When Russian tanks rolled across the border into Ukraine during the early morning of February 24, 2022, most in the American defense and diplomatic establishment were shocked and sure the war would be over in a few days. Credible open-source tactical and strategic analysis predicted that Ukraine’s regular military forces would be defeated in “days or weeks” as long as Russian military forces were determined to pursue their objectives. The United States Government was so sure that Kyiv was under imminent threat of capture that they offered to evacuate President Volodymyr Zelenskyy so that he could rule from exile, rather than being captured by the Russians. Zelenskyy reportedly declined the offer with a sharp quip that quickly became famous and an apt metaphor for the war to come; “The fight is here; I need ammunition, not a ride.” Now, over a year later, we know how wrong many of us were about what course the war would take and its possibilities for resolution. Russia’s armed forces have suffered immense losses, potentially topping between 189,500–223,000 total casualties (between 35,500–43,000 dead, and 154,000– 180,000 wounded), over 17,114 vehicles, over 2,849 artillery pieces, over 600 military aircraft, and a Slava-Class Cruiser, RTS MOSKVA (121), Russia’s Black Sea Fleet flagship (cruisers are the largest, best armed, ships serving in modern navies). The Russian military is not the fearsome fighting machine most military analysts in the West thought it was. But unfortunately, even if most of us were wrong about how capable the Russians were, the character and disdainful manner in which the Russian military carries out the war bears many of the hallmarks of the shameless brutality of the Soviet Army. Today, we face very different questions than were asked in the early morning hours on February 24; how long will it take for the war to end? And how will the world hold Russia accountable for its military’s countless war crimes?
This discussion will consist of three parts. First, it will examine what constitutes a war crime under international law and the jurisdictional requirements. Second, it will examine the evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine. And finally, it provides a recommendation for the appropriate venue to try Russian war crimes on the international stage. Trying the many systemic crimes committed by the Russian military will require immense international political support from every corner of the world, not just from the West alone. Failure to hold Russia accountable for what has happened in Ukraine will further cripple the rules-based international order that has endured since the end of World War II. That rules-based order was developed after World War II and put in place to prevent the types of atrocities we see unfolding in Ukraine in the twenty-first century. It was the collective trauma of two world wars that led the powerful nations of the world to act to preserve our future. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine represents the single greatest threat to that system of safeguards.
"Into the Valley of the Shadow of Death: War Crimes Committed in Service of Russia's Crusade to Destroy Ukraine,"
American University National Security Law Brief,
Available at: https://digitalcommons.wcl.american.edu/nslb/vol13/iss2/3