Putin’s Historic Miscalculation May Make Him a War Criminal
The West condemns Russia’s aggression as 'barbaric' and 'horrific'
In the eyes of the world and almost certainly history, Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine on Thursday was an epic miscalculation, drawing comparisons to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein for cold-blooded aggression that could challenge the world order and change its borders. The Russian leader appeared almost delusional in a pre-dawn speech from the Kremlin announcing a “special military operation” to “protect” Donbas, the eastern region where Russian-backed separatists have waged a war for eight years. Putin, instead, immediately ordered Russian tanks into Ukraine and air strikes on the capital and more than a dozen cities in a country of forty million people. “Peace on our continent has been shattered,” the natosecretary-general Jens Stoltenberg told reporters. “We now have war in Europe on a scale and of a type we thought belonged to history.” Putin’s “reckless” attack risks “countless innocent lives,” Stoltenberg warned.
Putin is now, at minimum, a pariah condemned by leaders across the world. “Putin is the aggressor. Putin chose this war,” President Biden said in a speech to the nation announcing new sanctions on Russian financial institutions and élites. He charged that Putin “has much larger ambitions than Ukraine.” “He wants to, in fact, reëstablish the former Soviet Union,” Biden said. “His ambitions are completely contrary to the place where the rest of the world has arrived.” In one of a flurry of statements reflecting outrage globally, the European Commission chief, Ursula von der Leyen, called Russia’s act “barbaric” and dismissed its justifications as “cynical.” In a tweet, the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, said he was appalled by Putin’s “horrific” decision to pursue “a path of bloodshed and destruction.” Putin’s military offensive put him on the diplomatic defensive. The French President, Emmanuel Macron, called the attack “a turning point” in history that will have a profound and lasting impact across the continent.
Putin may now also qualify as a war criminal, according to the Geneva Conventions of 1949. War crimes include willful killing and extensive destruction of property “not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.” The term has been inconsistently interpreted and unevenly applied to leaders or countries—including to the U.S. and its officials—who have initiated aggression for reasons considered unjustified. In Ukraine, Putin’s “war of choice” has clearly violated international law through his invasion of a sovereign country and attempt to oust its government. After an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting, on Wednesday, the Secretary-General, António Guterres, warned that the Russian invasion could be the “worst war” of the century “with consequences not only devastating for Ukraine, not only tragic for the Russian Federation” but for the entire world.
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