Putin the war criminal: It’s time to investigate his brutality

By Chris Smith and Tony Perkins

Chris Smith represents the 4th Congressional District of New Jersey. Tony Perkins is President of Family Research Council.

This article appeared in The Washington Times on March 31, 2022.

The sign is written in Russian. It contains one word: “Children.”

It was painted on both of the parking lots surrounding a theater in Mariupol, Ukraine, to safeguard the hundreds of people, including scores of children, sheltering inside it. But it didn’t stop Russian planes from bombing the theater, trapping those seeking safety under tons of bricks and cement.

Another target, a Mariupol municipal swimming pool complex, was also attacked. “Now there are pregnant women and women with children under the rubble there,” according to Ukrainian official Pavlo Kyrylenko.

In total, Mariupol has suffered more than 2,500 civilian casualties, reports Oleksiy Arestovych, an aide to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. And that’s just one of the many cities under Russian assault.

Russia is not waging war. Its President Vladimir Putin is terrorizing and murdering innocent civilians.

Of course, the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, in simplest terms, is the aggression of a stronger power against a weaker one. It is both militarily and morally unjustified — Ukraine poses no threat to Russia — and the greatest breach of peace in Europe since the end of World War II.

In any armed conflict, there are tragic but unintended, collateral losses of civilian life. Yet Russia’s conduct of its onslaught involves not just the attacking of Ukrainian armed forces, but the deliberate targeting of civilians, of the elderly, of women and children. In fact, Russian forces have targeted residential buildings, hospitals, schools and electricity grids, as well as humanitarian workers and ambulances — including with heavy artillery, missiles or cluster munitions.

Now, it’s been reported that Russia has even used “vacuum bombs,” which detonate a vaporized cloud of fuel that enters tiny spaces both above and beneath the ground. This is followed by a second charge that sucks the oxygen out of the surrounding air. It is death by suffocation.

We believe immediate and comprehensive action must be taken to hold Mr. Putin, his senior leadership and Russian military leaders accountable for their unprovoked, violent and vicious actions against the people of Ukraine.

That’s why one of us (Smith) chaired the first hearing in the House of Representatives to hold Russia to account for its barbaric invasion of Ukraine and introduced a resolution that calls on the president to “direct the U.S. representative to the United Nations … to immediately promote the establishment of an appropriate regional or international justice mechanism to investigate and prosecute possible international crimes” committed by Russia against Ukraine.

Given Russia’s permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council, it’s unlikely that the council could create this kind of tribunal. But the U.N. General Assembly could do so almost immediately. So, the resolution calls for the U.N. to initiate a regional or global justice panel to investigate and prosecute Mr. Putin and those responsible within the Russian Federation for war crimes and the potential crime of aggression.

It’s also clear that Mr. Putin has a bizarre religious motive for his attack on Ukraine. He believes Ukraine is part of Russia, that its historic conversion to Christian faith enabled that faith to extend into what is today’s Russia and that Kyiv is “sacred Russian land,” according to historian Georg Michels.

One of us (Perkins) is a commissioner and former chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Religious persecution is a cancer in today’s world. And Mr. Putin’s attempt to destroy a religiously free and diverse Ukraine is in keeping with the religious persecution in today’s Russia.

As USCIRF’s 2021 report on global faith-based persecution documents, Mr. Putin’s government continues “to target ‘nontraditional’ religious minorities with fines, detentions, and criminal charges. Russian legislation criminalizes ‘extremism’ without adequately defining the term, enabling the state to prosecute a vast range of nonviolent religious activity.” This even includes “crimes” of “blasphemy,” with only the Islamist governments of Pakistan and Iran ahead of Russia in this category.

Mr. Putin’s enraged paranoia imposes an ongoing danger to citizens of Russia as well as the rest of the world. He recently referred to Russians who oppose his war as “scum and traitors” and said that “true Russian patriots” would “spit them out like a midge that accidentally flew into their mouths.”

Exposure of the injury is the first step in any successful surgery.

Mr. Putin and his cronies need to be exposed to the world in clear and undeniable terms. While the horror of the Ukrainian invasion is obvious, Mr. Putin’s direct role in it needs to be brought to the brightest light. While he will never admit to wrongdoing, the rest of the world will know he, like tyrants of the 20th century, is a wrongdoer of the evilest kind.

The international community must recognize Mr. Putin for the cruel despot he is. This would make his replacement by a sounder, saner person at the helm of Russia’s government more likely. It’s long past time for this to happen, and a war crimes panel is a vital step toward making it a reality.

Putin the war criminal: It’s time to investigate his brutality (frc.org)