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How to Prosecute Putin

Putting the Russian president on trial for the international crime of aggression would be more straightforward than trying him for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Since the International Criminal Court has no mandate to prosecute such crimes, a special international tribunal must be formed – with US support.

EDINBURGH – A few weeks ago, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for the war crime of unlawful deportation and transfer of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia. It is a significant – indeed, historic – step toward holding Putin and his henchmen accountable for their crimes in Ukraine. But more must be done.

Evidence of Russian atrocities in Ukraine – including murder, rape, torture, and attacks on civilians, civilian infrastructure, and other non-military targets – continues to accumulate. Just last month, a United Nations-backed inquiry published a report accusing Russia of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity. While the ICC indictment is unlikely to be the only legal action brought against Putin and his cronies, it is the first. The ICC prosecutor has ensured that Putin will go down in history as the first leader of a permanent member of the UN Security Council to be indicted for an international crime.

The move is not merely symbolic. Those who think imprisoning Putin is an impossibility should recall that Liberian war criminal Charles Taylor is currently serving a 50-year sentence in a British prison, and former Serbian leader Slobodan Milošević died in prison in The Hague while on trial for war crimes. And those who think that the arrest warrant will have no impact on the accused should take note of reports of growing dissent within Putin’s leadership cabal, with insiders no doubt fearing that they will soon face indictments as well.

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