Russian troops must answer for crimes

The suggestion yesterday that Russian troops and generals suspected of commiting war crimes in Ukraine should be targeted by sanctions is both timely and welcome.

Following Boris Johnson’s visit to Kyiv on Saturday, his policing minister Kit Malthouse said the UK was determined to do all it could to help bring to justice those responsible for the “truly awful crimes” that had taken place during the invasion.

So far, the targets of Western sanctions have extended to Vladimir Putin’s regime, Russian banks and businesses, and the president’s daughters, on the grounds that many of their father’s assets are hidden with family members.

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Explicit support for regime change has been muted. Just over two weeks ago, US President Joe Biden said his Russian counterpart should not be allowed to remain in power. This prompted Secretary of State Antony Blinken to deny the US had any plans to bring about regime change.

A Ukrainian serviceman stands guard near a mass grave in Bucha, near Kyiv on Saturday.

Evidence of war crimes uncovered since then means there should be no such reticence now.

The Ministry of Defence said at the weekend that retreating Russian troops had left behind evidence of the “disproportionate targeting of non-combatants” around Kyiv, including “the presence of mass graves, the fatal use of hostages as human shields, and mining of civilian infrastructure”.

The West is right to avoid entering into a war with Russia. But any pretence that Putin should be allowed to remain in place until the fighting is over, and then to negotiate a slice of Ukrainian territory, simply will not hold. He needs to go.

This goal must be achieved through the Russian people. Winning the information war by undermining Putin’s propaganda will be key to this objective, coupled with sanctions and the threat of sanctions against his regime.

The Russian military is likely to be decisive in any attempt at regime change. With this in mind, it may be no bad thing to confront generals with the prospect of standing trial at The Hague.

After all, the defence of “just following orders” was no defence at all for Nazis at Nuremberg.

Nor will it be a defence for those guilty of the horrors Ukraine has seen so far and other atrocities yet to take place at Putin’s behest.

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