27 February 2022
by Aleksandr Podrabinek
The Russian Security Council meeting held this past Monday made a strong impression on everyone. Above all by the intellectual mediocrity of those who spoke, their inability to set forth their thoughts distinctly and literately, and their obvious fear of their boss. All this has been written about many times, but I don’t think this is the main thing.
The main thing is understanding why this gathering of cronies had to be made public. Many have expressed the idea that Putin is trying to make everyone complicit in the decisions he is taking. Formally, for the recognition of the independence of the separatist territories; actually, for the war with Ukraine that followed it. And this is true, of course. Nonetheless, the question remains: why should he smear responsibility in an even layer over his entire Politburo? What is he afraid of?
He’s not ludicrous, he’s dangerous
Those who think Putin is a senile old man or a madman who has forgotten to take his medication are seriously mistaken. He is in his right mind, there is nothing wrong with his memory, and his viciousness knows no bounds. He’s not ludicrous, he’s dangerous. And I think he is perfectly well aware of the consequences of his decision to start an open war with Ukraine.
This decision differs qualitatively from everything he’s done before. Naturally, much of what he did before falls under the Criminal Code: falsification of elections, illegal seizure of power, restriction of civil freedoms, abuse of power, and much else. But without a doubt, Russia’s armed attack on Ukraine qualifies as aggression and is considered an international crime against peace and the security of humanity. An entirely different level of criminality.
This type of crime now falls within the competence of the International Criminal Court (ICC), but what is even more important is that it is provided for by the Charter of the International War Tribunal created in 1945 by the countries of the anti-Hitler coalition. The tribunal’s jurisdiction extended to crimes against peace, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.
Planning, preparing, unleashing, and waging a war of aggression
I say this because Russia’s exit from the ICC does not guarantee the criminal’s impunity. The Nazis did not give their consent to the creation of the Nuremberg tribunal either, but that did not help them, and some of them were hanged. Along with other accusations, they were accused of planning, preparing, unleashing, and waging a war of aggression. Later, this provision entered into many documents of international law, and it can even be found in Russian legislation: Article 353 of the Russian Criminal Code (punishable by up to 20 years’ incarceration).
Understandably, Russia today can block any UN Security Council initiative to create a special tribunal on the war of aggression against Ukraine. Understandably, the International Criminal Court cannot touch Putin right now. But also understandably, the time has come to collect evidence for the future accusation of guilt. Crimes against peace, just like genocide and war crimes, have no statute of limitations. Those who are counting on international justice’s short memory need to be reminded of this.
I don’t think Putin has forgotten this. That is why he staged this unusual show, so as not to take possible responsibility on himself alone in the future. I fully allow that he did not in fact discuss scenarios for the 21 February meeting with any Security Council members in advance. It looks more convincing that way. Here they are, 26 people speaking out in favour of invading Ukraine, some forcefully, some stammering. And Putin is merely the executor of the collective will.
He’s built himself a safety net. But that net is unlikely to hold up in The Hague.
Translated by Marian Schwartz