Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Evidence of Putin and Russian war crimes in Ukraine is detailed by a Syracuse University humanitarian watchdog group

How much do Russian war tactics amount to war crimes? A new report from the Global Accountability Project answers the question with a resounding 'yes', after extensive research and documentation
How much do Russian war tactics amount to war crimes? A new report from the Global Accountability Project answers the question with a resounding 'yes', after extensive research and documentation

You’ve probably heard charges against Vladimir Putin that he’s committing War Crimes in the invasion of Ukraine. Now, a Syracuse University watchdog group says there’s evidence to prove it. Here’s how the Global Accountability Project is building the case.

Painstaking research collected by the S-U Law School based group is documenting the actions by Putin and his military that could be evidence in and war crimes trial. The project was started by Law School Scholar and former war crimes prosecutor in Sierra Leone David Crane. He explains there are specific types of actions they look for … and have found … to distinguish between what’s war … and what’s a war crime.

Clearly, it was aggression. Clearly, war crimes are being committed because they are intentionally attacking civilians, which is in and of itself a violation. And of course, it's a widespread and systematic attack against civilians. So, it's a crime against humanity. So, he's committing three of the four international crimes. Of course, the fourth one being the crime of genocide, which is not happening yet."

What has happened is continued violations of terms of war laid out int eh Geneva convention and other agreements – of which Russia is a signatory. One of the key tenets is that military forces must know what they’re targeting.

“You have to have a militarily-necessary reason to target (a) particular object. And secondly, you can never, ever intentionally target civilians. Now, all nations are required to train their armed forces in these principles. … Russia and then before that, the Soviet Union never trained their armed forces, even though they're a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, … in making sure that they protect people on the battlefield, wounded and sick, prisoners of war, as well as civilians. And you can see the outcome of that by these barbaric acts.”

The Global Accountability Project is a network of researchers at over a dozen universities. They’ve looked into – and built criminal dossiers against what Crane calls ‘henchmen’ in Syria, Yemen, Venezuela, and the Uighurs in China. Third year S-U Law Student Chris Martz actually suggested the group investigate Ukraine the moment Putin invaded. He says this case is different than past investigations because of all the information that’s being shared.

“We've been having thousands of people on the ground in Ukraine, people around Europe that are, you know, not only providing photo evidence and video evidence, but are also going in to the schools and looking at what a (Russian) brigade left there. (For example) materials left behind when they utilized school schools, a barracks or something like that. I think for, for instance, that's how we identified most recently, some of the commanders that were most responsible for the massacre and Bucha. (It) was them just leaving behind their insignia material. And we've actually kind of had to reverse engineer it and piece together a lot of the attribution to these individual, you know, tactical level commanders.”

Martz spent time in the military as an Arabic language translator and took part in investigations in Iraq and Syria, gaining experience looking into the strategies and outcomes of war. Of course a criminal court case, even for barbaric war crimes, needs to determine intent. Martz has been amazed how publicly evident that intent has been.

It was really kind of shocking to read these speeches by President Putin and the senior leadership and to read the press releases and the pieces of information from some of the generals and colonels … about the way that they viewed total war and waging it on civilians in the planning of it. “(That tactic) comported with my experience, you know, encountering Russian forces in Syria when I was in the military; this is their M.O. This is what they do. They go into a city, they do it. They commit total war and attack and create a mass suffering among the civilians in order to break the opponent.”

The group’s report, Russian War Crimes in Ukraine: Breach of International Humanitarian Law, include pages and pages of appendices documenting the crimes … and a sample indictment that could be used if and when a war crimes tribunal or court is set up. The implications of Russia’s actions in Ukraine though, might have more immediate impacts. Scholar David Crane finds the actions of Putin and other Russian leaders have already changed the future world order.

They have no legitimacy in the U.N. paradigm and this is getting worse. Russia’s been thrown off the UN Human Rights Council. But really, at the end of the day, Vladimir Putin, when President Biden correctly, as well as the European Union, declared that he is a war criminal politically. They have stripped him of all his legitimacy, and you can see that they're thinking about throwing Russia off the G-20 organization as well. So, these things are starting to unravel for him, and the future does not look bright for Vladimir Putin.”

Crane is also interested in how another nation’s actions vis-à-vis the war in Ukraine could impact global influence and alignments.

“… China, the other piece of this, is sitting back watching this., … watching what happens. Now, granted they have not joined Russia. But they haven't joined the West; they're kind of sitting on a fence because, you know, their whole basis of power is economics, and all of the nations that have condemned Russia, 141, almost 80 percent of the United Nations have condemned them, do business in China. If China goes and sides with Russia, then they are fundamentally going to have problems economically.”

Crane says we’ve only begun to see the fallout from Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. As for an indictment or trial for Putin and others, those are probably years off and would likely come from the United Nations or a special war crimes panel. And Crane could lend his expertise, having indicted Charles Taylor of Liberia through a special war crimes court. The Global Accountability investigation is ongoing … and will be offered to help with any indictments.

Chris Bolt, Ed.D. has proudly been covering the Central New York community and mentoring students for more than 30 years. His career in public media started as a student volunteer, then as a reporter/producer. He has been the news director for WAER since 1995. Dedicated to keeping local news coverage alive, Chris also has a passion for education, having trained, mentored and provided a platform for growth to more than a thousand students. Career highlights include having work appear on NPR, CBS, ABC and other news networks, winning numerous local and state journalism awards.