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Putin could possibly be charged with the crime of aggression for the Ukraine struggle – but it surely’s an costly course of with excessive stakes


A 21-year-old Russian soldier pleaded responsible in a trial in Kyiv on Could 18, 2022, for capturing a Ukrainian man within the head after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February 2022.

It marked the primary trial of a Russian soldier for the struggle in Ukraine, as allegations mount of Russia committing struggle crimes – a broad class underneath worldwide regulation that features concentrating on civilians throughout battle.

Ukraine is investigating greater than 10,700 potential struggle crimes, involving greater than 600 Russian troopers and authorities officers.

However there’s a giant hole between attempting a person sergeant for struggle crimes and holding Russian leaders themselves accountable for crimes dedicated through the struggle.

A lesser-known worldwide crime, known as the crime of aggression, might present a pathway for prosecuting Russian President Vladimir Putin. This crime punishes the unlawful invasion or use of power towards one other nation. Solely the leaders of the nation that began a struggle may be held liable for this crime.

Philippe Sands, a well known worldwide authorized professional, has known as against the law of aggression case towards Putin “a slam dunk.”. It is because there is no such thing as a authorized justification for Russia invading Ukraine.

However this authorized possibility is sophisticated and would possible require forming a brand new worldwide tribunal – a court docket set as much as particularly examine and cost individuals for violating worldwide regulation.

And as an worldwide lawyer, I do know the most important problem to holding Putin accountable will not be authorized, however political. Establishing a particular court docket would require a big political dedication by international locations throughout the globe to observe by on the fees – and it might require some huge cash.

Ukraine’s Prosecutor Common, Iryna Venediktova, middle, and the Worldwide Legal Court docket’s prosecutor, Karim Khan, proper, go to a mass grave in Bucha on April 13, 2022.
Fadel Senna/AFP by way of Getty Photographs

Understanding crimes of aggression

The crime of aggression, formally referred to as “crimes towards the peace,” is usually outlined as waging an aggressive struggle with out authorized justification.

This crime was first prosecuted on the post-World Struggle II Nuremberg and Tokyo tribunals, which have been established briefly between 1945 and 1948. Thirty-one German and Japanese political and navy leaders have been convicted of those crimes, together with Nazi Deputy Fuhrer Rudolf Hess.

There’s little query amongst worldwide legal professionals that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an ongoing crime of aggression.

It’s a neater cost than different war-related crimes to degree at a nationwide chief. Charging Putin with struggle crimes would require substantial proof – like witness testimony or intercepted communications – to show that Putin deliberate, directed, knew of or ought to have recognized of particular assaults towards civilians.

The crime of aggression, alternatively, is meant for heads of states like Putin and their interior circle. Authorized consultants have drafted a mannequin indictment towards Putin. Many authorized observers imagine that there can be sufficient proof to seek out Putin responsible of this crime and imprison him.

Not a panacea

For the reason that Nineteen Forties convictions, nobody has been prosecuted internationally for crimes of aggression. One purpose is that the Worldwide Legal Court docket – an unbiased worldwide court docket based mostly within the Hague, Netherlands, that investigates genocide and struggle crimes – was not established till 2002. Earlier than then, there was no clear place to prosecute this crime.

Worldwide legal professionals additionally didn’t agree on a precise definition of crimes of aggression for the court docket till 2010.

Russia has not joined the court docket. This implies the court docket doesn’t have authorized energy to independently prosecute Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The United Nations Safety Council might additionally refer this case to the court docket. However as a everlasting member of the Safety Council with veto powers, Russia would block any tried referral.

Given the bounds of the Worldwide Legal Court docket on this case, various authorized consultants are discussing different pathways.

Putin is seen walking through an ornate hall, with two soldiers behind him

Russian President Vladimir Putin enters the Grand Kremlin Palace in Moscow on Could 16, 2022.
Contributor/Getty Photographs

A brand new court docket

Most worldwide consultants say that the best choice is a brand new worldwide tribunal, separate from the Worldwide Legal Court docket. Such tribunals are sometimes arrange with a slender focus of struggle crimes from a specific battle or atrocity. They’re normally established by the United Nations.

That’s as a result of trials in nationwide courts in Ukraine or one other nation – which acknowledges the crime of aggression of their nationwide legal guidelines – face numerous authorized and political boundaries.

Some consultants additionally say {that a} home court docket lacks the legitimacy of a world trial.

An alternative choice is a hybrid – each worldwide and nationwide court docket – stemming from an settlement between the U.N. and a rustic. However authorized restrictions in Ukrainian regulation, for instance, make this tough as a result of the nation’s structure has particular language that might block a hybrid or particular court docket.

The Parliamentary Meeting of the Council of Europe, a human rights group that has 47 European international locations as members, has known as for a brand new worldwide prison tribunal, which might be based mostly in Strasbourg, France, and would examine and prosecute Russian leaders for crimes of aggression. The short-term tribunal would have the ability to difficulty an alert to police worldwide to arrest Putin or different Russian leaders whom prosecutors are charging with crimes.

Establishing a brand new court docket, although, would take time and a big sum of money. Whereas there are large variations within the numerous prices of worldwide or hybrid tribunals, prior court docket processes have price between $10 million to $15 million per defendant.

Worldwide and hybrid courts, akin to people who have been set as much as tackle battle in Sierra Leone, are normally funded by rich international locations like the US and the UK.

Two rows of men are seated in a courtroom, surrounded by soldiers in white helmets.

Defendants on the Nuremberg trials, together with Nazi leaders Hermann Goering and Rudolf Hess, in January 1946.
Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Photographs

No finish in sight

Because the Ukraine struggle and reviews of struggle crimes proceed to unfold, some consultants warn towards putting an excessive amount of emphasis on anyone sort of authorized course of for prosecuting Putin.

Finally, the boundaries to arresting Putin in another country and getting him into any overseas courtroom stay excessive. Putin is unlikely to depart Russia and danger arrest, and his tight management over Russia at this level additionally makes it unlikely that he can be turned in by Russian police.

Though it’s potential to maintain a trial and not using a defendant current, many human rights consultants strongly object to this follow.

And one of the crucial substantial critiques of creating a particular tribunal for Russia’s aggression is the problem of selectivity – why this case will get investigated and prosecuted internationally and why others, such because the U.S. invasion of Iraq, don’t. However this isn’t a brand new problem for worldwide regulation and justice.

As soon as arrange, an unbiased tribunal is past the political management of the international locations that set up it.

To this point, no head of a state whose nation is a everlasting member of the U.N. Safety Council has been tried for the crime of aggression. This may open an necessary new chapter in fashionable worldwide justice that may observe a sophisticated, unsure course.



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