Justice of the victors

Talk of putting Vladimir Putin on trial in The Hague shows how the west is seeking the total defeat of Russia, writes Eddie Ford. But will president Xi come to the aid of his ‘dear friend’?

Vladimir Putin must be quaking in his boots. He is now subject to an International Criminal Court warrant for allegedly overseeing the abduction, or “unlawful deportation”, of Ukrainian children - including hundreds taken from orphanages and put up for adoption in Russia, or sent to what some are calling ‘re-education camps’.

We are also told that Putin has issued a decree expediting the conferral of Russian citizenship on the children and thus making them easier to adopt. Others, like Volodymyr Zelensky, claim that the number of deported children exceeds 16,000. Undoubtedly, there will be more charges laid against the Russian president as time goes on, making him out to be the most evil person ever to have existed since Adolf Hitler or Saddam Hussein.

However, having 123 member-states, it is rare for the ICC to issue an arrest warrant for a sitting head of state. This puts Putin in the good company of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir. The former was horribly killed months after his warrant was announced, leading to the complete disintegration of the Libyan state, while the latter is currently held in jail in Sudan, though he has yet to be transferred to The Hague in the Netherlands, where the ICC is based. In theory, Putin could be arrested by the local authorities if he sets foot in any of the countries that are party to the ICC’s Rome Statute.

But that is all complete nonsense, of course. Russia is not a member of the ICC, nor is the US - though Joe Biden naturally said that the court’s decision was “justified”. The Pentagon has resisted cooperation with the ICC out of the obvious fear that US soldiers could potentially be pursued by the court - what a dreadful thought! Hence George W Bush signed the American Service-Members’ Protection Act to underwrite US opposition to any possible future jurisdiction of the court or its tribunals - hands off our troops - and Barack Obama made no effort at all to ratify the Rome Statute. Predictably, Donald Trump was even more hostile, threatening prosecution and financial sanctions on ICC judges and staff in response to any investigation against American nationals in connection to crimes by US occupation forces in Afghanistan.

In fact, Ukraine is not a party to the ICC either, but since 2014 has accepted its jurisdiction. The UK has a less than shining record, when it comes upholding ICC decrees - the court issued an arrest warrant for Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998, but the then home secretary, Labour’s Jack Straw, allowed Pinochet to return to Chile on grounds of “ill health”. Shame his many leftwing victims were not granted such mercy. Throughout its existence, the ICC has been accused of bias, Eurocentrism, racism, etc. For example, the African Union has encouraged African states not to cooperate with the ICC, because it “is acting as a neo-colonial force” - but, then again, African despots and autocrats would say that in an attempt to hide their own crimes.

Anyhow, if Putin or any of his officials want to attend an international conference - say, on the Ukraine war or climate change - they would make sure they had immunity before they even went. Moscow is hardly worried about the ICC’s legal threats. In a calm and considered response, Dmitry Medvedev, former Russian president, threatened to target The Hague with nuclear missiles, telling the judges to “look carefully at the sky”. Russia’s children’s commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova - who appears on the arrest warrant alongside Putin - told Russian media that the warrant reflected “appreciation” for her work “to help the children of our country, that we don’t leave them in the war zone, that we take them out”. Indeed, she has appeared on television thanking Putin for making it possible for her to “adopt” a 15-year-old boy from Mariupol, the devastated south-eastern Ukrainian city that the Russian president recently visited - “now I know what it’s like to be a mom of a Donbas child”. Almost brings a tear to your eye. Unbowed, Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of Russia’s state duma, declared that Washington and Brussels have not managed to break the citizens of the Russian Federation or destroy its economy - if there is Putin, there is Russia. For him, like many, “any attack on the Russian president we see as aggression against our country”. Rally around the flag.

Clearly, the ICC charge against Putin is a naked piece of propaganda, especially as it is supposed to be about children (go for the easy soft spot). The main point is that talk of arrests and trials never applies to the victors. Here we are marking the 20th anniversary of the Iraq war - a true crime against humanity. Now, I do not really care if it was legal or illegal, even if that is something which excites liberal journalists. But, if you really wanted to, it is not difficult to make the argument that the war was thoroughly illegal - therefore you should arrest the two prime culprits, George Bush and Tony Blair. Get them in the dock! It will never happen in a million years, of course - nor to Vladimir Putin, the way things are now. The central significance of the ICC charge has nothing to do with the Russian army or state committing crimes. Of course they have: it is a war - in particular a war by an invading army in an extremely hostile environment. What do you expect? A tea party?

