Is it possible to bring Russian President Vladimir Putin to trial in The Hague and will Ukraine be able to obtain Russia's frozen assets as reparations?
Dr. Rowan Nicholson, an Australian lawyer and lecturer at Flinders University, wrote a column for SPEKA about what international law is actually capable of in response to the Russian invasion and its war crimes.
Although "See you in The Hague" is the second most popular wish from Ukrainians to Putin and the Russian military, the bloody dictator and his entourage must still get there not only physically, but also legally. How to achieve this?
Trial of war criminals
Nicholson recalled that the UN Charter prohibits the use of force, except in self-defense, and this is precisely what Russia tried to justify its attack on Ukraine with.
At the same time, the Australian stresses that the statement about the independence of ORDLO is nonsense, and the invasion is frankly illegal.
In particular, international law determines that individuals can be found guilty of war crimes, and here we turn to the capabilities of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague that has limited instruments earlier wrote about.
As Nicholson explains, there is a set of rules that determines its capabilities in accordance with agreements with other states.
Since Ukraine recognized the jurisdiction of The Hague in 2014, the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, Karim Ahmad Khan, can now investigate the crimes of the Russian military.
This is where evidence collected by Ukrainians and foreign experts comes in handy.
Why is Putin still unattainable
It is more difficult to bring Vladimir Putin personally to court, unless the invader state itself or the UN Security Council agrees to this, the lawyer writes.
"As long as Putin remains in power, neither Russia nor the UN Security Council, in which Russia has the veto power, will agree to this. This means that the Court will not even be able to launch an investigation against Putin on such a charge," Nicholson explains.
He recalls that international lawyers have already proposed establishing a separate tribunal, which would become an analogue of Nuremberg, for the bloodthirsty leader of the Kremlin.
And here arises problem No. 2: how to physically bring Putin to the court. At the same time, Nicholson notes that this is where international law has its "long arms": some individuals were convicted decades after they had committed crimes.
Reparations for Ukraine: What the chances are
Ukraine has filed a lawsuit with the International Court of Justice and is claiming compensation for the damage caused by the war.
Although such cases have been pending for years, in March 2022 the court already showed sympathy for Kyiv, ordering the Russian Federation to stop hostilities, the Australian expert notes.
Getting reparations, even through frozen assets, is usually very difficult, but Ukraine has a chance, and the International Court of Justice can improve it.
"One should not expect that international law will be able to stop Russia. But under the right conditions, international courts can still benefit Ukraine," Nicholson concludes.
Fate of international law
Such gross violations of international regulations as Russia's invasion of Ukraine in violation of all the rules of warfare can lead to both positive and negative consequences.
For example, if trust in international law drops because of the weak instruments of the UN, the ICC, and other institutions, other authoritarian regimes may begin to emulate Russia in its annexationist ambitions.
"This explains why even those democracies that are geographically very far away (like my native Australia) perceive the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a threat to their values and interests," Nicholson stresses.
He says that, like Russia's plans to occupy eastern and southern Ukraine, Indonesia's illegal annexation of East Timor lasted a very long time, from 1975 to 1999.
But if international law nevertheless influences the outcome of the war, activates mechanisms for punishing Russia and creates new ones from which the Kremlin will no longer be protected, this will be a sign that no aggression will remain without consequences.