As was recently made clear again at the Munich Security Conference, the West is currently investing a great deal of energy in setting up mechanisms with which the massive Russian war crimes in Ukraine can be legally prosecuted. This is now worrying some Realpolitikern.
"I don't understand why the US put so much emphasis on prosecuting Russian war crimes at the Munich Security Conference," tweeted Richard Haass, head of the Council on Foreign Relations, after the conference. "I would have thought the focus would be on persuading Russia to end the war." The call for justice should not be given priority over peace.
That the prosecution of war crimes could make peace more difficult is a well-known argument that has also been put forward in previous conflicts. However, no one seriously believes that a potential peace deal, which is a long way off, would ultimately collapse because Ukraine insists on extradition of war criminals. On the other hand, it is more likely that the life of the perpetrators will become more uncomfortable because international arrest warrants will be issued against them and they may be convicted in absentia. This would mean that they could no longer leave Russia without risking ending up in a cell in The Hague.
In fact, there are also realpolitik arguments that speak in favor of persecution. One of them is historical-political. One of the reasons why neo-imperialism is so en vogue in Russia again is that Russian society has not really come to terms with the past – for example with regard to the horrific crimes committed by the Soviet Union in subjugating the peoples of Eastern Europe.
Shortly before the war, Russian President Vladimir Putin had the human rights organization Memorial, the last authority in the investigation, which had been harassed by the Kremlin for years, closed down. However, many experts, especially in Eastern Europe, are rightly of the opinion that Europe will never be safe unless there is a radical decolonization of thought in Russia. War crimes tribunals could do what the Nuremberg trials did for Germany: confront society with the incredible crimes committed in its name.
Around 1000 Ukrainian fighters are said to be still in the center of Bachmut, explains WELT military expert Guido Schmidtke. Should the Ukrainian troops withdraw, they would probably take the next line of defense west of the city.
Another important argument is that of deterrence. There is now a broad consensus that the mild reactions of the West and the international community to past Russian aggressions and war crimes in Chechnya, Georgia, Ukraine since 2014 and Syria are partly responsible for Putin's belief that the current raid on to get away from Ukraine. Among the elites in the military and in the Kremlin, this has also strengthened the impression that they are untouchable and can wage wars without fear of possible consequences with the most serious war crimes.
Anyone who wants to prevent further Russian aggression and also prevent Russia's brutal warfare from becoming the new norm must react differently this time to the blatant breach of civilization than in Moscow's previous wars. This also includes holding the perpetrators accountable.