Ukraine calls for international tribunal to bring Putin to justice more quickly

Trying top Russians for act of aggression could bring indictments ‘within three months’, says official

Damage in Kharkiv on Thursday, after Russian attacks that killed three people and injured 23, according to prosecutors. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Ukraine has said it wants to establish a one-off international tribunal to try Russia’s top regime members for the act of aggression, which could see it issuing an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin.

Andriy Smyrnov, Ukraine’s deputy head of the presidential administration, said that Ukraine believed trying Russia separately for the act of aggression, with international participation, would speed up its quest to hold the Russian president and his inner circle accountable.

The act of aggression – accepted by UN members as an international crime – cannot be tried by the international criminal court due to lack of jurisdiction, but is considered the gravest international crime because of its subsequent consequences. On Thursday, three people were killed and 23 injured by two Russian attacks in the eastern Ukrainian city of Kharkiv, according to the Kharkiv regional prosecutor’s office.

Smyrnov said the act of aggression, for which Ukraine would initiate additional proceedings, was easy to prove, whereas the type of cases that the ICC could try in relation to Ukraine – war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity – would take years.

“The fact that [Russia] invaded Ukraine with their army is a fact accepted by our international partners,” said Smyrnov. “We hope to have the indictment within three months.”

Smirnov said a judgment made by an international tribunal would still go some way towards justice for Ukraine even without the accused in custody.

“Already to have an indictment and to have an arrest warrant for Putin, for [Russia’s defence minister Sergei] Shoigu … will be a big step forward in getting justice,” said Anton Korynevych, ambassador-at-large for Ukraine, who is leading talks with international partners on the matter. “They will be claimed and labelled as potential criminals by an international and legitimate tribunal.”

“Then, whenever they [travel] to a state which recognises the tribunal, problems for them might arise,” said Korynevych.

“Of course, we would be more than happy to see Shoigu in custody, and not only him but all the other guys who made the decision back then, not only in 2022, but in 2014 also,” said Korynevych, who added that in their view, sentencing at the ad hoc tribunal would follow ICC norms.

Korynevych, who named The Hague as the potential host city for the tribunal, said he wanted as many international partners to participate as possible in order to legitimise any decision and widen the potential for accountability. “The idea is for it to be open and as international as possible,” he said.

Korynevych said several of Ukraine’s international partners had agreed to establish the tribunal. He said, however, that it was too early and too sensitive to name the countries that had agreed.

“Yes, Ukrainians will be involved, it will be necessary to have a Ukrainian prosecutor, but we hope the judges will be international,” said Korynevych.

Anya Neistat, legal director of the Docket initiative at the Clooney Foundation for Justice, speaking to the Guardian in May, stressed the importance of Ukraine following procedures meticulously so as to avoid the perception of victor’s justice.

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