Alexey Plotnikov, Ph.D., international judiciary

Three international volunteers were recently “sentenced to death” by a so-called “court” in the Russia-occupied Donetsk, as we reported in our recent article [1]. Then, we contended that there exists neither a “people’s republic” nor a “supreme court” thereof. This fake “sentence” was “issued” by the Russian occupation “authority”, and it is the sole responsibility of the Russian Federation.

This was validated by the European Court of Human Rights on June 16. It ordered the Russian Federation to avoid the execution of Brahim Saadoun, a Moroccan citizen, and to secure his conventional rights. Therefore, it is clear to the ECtHR that Russia, not the fake “peoples’ republic”, is accountable for the “verdict”. In addition, the ECtHR did not even explore jurisdictional problems, instead citing to its previous findings that Russia controls the occupied Donetsk and terrorists, lcated there [2].

The question is: why at all does Russia need a “court” in Donetsk, which is obviously a sham to an unbiased observer? This question might be posed in a broader sense: why should the Russian government mimic any form of “justice”? Russia has consistently violated the UN Charter and the most fundamental principles of international law. It launched an aggressive war, violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of neighboring states, blatantly violates the prohibition on genocide, and its military commits war crimes with total impunity from Russian law enforcement institutions. Therefore, it is difficult to speak of a “genuine desire to establish the truth and administer justice”.

This game appears to be a continuation of the “great victory” cargo cult, in which “good prevails against evil”. But good cannot win via power alone. A “moral victory” is required, that must also be acknowledged by the “spectators” of this drama, who represent the global community. The end of the Second World War was marked by two significant trials of German and Japanese war criminals.

The Nuremberg and Tokyo trials were by no means the only ones that occurred. In the Soviet Union, war criminals were tried in Kharkov and Khabarovsk, among other cities. Several “subsequent Nurembergs” to prosecute individual Nazi regime personnel, including doctors, judges, and industrial representatives, were held in Germany [6]. From the perspective of contemporary international criminal law, these procedures were far from ideal, but they played a crucial ideological function in denouncing some conduct as utterly wrong. An “ideal evil” was denounced at Nuremberg.

Using the history of the Second World War for a “ground for its own existence”, utilizing it as a “justification” for external aggression, accusing the victims of aggression of “fascism” and other sins, as if tying them to the absolute evil already condemned at Nuremberg, the Russian authorities are compelled to win not “only on the battlefield”, but “also in courtrooms”.

The game of “red flag over the Reichstag” includes the game of “criminal condemnation”. This is required not just to criticize “absolute evil”, but also to cover up their own sins. If “absolute good triumphs over absolute evil” and this is “shown in court”, then “all crimes were committed by that absolute evil”, whilst the very questioning of the crimes perpetrated by “absolute good in the struggle against absolute” evil is itself “a crime”.

True, the “imitation of Nuremberg” in the contemporary Russian Federation is as horrible as the “imitation of triumph” in World War II, and for essentially the same reasons. One cannot wage a “just and successful war against absolute evil” if absolute evil does not exist on the other side. It is hard to assume the “mantle of leader of the civilized world” if this civilized world not only opposes your war, but also supports your adversary.

There can be no “moral victory” if war is originally aggressive and predatory rather than sacred and defensive. Neither can a “precious victory” be “sanctified by a significant adversity”. As with all Russian imitations, attempts to organize such a “procedure” are guaranteed to fail. Let’s examine only the most obvious Russian efforts to “establish international justice” in this conflict.

The so-called “White Book of Crimes”, which was published in 2015 with the participation of the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation in order, as stated in the annotation to it, “to carefully record all crimes, committed by nationalist battalions and the Armed Forces of Ukraine, evidence of human rights violations in Ukraine” [7], appears to be the first notable Russian initiative that could be related to “international justice”.

Supposedly “neutral human rights organizations”, such as the “The Foundation for the Study of Democracy”, were utilized extensively in the “international promotion of this publication”. Behind the neutral name lies a Russian organization intimately affiliated with “Rossotrudnichestvo”, also known as the “Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation”. Russian fake claims against Ukrainian law enforcement institutions were advanced at the OSCE level with the aid of this group [8].

Russian attempts to utilize the collected material for something with the word “tribunal” in the title began as early as 2014, when Russian media reported that an “international tribunal” had condemned, among others, Ukrainian President and U.S. President Barack Obama, the Secretary General of NATO, and the President of the European Commission for the “war against the people of Donbas” and that the “findings” of this “tribunal” be “transmitted to the United Nations, the European Union, and the International Criminal Court”.

True, it became immediately apparent that it concerned the so-called “Russell tribunal”, which was neither a “tribunal” nor anyhow related to the philosopher Bertrand Russell. The “tribunal” consisted essentially of a single minor Italian politician, and its “decisions” had no more authority than the delusions of a city lunatic. In 2020, ARC wrote about this story’s humiliating and amusing conclusion [9].

