Among the abstainers are Pakistan, which signed a new trade deal, importing wheat and buying natural gas from Russia. Serbia, an ally of Putin, has historic, political, and cultural ties. Its president Aleksandar Vucic said that Serbia will never join NATO and will maintain ties to Russia. Brazil is led by Jair Bolsonaro who declined to condemn Putin’s invasion, said he is in solidarity with Russia which supplies fertilizer crucial for Brazil’s large agribusiness sector, and declared that Ukraine had placed “the hope of the nation in the hands of a comedian.” The “comedian” President Zelenskyy, with his T-shirt and stubble face, who has survived three assassination attempts, has become the man of the moment, the wartime leader who has risen to the occasion, has inspired his nation, and transformed political opinion in Europe.
For the United States there are four fundamental factors One is to impose more and deeper sanctions on Russia. A second is to support Zelenskyy’s request for EU membership. A third is to adjust foreign policy and international funding in the light of the refusal of countries to condemn Putin.
The fourth and most important factor is to persuade the international community to call for a special legal tribunal to investigate, prosecute, and punish Putin for his aggression and for the bombing of Babi Yar, where mobile squads killed at least 34,000 Jews over a one-week period in September 1941. The memorial has become a symbol of horrific murder, of innocent people machine-gunned en masse. It ensures that the tragedy is not lost in the memory hole of history. The war criminal Putin must be punished so that life will win over death.