Today President Zelensky has accused Russia of war crimes, and

the International Criminal Court (ICC) - which examines war crimes - is looking to open an investigation.

What would happen if President Putin, or Russia, was found guilty? What would the consequences be?

Given that NATO and some western countries have already explicitly ruled out direct conflict with Russia, who would bring the perpetrators to justice?

  • It would be nice if any answer can mention the impact, if any, of Russia's UN Security Council veto power on how this can play out. Mar 1, 2022 at 19:17
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica, depends on what the 'endgame' in this is, and frankly I can't see any good ones right now. Russia might 'barter' immunity from prosecution in a return to the status quo ante, or they could become a North Korea writ large, or they could have a revolution. or they could start WWIII.
    – o.m.
    Mar 1, 2022 at 19:36
  • 9
    I believe only natural persons can be tried for war crimes.
    – Obie 2.0
    Mar 1, 2022 at 19:36
  • The UN? But the perpetrator would have to be in a jail cell already, otherwise, what? Interpol? This is an answerable history question. Present day, not so much.
    – Mazura
    Mar 1, 2022 at 19:46
  • 1
    Which isn't going to happen and that's why there's a meme floating around that says, Can't we just skip to the part where you kill yourself in a bunker?
    – Mazura
    Mar 1, 2022 at 20:25

1 Answer 1


People are convicted of war crimes, in proceedings conducted after they are arrested, often by the International Criminal Court, which is currently investigating the situation in Ukraine. Like any other crime, following a trial and conviction, there would be a sentence which would include a long period of incarceration, and there might be other penalties.

People aren't convicted of war crimes in absentia. Instead, they are arrested and then tried and a sentence imposed. War crimes tribunals, either ad hoc, or pre-existing, issue arrest warrants which states that support them enforce if they can.

Individuals can also be sued or have economic sanctions imposed upon them and be punished to some extent that way (a lawsuit requires proper service of process upon a defendant by a court with jurisdiction over that person, but not participation of the defendant in the trial). Governments can and sometimes do also order the killing of an individual war criminal as part of military action that it has authorized.

This said, most high level war criminals are never punished because they die of old age before any body with the power to punish them ever manages to do so, and sitting heads of state have nearly absolute immunity from many kinds of lawsuits relating to their official acts that many jurisdiction's courts would observe.

Countries generally are not convicted of war crimes, although they may be required to pay reparations, particularly, if they lose the war, which are usually part of a surrender treaty or the functional equivalent that is imposed on the loser without its consent.

  • 1
    Being sentenced to incarceration and being incarcerated are very different things. Mar 2, 2022 at 19:14
  • 1
    Russia has declared it doesn't have responsibilities to the ICC. Similarly, the US never ratified the ICC (Rome) treaties. So it is unclear that an ICC conviction would have any enforceable effect. See bbc.com/news/…. Mar 4, 2022 at 3:49
  • @Acccumulation The ICC does not try and sentence people in absentia. Neither has any other war crimes tribunal of which I am aware historically. Trials began only when the defendant is in the custody of the tribunal or an affiliate of the tribunal acting at its direction.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 4, 2022 at 20:27
  • The question asks "Given that NATO and some western countries have already explicitly ruled out direct conflict with Russia, who would bring the perpetrators to justice?" I think that suggests that an answer that presumes Putin is already in custody doesn't really address the question. Mar 4, 2022 at 20:34
  • @Acccumulation I didn't notice that nuance of the question and expanded my answer accordingly. I was focused on the title question.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 4, 2022 at 20:40

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .