Peace in Ukraine Could Be Complicated by Putin’s War Crimes Warrant

Peace talks to settle the conflict in Ukraine are complicated by the fact that President Vladimir Putin is wanted on an international arrest warrant. The dilemma at the core of the International Criminal Court’s decision to seek the Russian leader’s arrest on March 17 is the seemingly impossible distance between the pursuit of justice and the pursuit of peace.

Russia’s Vladimir Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights have been indicted for war crimes by a tribunal at The Hague, notably the illegal deportation and transfer of children from Ukrainian territory under Russian occupation.

Notwithstanding how unlikely that may seem now, former world leaders have faced punishment in international courts like the one in The Hague. After losing power in Serbia, former strongman Slobodan Milosevic was tried for war crimes, including genocide, in a United Nations tribunal at The Hague.

War-crimes Warrant for Putin

Before a verdict could be made, he passed away in jail in 2006. Serbia is one of the countries to oppose the ICC’s action because it aspires to join the EU but still has strong relations to Russia. Serbia’s populist president, Aleksandar Vucic, has claimed that the warrants will “have severe political effects” and cause “a great reluctance to talk about peace (and) about truce”in Ukraine.

Others believe that the fundamental goal of international action should be to ensure that Putin and anybody else found guilty of war crimes faces serious penalties. On the anniversary of the liberation of Bucha, Ukraine, a town that witnessed some of the worst atrocities of the conflict, European Union head Ursula von der Leyen remarked, “There will be no escape for the perpetrator and his henchmen,” 

The government chief of staff, Gergely Gulyas, stated that if Putin were to enter Hungary, he would not be arrested because Hungary did not sign a resolution in support of the ICC warrant for Putin, which was signed by the other 26 EU states.

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He called the warrants “not the most fortunate because they lead toward escalation and not toward peace.” Some observers believe Putin’s firm grasp on power and the outstanding warrant against him might be used as motivation to drag out the conflict.

Assistant professor of political science at Northwestern University Daniel Krcmaric told “The arrest warrant for Putin might undermine efforts to reach a peace deal in Ukraine,”  The International Criminal Court’s investigation into events in Ukraine could be put on hold for a year per Article 16 of the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC.

This could pave the door for peace talks to take place. That, however, seems improbable, according to Krcmaric, whose book “The Justice Dilemma” explores the contradiction that arises when people want justice but also want to find peaceful resolutions to their disputes.

He continued, Ukraine is also unlikely to approve such a move, “The Western democracies would have to worry about public opinion costs if they made the morally questionable decision to trade justice for peace in such an explicit fashion,” 

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow doesn’t recognize the ICC and considers its decisions “legally void,” and Dmitry Medvedev, deputy head of Russia’s Security Council, which is chaired by Putin, suggested the ICC headquarters on the Dutch coastline could become a target for a Russian missile strike.

The arrest warrant for Putin amounts to “an invitation to the Russian elite to forsake Putin,” as noted in a commentary by Carnegie Endowment analyst Alexander Baunov. This could cause the support for Putin to decrease.

Although human rights organizations applauded the arrest warrants issued for Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, they urged the international community to continue seeking justice in all conflicts.

“The ICC warrant for Putin reflects an evolving and multifaceted justice effort that is needed elsewhere in the world,” Human Rights Watch associate international justice director Balkees Jarrah said in a statement. “Similar justice initiatives are needed elsewhere to ensure that the rights of victims globally — whether in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Myanmar, or Palestine — are respected.”

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