Rather, it underlines that the aim of the US and the so-called west is the total defeat of Russia - its effective dismembering as an independent state actor. Whether western leaders seriously envisage that actually happening is a different question (more an aspiration), but that is the only realistic way to read the ICC position. It represents a staging post for further imperialist demands and expansion. In other words, a coup by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB), or just batting aside the discredited Putin and putting someone else upfront for peace negotiations - that is not going to be good enough. Here is the explicit message: submit or get wiped out. Of course, if you get rid of Vladimir Putin by some means or other, do you then start going down the entire chain of command - treat it like the Ba’ath party in Iraq or the Nazis in Germany? Should you attempt to remove it completely from society and impose control from above by outside powers? Victors’ justice, victors’ peace.


We have also had president Xi Jinping’s official two-day state visit to Russia, where we heard about the unbreakable friendship between the two countries, how exchanges between the two leaders were “the compass and anchor of China-Russia relations”, which were “brimming with new dynamism and vitality”, and so forth and so on. On Russian state television, viewers were treated to a series of Xi’s pre-recorded quotes about the importance of labour and hard work. This Xi-Putin get-together was mirrored in Kyiv, where the Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida - who is the current G7 president - met Zelensky. It was reported fairly widely that Xi was planning a call with the Ukrainian president after his trip to Moscow, but whether that was actually the case is hard to tell.

Xi said China was ready with Russia to defend the “UN-centric system” and “stand guard over the world order based on international law” - much to the annoyance of the US, which has condemned the Chinese president for providing “diplomatic cover” for Russian war crimes in Ukraine. Obviously, Xi is trying to play the role of a responsible global statesman. Last week he called for China to play a bigger part in managing global affairs after brokering a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran to restore diplomatic relations - a move which was seen in Beijing as a win against US influence in the Middle East. Furthermore, we have the growing economic dependence of Russia on China, with Beijing now accounting for more than 40% of Russia’s total imports, according to the state trade data. This shift partly helps to explain why the Russian economy has fared far better than predicted after the introduction of unprecedented western sanctions.

Another role that Xi is keen to push is that of peacemaker, publishing an article in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, a Russian government-run daily, in which he called for “pragmatism” on Ukraine. Last month, Beijing published a 12-point position paper on the conflict with calls for open dialogue, respect for all countries’ territorial sovereignty and legitimate security concerns, an end to economic sanctions, etc. In fact, it sounded a lot like a statement from the Stop the War Coalition - maybe a job for John Rees as an intermediary? What is noticeable is that China is not overtly supplying Russia with war material, depending on how you define it - winter clothing? Of course, Russia would welcome lots of Soviet-compatible artillery shells, rockets, etc. Though, despite what you read in the western media, Russia does not appear to be suffering too much when it comes to the production of this stuff. Things maybe quite different when you go higher up the tech ladder - computer chips and so on. But there is no reason why Russia cannot scale up the production of ammunition and whatever else it needs to carry on the war more or less indefinitely. Beijing is not really needed for that.

This brings us to the rub - the grisly stalemate, which the US has no real interest in breaking at this moment in time. Quite the opposite: the US wants the war to be as prolonged as possible in order to enfeeble the Russian state - prepared as it is to fight to the very last drop of Ukrainian blood. Stating the obvious, Zelensky is no independent politician - he is very much a creature of the US and Nato. Thanks to the impasse, there is no reason for him to sue for peace and the same goes for Putin. If things wildly changed on the war front, that in turn could change things politically - imagine a generalised Ukrainian collapse with Russian troops and tanks approaching Kyiv. Then, yes, you could perhaps imagine Zelensky changing his tune. Ditto if there was a generalised Russian collapse: maybe the FSB would suddenly find an incentive to boot Putin aside and go for negotiations.

But we do not seem to be anywhere near such a scenario right now. There have been plenty of stories about the draft being extended in Russia; also the promise of relatively more high-tech weapons for Ukraine - like MiG-29s from Poland and Slovakia, Leopard tanks, Nasams anti-aircraft systems, etc. But, even with that, it is hard to see a decisive change. The war looks set to grind on.