Putin is guilty and liable for war crimes in Ukraine - opinion

Russia continues to cause devastation in Ukraine even as peace talks continue.

 AN AERIAL PHOTO taken from a drone on Sunday shows destroyed residential buildings in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.  (photo credit: PAVEL KLIMOV/REUTERS)
AN AERIAL PHOTO taken from a drone on Sunday shows destroyed residential buildings in the southern Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.
(photo credit: PAVEL KLIMOV/REUTERS)

The devastation of Ukraine continues unabated even while peace talks continue. Hopefully, but not for sure, Putin’s war against the people and the land of Ukraine will end before a full-fledged World War III begins. Nevertheless, the cost will be huge.

More than three million refugees have already been displaced, the largest number in Europe since World War II.

Thousands of people will have died, including troops on both sides, as well as Ukrainian civilians.

The losses to Ukrainian infrastructure has not yet been calculated, but it will most certainly be in the tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars.

The societal cost of so many people being psychologically traumatized for no reason whatsoever cannot be properly computed and the effect on them and society will last for generations.

 A view shows buildings damaged in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 3, 2022.  (credit: REUTERS/STRINGER) A view shows buildings damaged in the course of Ukraine-Russia conflict in the southern port city of Mariupol, Ukraine April 3, 2022. (credit: REUTERS/STRINGER)

Families were torn asunder for no reason other than the result of the madness of a dictator hungry for more land as was common in history but not so much after the devastation of World War II.

A dictator arises who, by his actions, states to the entire world that he is not constrained to follow anyone’s rules but his own. With abundant military options at his disposal, he chooses to threaten the very foundation of civilization by bringing the world to the precipice of world war. Sadly, the warnings of the past were forgotten.

Robert H. Jackson, the lead prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, in his closing remarks in 1946, laid out the charge to future generations:

The terror of Torquemada pales before the Nazi Inquisition. These deeds are the overshadowing historical facts by which generations to come will remember this decade. If we cannot eliminate the causes and prevent the repetition of these barbaric events, it is not an irresponsible prophecy to say that this 20th century may yet succeed in bringing the doom of civilization.

Well, it was not in the 20th century but the 21st century that the lessons of the past were challenged. No one would have suspected that this is where we would be in the spring of 2022.

The question that the world will need to face at the end of hostilities, is will there be a reckoning? Will the West, joined by others who share the Ukrainian’s pain, be ready to punish Putin and make the Russians pay for this insanity? I believe at that time two things must happen.

The first is, Putin should be put on trial for war crimes

War crimes are defined by the Geneva Convention, the precedents of the Nuremberg Tribunals, an older area of law referred to as the Laws and Customs of War, and in the case of the former Yugoslavia, the statutes of the International Criminal Tribunal in The Hague (ICTY). They fall into three broad groups.

1. Crimes against peace which include planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances, along with participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the above.

2. Violations of the laws or customs of war, including: Atrocities or offenses against persons or property, constituting violations of the laws or customs of war, murder, torture or inhuman treatment, including biological experiments, plunder of public or private property, wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages and devastation not justified by military necessity.

3. Crimes against humanity, such as atrocities and offenses committed against any civilian population, before or during the war.

There is clear evidence broadcast every day in the media that points to the guilt of Putin in the first two cases cited above. The Geneva Convention further states that leaders, organizers, instigators and accomplices participating in the formulation or execution of a common plan or conspiracy to commit any of the crimes above are criminally responsible for everything done by anyone in carrying out such a plan.

Secondly, putting him away for the rest of his life would be too kind a punishment. The Russian Government should pay for the reconstruction of Ukraine.

To me, this is a given. The leaders of a country that is guilty of the perpetration of war crimes obligates their country to the cost of rebuilding the infrastructure of the country that suffered from their insanity. The Russian Government is reputed to have hundreds of billions of cash and saleable assets worldwide. Those should be frozen and seized by the West to provide Ukraine with the wherewithal to rebuild its destroyed apartment blocks, highways, rail lines and public buildings to where they were before the hostilities began. They deserve nothing less.

The Ukrainian people and their president, when faced with an enemy tens of times more powerful than Ukraine, demonstrated what former US president Franklin Roosevelt said 80 years ago:

“The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people, and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over the government.”

The Ukrainians did their part at levels higher than any of us had expected, now we must do ours. We owe them nothing less.

The writer has lived in Jerusalem for 38 years and is CEO of Atid EDI Ltd., a Jerusalem-based international business development consultancy. He is the former National President of the Association of Americans and Canadians in Israel, former board chair of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and chair of the American State Offices Association in Israel.