Putin has been accused of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Adam Durbin of BBC News wrote a few days after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine that British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had accused Putin of committing war crimes.
BBC News noted that at the Prime Minister’s Question Time, Johnson said bombing innocent civilians “already fully qualifies as a war crime.” Johnson was responding to the Scottish National Party’s Ian Blackford, who called for Putin to be prosecuted.
In a television interview and also reported by Durbin, International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Karim Khan said “he was now investigating possible war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.”
Some 39 countries acted to refer the situation to the ICC prosecutor which reacted by saying that “collection of evidence has started.” Durbin states that “the UK government described the referral as the largest in the history of the court which relies on cooperation with countries worldwide for support, particularly for making arrests.”
Putin is accused of giving the orders to conduct indiscriminate bombing of schools, hospitals, civilian infrastructure, and Ukraine’s nuclear power plant, and for targeting civilians traveling in civilian corridors who want to flee to other countries. Russian troops are heavily bombarding thickly populated cities like Kharkiv. Russia has accused Ukraine of using civilian infrastructure to shield weapons of war. Russia has been charged with bombing the same corridors for escape which were identified as part of a so-called ceasefire but Russian bombing resumed after a lull of two hours and 45 minutes when it was supposed to be part of a 12-hour ceasefire.
The Economist says that Russia does not recognize the authority of the ICC. But the court, Mr. Khan argues, has jurisdiction over war crimes committed on Ukrainian soil because the government of Ukraine had twice accepted — once in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and again in 2015, when it recognized the court’s jurisdiction for “an indefinite duration.”
As things now stand, Putin now has the dubious and dangerous distinction of being the world’s biggest pariah.
Being a pariah and isolating Russia from the rest of the world will certainly create economic difficulties for the porous Russian economy and could lessen the effectivity of Putin as a leader. How long will it be before the ordinary Russian starts to feel the effects of worldwide sanctions (which Putin says is equivalent to a declaration of war)? How long can security forces quell unrest and discontent brought about by economic and political difficulties? How long can Putin’s military and his KGB, the Committee for State Security, Foreign Intelligence and Domestic Security, prop up Putin before the military establishment itself feels the economic pinch?
And being a pariah has extended beyond Putin’s person but has extended to Russian businesses, citizens, and recently to athletes and performing artists like sopranos, ballerinas, and conductors. It is not only countries taking action and putting together economic sanctions against Russia and, most likely, Belarus, for providing access to Russian troops to facilitate the invasion. The United States, the United Kingdom and other countries have announced that they will go after the “ill begotten wealth” of Russian oligarchs and Putin cronies who have dishonestly profited from Russian government projects or projects dependent on government permits and regulations.
In sports, which is important to Putin, World Athletics, the international governing body of the sport of Athletics, the centerpiece event of any Olympic-type sports competition, has banned the participation of athletes and support personnel of Russia and Belarus in international competitions such as the world indoor championship to be held in Belgrade, Serbia from March 18 to 20, 2022 and the world outdoor championship at Eugene, Oregon in August this year. Both countries have also been banned from international gymnastics and figure skating.
The ban and actions taken against Russian citizens involved in non-political endeavors — and who therefore claim not to have anything to do with Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine and harm its population — has spawned the familiar debate on the propriety of mixing sports with politics and holding accountable citizens of a country for the aggression committed by its government.
Artists and athletes claim their purpose is to perform before the public and to avoid commenting on political and social issues and to help create peace. The question is: Should influential parties use their fame and platform to comment on the toughest and thorniest social and political issues? Tennis star Naomi Ossaka won the US Open title in New York in September 2021, using black masks to honor Black victims of violence. Each mask she wore each day bore the name of a different victim over the years. Osaka justified her activism by saying that the “point is to get people talking about it (these issues).” Basketball superstar LeBron James has no problem with expressing his views on social and political issues, making public his preference for then candidate Joe Biden as president of the US, to the chagrin of eventual loser Donald Trump.
Years earlier, the US boycotted the 1980 Moscow Olympics in protest over the then USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan. The Soviets returned the favor by boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. And much earlier, South Africa was banned from international tournaments because of its racist apartheid policy.
In the Philippines, then street parliamentarian Nikki Coseteng (subsequently elected Congresswoman and Senator), then owner of PBA team Mariwasa, and later, Galerie Dominique, pleaded with PBA management and the competition director to hold a minute of silent prayer before the tip-off of her team’s game at Araneta Coliseum with another squad, for former Senator Ninoy Aquino who had been executed a few days earlier, on Aug. 21, 1983, at the Manila International Airport Ninoy was killed in broad daylight and despite a security cordon thrown around the tarmac, the terminal, and in the airport premises. The PBA rejected the request on the grounds that it did not want to get sucked into politics, especially mindful of the brutality of the Marcos regime.
Certainly, sport is an opportunity provided to the public to unwind and spend time with friends and family away from all daily concerns — including politics. The reality however is that people are confronted with the horrors of war daily in living color, seeing corpses of elderly men and women, children and babies. People are horrified by the brutality and indiscriminate bombing by an invader of a neighbor which is militarily inferior but is ready to defend every inch of its territory.
As the invasion enters its second week, casualties mount. As worldwide condemnation of Russia grows (with the exception of dictatorial regimes in Nicaragua, China, and former members of the USSR, among others), the Ukrainians and international volunteers vow to continue the fight for freedom. In the meantime, millions of Ukrainians find it difficult to imagine Russian troops out in Ukrainian streets. Everything is surreal.
There are concerns about how much more is NATO willing to do as millions of Ukrainian refugees stream into neighboring countries. But Ukraine, which Putin calls a manufactured country, vows to fight for as long as it will take, raising the specter of a guerrilla war which Russia might not be able to justify to its citizens as body bags and coffins come back from Ukraine.
Ukrainians ask, “What does Putin want? To bring us down to our knees?” Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, now the newest face of freedom, defiantly says that “Ukrainians should fight at every opportunity.” In the meantime, the humanitarian crisis worsens despite the world’s generosity.
Philip Ella Juico’s areas of interest include the protection and promotion of democracy, free markets, sustainable development, social responsibility and sports as a tool for social development. He obtained his doctorate in business at De La Salle University. Dr. Juico served as secretary of Agrarian Reform during the Corazon C. Aquino administration.