There is hope that the world is finally ready to put an end to Putin's impunity
The year 2022 is coming to an end — the most tragic in the history of independent Ukraine and, perhaps, one of the most difficult in the modern history of the world. According to one of the largest dictionaries of the English language, 2022’s word of the year is "permacrisis,"- a state of constant uncertainty and anxiety. This is indicative.
If I were asked what word I would choose as the word of the year — after the words of gratitude to the Ukrainian Armed Forces and admiration for the courage of the Ukrainian people — I would say the word "tribunal." It has never been heard so often on international platforms. We are talking about the tribunal over the aggressor which is to be held, and about the one that took place almost 80 years ago. In 1946, the judgment of the Nuremberg Tribunal for the first time in history declared a war of aggression to be a crime — "a crime against world peace."
"War is essentially an evil thing. Its consequences are not confined to the belligerent states alone, but affect the whole world. To initiate a war of aggression, therefore, is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”
The decision of this tribunal gave rise to a world order based on the principles of the rule of law and the inviolability of human rights.
This year, for the first time in history, these principles were so defiantly disregarded. Russia has once again, but for the first time so openly, encroached on the sovereignty of another state and the right to existence of an entire people.
And now, in a world that declared aggression a crime, in the heart of Europe, a bloody war of aggression is taking place. In a world that saw the horrors of the Holocaust, the Russian regime is trying to carry out a genocide of Ukrainians. More than 50,000 war crimes have been committed in a world that has vowed "never again" to allow such atrocities.
The harmful effects of this war are already being felt far beyond the borders of Ukraine. I will cite only a few facts that show that Russian aggression is a crime not only against Ukraine, but also against the entire civilized world. Therefore, punishing the aggressor is our shared duty.
Hybrid World War
Russia first openly attacked Ukraine on February 24, 2022. But Putin's regime has been waging a covert war against the "collective West" for more than a decade. Disinformation, corruption, participation of Russian mercenaries in armed conflicts around the world... And this list of destructive Russian influences is far from complete.
The infamous Wagner PMC is fueling instability in Asia and Africa. In addition to Ukraine, its mercenaries have been spotted in "hot spots" in Syria, Sudan, Libya, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, Mali, and Burkina Faso.
But even in Europe, the Russian special services plan and carry out assassinations, including with the use of chemical weapons.
An equally toxic weapon is Russian disinformation, recognized by governments and international institutions as one of the key threats to democracy. According to various estimates, the Russian Federation has spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to influence officials in more than two dozen countries.
We can say that the Third World War is already underway
We can say that the Third World War is already underway, and it is being led by the Russian regime against freedom, democracy, and stability throughout the world.
Russia, being unable to defeat Ukraine with conventional weapons, is systematically using nuclear blackmail. The Russian dictator Putin used nuclear threats immediately after the invasion of Ukraine, ordering the transfer of the Russian nuclear forces to a "special combat duty regime." Then in September, he declared that he would use "all available weapons systems" to protect Russia's "territorial integrity," indirectly including occupied Ukrainian territories. And recently, the Russian dictator stated that "he could not give guarantees that the Russian Federation will not be the first to use nuclear weapons." The symbolic doomsday clock shows 100 seconds to midnight, the nuclear annihilation of humanity. The last time the world came so close to death was in 1953, when the USA and the USSR tested the first hydrogen bombs.
In addition to threats, the terrorist state is provoking nuclear danger with its actions with the shelling and seizure of Ukrainian nuclear facilities. The largest nuclear power plant in Europe, the Zaporizhzhya NPP, has been under occupation since March 4. During hostilities, Russian shells hit a station building in dangerous proximity to the reactors. Russian troops are also striking other Ukrainian nuclear power plants and nuclear facilities. The South Ukrainian nuclear power plant and the Neutron Source research facility in Kharkiv were shelled.
Crimes against the environment
The environment is called the silent victim of war. Compared to human casualties and suffering, crimes against the environment may seem secondary. However, their long-term consequences will be felt by people far beyond the borders of Ukraine for another decade after the end of the war.
First and foremost, this concerns the pollution of air, soil, and groundwater with poisonous substances as a result of shelling, destruction of equipment, and burning. More than 2 million hectares of forests and about 20% of protected areas of Ukraine have been affected by the war. Rare species of plants and animals are under threat of extinction. In particular, thousands of dolphins have died in the Black Sea. According to the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Natural Resources, the estimate of this damage in financial terms exceeds 37.8 billion euros, and this is only from the direct impact of the war.
