March 24,2022

Foreign Policy

As Russian forces escalate their assault on Ukraine,the prospect that their commander in chief, Vladimir Putin will ever stand trial for the crimes he committed may seem far-fetched. But for some international legal scholars it is all but certain that Putin will one day be indicted for war crimes or crimes against humanity in Ukraine,charges that would turn him into an international pariah,if not a prisoner.

Bloomberg March 16,2022

The ICC has launched investigations into the conflict,looking for alleged war crimes.

What are war crimes?

The definition used by the International Criminal Court in the Hague is extensive. It includes willful killing, torture, rape, forced prostitution, corporal punishment, hostage-taking, unlawful deportation, using starvation as a weapon, and shooting combatants who’ve surrendered, among many other acts. War crimes can also include:

Using banned weapons such as chemical and biological arms, deliberately attacking civilians and non-military targets, targeting hospitals and other places where the sick and wounded are gathered, looting and carrying out attacks that will cause severe damage to the environment.

Essentially, it’s an attack by one country on another where there’s no justification of self-defense, according to former ICC President Chile Eboe-Osuji. The court defines it as the planning, preparation, and execution by a state military or political leader “of an act of aggression which, by its character, gravity, and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations.” An act of aggression means “the use of armed force by a state against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State” and can include invasion, occupation, and annexation by the use of force, as well as the blockade of ports.

CNN March 17,2022

Biden on Putin: 'I think he is a war criminal'

President Joe Biden called Russian President Vladimir Putin a "war criminal" Wednesday, a rhetorical leap that came as civilian deaths mount in Ukraine.

It was the harshest condemnation of Putin's actions from any US official since the war in Ukraine began three weeks ago. Previously, Biden had stopped short of labeling atrocities being documented on the ground in Ukraine as "war crimes," citing ongoing international and US investigations.

"We saw reports that Russian forces were holding hundreds of doctors and patients hostage in the largest hospital in Mariupol," Biden said. "These are atrocities. They're an outrage to the world. And the world is united in our support for Ukraine and our determination to make Putin pay a very heavy price." It wasn't until a few hours after that that Biden responded to a question about Putin being a war criminal. Biden initially said "no," but immediately returned to a group of reporters to clarify what had been asked. When asked again whether Putin was a war criminal, he answered in the affirmative.

On Thursday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Biden's remarks were "absolutely unacceptable and inexcusable."

While the term "war crimes" is often used colloquially -- as Biden appeared to be doing Wednesday -- they do have a legal definition that could be used in potential prosecution. That includes in the Geneva Convention, which specifies intentional targeting of civilians as a war crime.

Yet in order to prosecute a war crime, solid evidence is required. And for Russian officials to be held accountable, they would need to travel outside of the country. Still, an official designation of war crimes -- backed up with evidence -- would still present the West with a symbolic tool in framing Putin's actions in Ukraine.

  • 2
    Are you asking about user's opinions? If so, that's not really how this site works. Please consider this page in the help center on what questions are in scope.
    – JJJ
    Mar 28, 2022 at 16:38
  • @JJJ not at all. I can edit it to make it seem less opinionated. Mar 28, 2022 at 16:39
  • 2
    Okay, rephrasing it to can might work. You might need to be more specific in your question body though. Right now you only quote news articles. Are you asking what it would take for him to be prosecuted?
    – JJJ
    Mar 28, 2022 at 16:39
  • 1
    "tried" or "indicted"? Not the same. Mar 28, 2022 at 20:55
  • @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica by that I meant that he'd face trial. But I'll change the title regardless. Mar 28, 2022 at 21:05

1 Answer 1


First, Putin would probably need to cease being president, then you'd need to catch him.

This have been done to Pinochet, so yes, it's possible in principle.

Failure to catching him will lead to absurd trial, whereas trying this while Putin is still president might be perceived as "regime change" and perhaps even trigger nuclear war.

From Wikipedia's Indictment and arrest of Augusto Pinochet; Arrest in London:

Despite his release on grounds of ill health, the unprecedented detention of Pinochet in a foreign country for crimes against humanity committed in his own country, without a warrant or request for extradition from his own country, marked a watershed in international law. Some scholars consider it one of the most important events in legal history since the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals. Judge Garzón's case was largely founded on the principle of universal jurisdiction – that certain crimes are so egregious that they constitute crimes against humanity and can therefore be prosecuted in any court in the world. The British House of Lords ruled that Pinochet had no right to immunity from prosecution as a former head of state, and could be put on trial. In Spain, the Court of Appeal of the Audiencia Nacional affirmed Spanish jurisdiction over Argentine and Chilean cases, declaring that domestic amnesty laws (in the case of Chile, the 1978 amnesty law passed by Pinochet's regime) could not bind the Spanish courts. Both for matters concerning the "Dirty War" in Argentina and for Chile, they characterized the crimes as genocides. However, both the Spanish and British rulings relied not on international law, but on domestic legislation: "They talked about universal jurisdiction, but grounded their decision in domestic statutory law.

  • I like your answer and I've made some edits. Please feel free to roll-back or edit further.
    – uhoh
    Mar 31, 2022 at 1:24
  • It will not "might be" perceived as a regime change. Trying to hold a leader of another country hostage is the fastest way to escalate full scale war - regimes are still personalist
    – alamar
    Mar 31, 2022 at 7:30
  • if it's a certainty that means one should be able to cite examples of it happening.
    – uhoh
    Mar 31, 2022 at 11:37

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