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Putin must face war crime charges

Amanda Paul

Date: 25/02/2022
Sanctions must be beefed up immediately, while Putin must face war crime charges for Russia’s ongoing premeditated invasion of Ukraine and attack on the free world.

In the early hours of 24 February, Russia launched a brutal assault on Ukraine. Its air and ground forces entered the country from multiple directions, targeting strategic infrastructure and cities by both conventional and non-conventional (i.e. cyberspace) means. Over 100,000 Ukrainians have fled to nearby EU member states and Moldova. At the time of writing, Russian forces are carrying out a massive assault on the capital of Kyiv.

Putin’s blatant act of aggression is not simply a result of his delusional imperialistic ambitions and desire to conquer a democratic Ukraine. The West’s abject failure to adequately respond to Putin or learn lessons from his previous flagrant acts of aggression, including the 2008 war against Georgia and subsequent invasion of Ukraine in 2014, is also to blame.

While it is impossible to say how long this war will last, what is certain is that it will have major consequences for Ukraine, Europe and the global order. The steps that the West now takes to support Ukraine and push back against Russia are crucial.

There is no time to waste.

Fighting for survival

Ukrainians – both soldiers and citizens – continue to resist Russian aggression and defend their nation. If Putin intends to install a puppet regime and/or occupy the country long-term, it will not be easy. Ukrainians will not simply lie down and accept this. Civil disobedience is likely to be widespread. It could lead to a large resistance movement and/or insurgency that inflicts significant damage on the Russian military and morale. The West should make sure to support any such Ukrainian resistance.

As Ukraine fights for its survival, its partners must provide the country with the highest level of political support and economic, military and humanitarian assistance. They should also share intelligence on Russian military movements, which would be crucial for Kyiv. A major support package for those most affected is imperative. We must not forget that Ukrainians are already hurting from the pandemic.

Russia must be crippled by sanctions. To have any impact, they must be devastating and, unfortunately, impact the lives of every single Russian to have any chance of eroding Putin’s grip on power. The Russian people need to understand that this war will take them to a very dark place; that they are living in a pariah state thanks to the lies and falsehoods spread by Putin. Rifts need to appear in Russia’s security apparatus.

Protests over the war have already erupted in Russia. Despite knowing that arrests and repression are almost certain, such protests are likely to grow as the impact of sanctions starts to bite.

Crushing the Russian economy will also hurt Western business. But this is a necessary price to pay to stop Putin and the worse damage he could inflict. The same applies to ordinary citizens in the West. With the possibility of rising energy and food bills, national and EU-led large-scale information campaigns should be organised on social media platforms to explain to the general public what is at stake.

Crank up sanctions now

The sanctions placed by the EU, US and other G7 partners on 24 February cover the financial, energy and transport sectors, dual-use goods and export controls. They will certainly impact Russian armament and export financing, among other areas. The most important sanctions are those on Russian state banks and public debt, which will sap Russia’s reserves and raise its capital costs. A number of Putin’s buddies, including Defence Minister Sergey Shoigu and Chief of Staff Sergei Ivanov, and oligarchs were also sanctioned.

The EU called for the urgent preparation and adoption of an additional individual and economic sanctions package that also covers Belarus, which is guilty of allowing its territory to be used to wage war. And while Putin has taken many measures to sanction-proof Russia, they will not be enough to cushion the pain effectively.

However, not only did these sanctions come late, they are insufficient. The screws must be tightened, and quickly. Especially now that some countries have decided to stand with a brutal dictator. Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan travelled to Russia to discuss a gas deal with Putin the day Russia launched its invasion. Moreover, China’s decision in the aftermath of the West’s announcements of its sanctions to lift all wheat import restrictions on Russia clearly demonstrates the challenges ahead. China missed an opportunity to do the right thing. Much more can and should be done.

Given the gravity of the situation, sanctions should be, at the very least, as harsh as those placed on Iran. This should include removing Russia from SWIFT, the global payments network. The fact that this has not already happened – primarily due to Italy, Germany, Hungary and Cyprus – has left Ukrainians gobsmacked.

Sanctions need to hit more of those closest to Putin, including in the Presidential Councils, the defence and security service, and his top advisors. Furthermore, there is no reason why any Russian oligarch – inside or outside Russia – should be left unsanctioned. All their assets, including those of their families, should be frozen immediately.  

War crimes

Crucially, Putin and his cronies responsible for planning and implementing this war should not only have their assets frozen – something the EU is currently preparing for – and be sanctioned but also charged with war crimes. An unprovoked war against a peaceful sovereign state, which has already resulted in hundreds of deaths, including civilians, deserves no less.

Not only should there be large-scale coordinated expulsions of Russian intelligence officers from embassies across Europe and its allied countries, but Russia should also be expelled from the human rights organisation Council of Europe.

Equally important, the EU must immediately ramp up its efforts to reduce its dependence on Russian gas. Despite the gas crises of the past decade, the EU has still not significantly reduced this dependence. Indeed Germany’s collaboration with Russia to construct the giant Nord Stream 2 pipeline undermined this effort. While this project has now been expunged, the decision to go ahead in the first place was short-sighted and foolish. Time and time again, Russia weaponises gas and will almost certainly do so again.

A now-or-never moment

The world has now entered a new, and perilous, era in its history; a period of sustained contestation between Russia and the West. This makes it more important than ever that Putin, his cronies and people bear the consequences for the brutal assault on the people of Ukraine and the European continent.  

If the West demonstrates sufficient political will, resolve and nerve, Putin’s aggression against Ukraine will cost Russia dearly. слава україні!

Amanda Paul is a Senior Policy Analyst in the Europe in the World programme at the European Policy Centre.

The support the European Policy Centre receives for its ongoing operations, or specifically for its publications, does not constitute an endorsement of their contents, which reflect the views of the authors only. Supporters and partners cannot be held responsible for any use that may be made of the information contained therein.

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