Among the indirect consequences is the deterioration of global climate change cooperation. As President Zelenskyy said, "there can be no effective climate policy without peace, because nations are now only thinking about how to protect themselves here and now."
Due to Russian aggression, energy prices have increased, forcing many countries to increase the use of coal as a cheap alternative to Russian oil and gas. Instead of falling, the level of greenhouse gas emissions is breaking records. Humanity is heading towards climate catastrophe at an ever faster pace.
Hunger as a weapon
Before the Russian invasion, Ukraine was one of the largest producers of agricultural products in the world. 60% of Ukrainian wheat was exported to developing countries. With the beginning of Russia’s full-scale aggression, exports ceased. Due to fighting and contamination by landmines, Ukrainian farmers were unable to sow up to 25% of the fields. This is an area equal to the size of Belgium. Since the beginning of the war, the Russian army has been blocking Ukrainian ports and stealing grain, food, fertilizers, and agricultural machinery. It continues to rob farmers in the temporarily occupied territories.
According to the UN, about 50 million people are at risk of starvation today. The war is worsening an already catastrophic situation: logistical chains are broken, and food and fertilizer prices are rising.
But, even in the face of a full-scale invasion, Ukraine has not stopped producing and exporting grain to the world. In November, President Zelenskyy launched the Grain from Ukraine initiative, which has already been joined by 30 donor states. As part of the initiative, at least 60 vessels are planned to set sail from Ukrainian ports by the spring of 2023. This will help save more than 5 million people from hunger.
The "grain agreement" concluded in the summer with the assistance of the UN and Turkey also improved the situation somewhat. However, it never worked fully. The Russian Federation repeatedly threatened to exit the agreement and obstructed its implementation. The threat of disruption of these arrangements is a threat of starvation for millions of families.
Russia has a long tradition of using hunger as a weapon. In 1932-33, it directed this weapon against the Ukrainian people, and today it is trying to use it against the whole world.
Destruction of the world order
The Russian Federation has been violating the norms of international law and human rights for dozens of years, without meeting any worthy opposition from the world community. Atrocities in Chechnya, the invasion of Georgia, the annexation of Crimea, the occupation of parts of Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts — all these atrocities went virtually unpunished.
Impunity opened the way for Putin to new crimes and called into question the entire post-war world order. If this dictator continues to not be beaten back, it will be a signal to other aggressive regimes that they can get away with violating the international legal order. This is a direct path to chaos and new wars.
However, there is hope that the world is finally ready to put an end to Putin’s impunity. Yes, it has already allowed this war, but, seeing the courage of the Ukrainian army and people, it has united in support of Ukraine. This unprecedented unity is a chance to renew and clean up the system of international institutions. It could be the last chance.
This renewal has already started. Recently, the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs initiated the process of expelling Russia from the UN Security Council and the organization as a whole. After all, the Russian Federation did not go through the legitimate procedure of acquiring membership in the organization, effectively usurping the place of the Soviet Union in 1991. In the UN charter, there is no such state as the "Russian Federation" among the permanent members of the Security Council.
Russia has been excluded from the UN Human Rights Council, PACE, and a number of other international organizations. Ukraine and five European countries, as well as the European Parliament, PACE, and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly have recognized the Russian Federation as a terrorist regime or a state sponsor of terrorism.
The world has already taken many important steps towards restoring peace. However, true lasting peace is impossible without the restoration of justice. We must not only stop and isolate, but also punish the aggressor. Every person involved in the initiation, conduct, or support of this war, in accordance with the principles laid down in Nuremberg. After all, "crimes against international law are committed by men, not by abstract entities, and only by punishing individuals who commit such crimes can the provisions of international law be enforced."
The creation of a Special International Tribunal for the Crime of Aggression will allow this to be done. Alongside the ICC and national courts, it will be the final element of a system of full and comprehensive responsibility.
People need to see not only resolutions condemning the aggressor state or the regime, but verdicts against the specific individuals who planned and started this war. Who caused the death of thousands of civilians and tens of thousands of other war crimes. Who ultimately put the future of humanity at risk.
These verdicts should be a clear signal to all tyrants and criminals: no position or fortune will help you avoid responsibility, and the countries of the civilized world will defend peace, the principles of the rule of law, and the inviolability of human rights almost as resolutely as Ukrainians defend their land today.
I am convinced that justice for Ukraine is justice and security for the whole world. The only way to restore peace and "save future generations from the misery of war."