The second instance when Russia raised the topic of a “tribunal” was in spring 2015, when the criminal “Head of Crimea”, appointed by the occupiers, Sergyi Aksyonov, announced that there would be some “international court on crimes in the south-east of Ukraine” [10], and Natalia Poklonskaya confirmed that she was about to “participate as prosecutor” [11]. Not only did no “tribunal” take place, but its organization’s actual activities are unknown to the public.

The “Ukrainian people’s tribunal” in Lugansk in 2018 was also not “successful”. Its “work” lasted from April to July of 2018, and Ukrainian judges who abandoned their oath and joined the terroristic “people’s republics” were involved [12]. True, the result of the “tribunal’s” actions turned out to be as fictitious as those of the “Russell tribunal’s”. 18 Ukrainian officials were “sentenced’ to “life in prison with property seizure” on June 22, 2018, in Luhansk [13]. There was no “confiscable property” in Luhansk by a “weird coincidence” and all the “figurants” are still at large; it was impossible to add the “criminals” to the “international wanted” list as “tribunal” was fake.

The next episode of this long-running series is currently being created. The decision to establish the “International public tribunal for Ukraine” was proclaimed on March 1, 2022. It was joined by the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation, the already mentioned “Foundation for the Study of Democracy” and some other “non-governmental organizations” closely associated with the Russian government and special services. The intentions of the “tribunal” are the “most serious”: to collect evidence of “Ukrainian war crimes” and “transfer them to the Russian Investigative Committee” [14]. Nothing has been known about the “activities” of the newly formed “tribunal” since March, just as nothing is known at all about any international interest in another fake.

Hopefully, a brief description of the history of these “tribunals” is enough to make their purpose obvious. This is exclusively the creation of another informational occasion for a specific audience: own population and the population of the occupied territories, as well as for a few foreign sympathizers of Russia from various marginal movements. For such an audience, it is important to give the impression that the imitation of a “great war” and imitation of a “great victories” will be followed by an imitation of the “Nuremberg trials”.

Indirectly, the aggressor may try to use such “tribunals” in “diplomacy” and even in real lawsuits. For example, Russians may refer to overtly curious “decisions” of such “tribunals” and demand consideration of the “evidence” they have collected, but only in order to prolong genuine proceedings. They will talk about fake “tribunals” through Russian-controlled “non-governmental organizations” on some low-level international platforms.

To be convinced of the complete lack of content of all these “tribunals”, it is enough to compare them with really successful international tribunals. Let’s do this in just a few basic ways. First, one should ask the question of who created a particular body. A real international tribunal arises by decision of the UN Security Council or, in some cases, by agreement between the UN and the state; to learn more about the history of the main international tribunals, we recommend this material [15]. The International Criminal Court was established by an interstate agreement [16]. But no tribunal can arise from the work of non-governmental organizations and individuals, unless, of course, it is a “public tribunal”, that is, simply a club of interests of a group of individuals who have decided to express their condemnation of something.

Secondly, it is worth looking at those who are promoting the idea of creating a tribunal. For example, since February 2022, there has been discussion of the possibility of creating a real tribunal for the crime of Russian aggression informally known as the tribunal for Putin. Note that this is only a discussion of the idea. None of the participants in this discussion declares themselves a tribunal, let alone pronounces sentences.

Who are these participants? Among them are Benjamin Berell Ferencz, the only living prosecutor who participated in the Nuremberg trials, the well-known international lawyer Philippe Sands, the former head of the European Court of Human Rights Nicolas Bratza, the former head of the European Committee against Torture Mykola Gnatovskyy and a number of other top-level experts.

It is simply incorrect to compare the intellectual power and moral authority of these people with a bunch of marginal third-tier “politicians”, conspiratorial bloggers and open Russian agents who announced an “international public tribunal for Ukraine”. Here you can find a description of the background of these characters [18].

Thirdly, it is worth looking at the procedure for creating the body and the discussions that accompany it. If nothing is known about the procedure at all, and information about the “tribunal” instantly appears, and then also disappears from the public space, it becomes obvious that we are facing another fake “tribunal”. Of course, the decisions of such “tribunals” do not and cannot have any force. Such a body, in principle, is not capable of considering criminal cases of real defendants.

Of course, the decisions of such fake “tribunals” from the Russian special services do not and cannot have any force. Such a “body” is in principle incapable of “considering criminal cases”. Therefore, when the aggressor needed to “register” the criminal massacre of Ukrainian prisoners in the form of a fake “court decision”, their case was “considered” not by a “tribunal”, but by a fake “supreme court”. We will talk about the difference in the corresponding criminal approaches of the aggressor in the next article.