war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

ICC issues arrest warrants over Russia’s bombing of Ukraine’s civilian infrastructure as war crimes and a crime against humanity

Halya Coynash
The International Criminal Court’ has issued two more arrest warrants for the moment over Moscow’s almost unconcealed attempt to cause maximum suffering to Ukraine’s civilian population

Russia’s attack on Kyiv 10 October 2022 Photo Ukraine’s Emergency Services [DSNS]

Russia’s attack on Kyiv 10 October 2022 Photo Ukraine’s Emergency Services

The International Criminal Court at the Hague has issued arrest warrants against two Russian commanders over their role in Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian civilians and civilian infrastructure.  The decision is of enormous importance, not least because ICC clearly states that such attacks on civilian targets are a war crime, and that both individuals were in commanding positions. What is less comprehensible, and hopefully temporary, is why only two arrest warrants were issued, with neither of them against Russian leader Vladimir Putin or other top officials.  They admitted that such attacks on Ukraine’s critical energy infrastructure were deliberate, and “retaliatory”, and Putin’s secretary, Dmitry Peskov clearly stated that attacks on civilian targets would continue until Kyiv caved in to Russia’s demands.

According to the report on 5 March 2024, the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber has issued arrest warrants against Sergei Ivanovich Kobylash and Viktor Nikolayevich Sokolov over alleged crimes committed from at least 10 October 2022 until at least 9 March 2023.  Kobylash was Commander of the Long-Range Aviation of the Aerospace Force during this period, while Sokolov was Commander of the Black Sea Fleet.  The men face two charges of war crimes (directing attacks at civilian objects and causing excessive incidental damage to civilian objects).  They are also accused of a crime against humanity under Article 7 (1)(k) – namely inhumane acts targeting the civilian population and intentionally causing great suffering or injury. 

According to the Court, “there are reasonable grounds to believe that the two suspects bear responsibility for missile strikes carried out by the forces under their command against the Ukrainian electric infrastructure from at least 10 October 2022 until at least 9 March 2023.”   Many of the targets were civilian, and even where there might have been a military target in the area, the scale of civilian casualties and damage would have far outweighed any military advantage.  

The men have not been convicted, and the Court’s report therefore refers to almost everything as ‘alleged’.  In fact, Russia’s attacks on civilian targets, electric power plants, etc  and attempts to disrupt energy supplies in the winter of 2022/23 were essentially on international display, with Russia’s leaders not even trying to conceal this.

The attacks began two days after a huge explosion damaging part of Russia’s illegal Crimean bridge.  The latter was, undoubtedly, a legitimate target, as have been others which Ukraine hit, and which provoked Russian retaliation against civilians.  Although by no means the first attacks on civilian targets, this was the first time that Russia’s leaders admitted that they were targeting critical civilian infrastructure. In addressing Russia’s Council of the Federation (the upper house of parliament) Putin said that Russia’s mass attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure, military infrastructure and communications were “in response” to what he alone claimed to be Ukraine’s acts of terrorism.  In Kyiv on 10 October 2022 alone, Russia bombed a playground, the Taras Shevchenko National University, residential blocks and other civilian targets, killing 19 civilians.  These were the obvious and immediate casualties.  The real number of civilian victims was doubtless much higher as, by late on 11 October, Russian missiles were reported to have hit around 30% of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.  On 24 November 2022, Putin’s press secretary dropped all pretence, claiming that Ukraine’s leaders can “regulate the situation with strikes on Ukrainian energy infrastructure and stop the suffering of the people by acceding to Moscow’s demands.”

Putin and his so-called ‘children’s commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova, do, of course, have other ICC arrest warrants hanging over them, with regard to their part in Russia’s abduction of Ukrainian children.   Putin and Peskov, however, are making it very clear that Kobylash and Sokolov were issuing orders based on the decisions passed at higher level still.

It is unlikely that Kobylash and Sokolov are even allowed to travel abroad so the arrest warrants against them are, for the moment, warnings to others, but of little immediate impact.  ICC itself acknowledges that the aim of making such warrants public is because “public awareness of the warrants may contribute to the prevention of the further commission of crimes.”. 

All state parties to the Rome Statute are obliged to detain those against whom arrest warrants have been issued, with this, at least, seriously limiting Putin’s travels abroad.  While Ukraine is cooperating very closely with ICC over war crimes investigations, its legislators are continuing to drag their feet on ratifying the Rome Statute and bringing Ukraine’s legislation into line with international law.  Ten years after Russia’s invasion of Crimea and over two years since the full-scale invasion, this delay remains bafflingly difficult to understand.

 Share this