Russian President Vladimir Putin should be held accountable for the Ukraine war: This has been demanded by the heads of state in Kyiv and politicians in Europe and the USA since the start of the Russian war of aggression on February 24, 2022. However, prosecuting Russian officials is extremely complicated. Putin and those closest to him therefore need not fear any consequences for the time being.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy never tires of calling for “just punishment” for Russia. He accuses the country of numerous war crimes under President Putin, including massacres of civilians like in Bucha or Irpin near Kyiv.

In addition to the USA, the EU is also campaigning for legal punishment for Russian crimes. “Russia and all perpetrators and accomplices will be held accountable,” says the draft of a summit declaration that the EU heads of state and government plan to adopt in Brussels next week and that is available to the AFP news agency.

International investigators have been investigating war crimes in Ukraine for months. So far, almost 65,000 incidents have been reported, EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders reported recently at a justice ministers’ meeting in Stockholm. He called this the “highest number of war crimes ever documented”. It is explained, among other things, by mobile phone recordings that are leaked to the investigators.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague is responsible for war crimes. He has also been investigating crimes against humanity and genocide since 2002. Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan is investigating the case of Ukraine and is being supported by Germany and 13 other EU countries. However, he could not impeach Putin and other Russian leaders while they are in office. Because they enjoy immunity as long as Russia does not recognize the Hague Court. So far, Ukraine has not done this either.

Ukraine and its allies also want to hold Russia accountable for the crime of “aggression”. This involves the planning, preparation and execution of the attack on Ukraine, such as the invasion, bombing and blockade of ports. Although the Hague Criminal Court has theoretically been able to act here since 2018, Russia has not ratified the addition to the Rome Statute, which is the legal basis for the court.

Ukraine is therefore demanding a special tribunal for Russia’s “aggression”. Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) supports this and proposed a tribunal based on Ukrainian law in mid-January. For reasons of immunity, however, Putin could not be prosecuted for the time being either. Many countries therefore prefer an international special court. This would either require a resolution by the UN Security Council, where Russia has veto power. Or a two-thirds majority in the UN General Assembly. In Berlin there are doubts that this can be achieved.

As long as there is no agreement on the tribunal, a kind of special investigators office is supposed to collect evidence. This “international center for the prosecution of the crime of aggression in Ukraine” is to be set up in The Hague, as announced by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday during a visit to Kyiv.

Von der Leyen considers a trial against Putin to be “possible”. However, Russia fundamentally regards a Ukraine tribunal as illegitimate and does not want to extradite any citizens. “As long as there is no regime change in Russia, Putin and other high-ranking officials would have to leave Russia to be arrested,” emphasizes constitutional lawyer Cecily Rose of Leiden University in the Netherlands.