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Those who aid and abet Putin are ‘vulnerable to prosecution and asset seizure’

Northwestern experts on Russia’s possible war crimes and punishment

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Yesterday the ICC (international criminal court) in the Hague announced it would launch an investigation into possible war crimes enacted by Russia against the civilians of Ukraine.

Political science, history and law school faculty from Northwestern University discuss how President Putin’s invasion of Ukraine flouts the rules of international law, and what avenues are available in meting out consequences and de-escalating the war.

‘A clear violation of international law’

Said international law expert and executive director of the Northwestern Buffett Center for International Affairs Annelise Riles: “This invasion constitutes a clear violation of fundamental principles of international law and the targeting of civilians violates humanitarian law as embodied in the Geneva Conventions. The overwhelming vote of the UN General Assembly to condemn Russia reinforces this. In addition to Ukraine’s suit in the ICJ and the possible prosecution of Russia in the ICC, under principles of universal jurisdiction individual who aid and abet this war could find themselves vulnerable to prosecution in national courts and to asset seizures anywhere in the world.”

Riles can be reached at

‘China as a peace maker’

Said political science and law professor Karen J. Alter: “After giving Vladimir Putin a green light to invade, China is now reversing itself and offering to be a peace maker. The international response to Russian aggression called into public the issue of China’s professed commitment to the peaceful resolution of disputes, to respecting state sovereignty, and to a rules-based international order. International sanctions are making Russian oligarchs, businessmen and people think hard about the costs of Putin’s leadership. These responses do matter. But China is in a unique position to force President Putin to back down before the violence and destruction reach total-war levels. We should welcome China’s leadership, because we all share an interest in maintaining a rules-based international order.”

Alter is the Norman Dwight Harris Professor of International Relations in the department of political science and co-director of the Research Group on Global Capitalism and Law at Northwestern. Reach her at

‘Putin is distorting the memory of WWII’ 

Said historian Ștefan Cristian Ionescu: “Putin has claimed that Ukraine has perpetrated genocide against the Russian minority and that his aim is ‘to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine and liberate Ukrainians from oppression.’ Putin’s statements are false, and he is distorting the memory of WWII and the Holocaust to justify the invasion. While neo-Nazi groups exist in Ukraine, and neo-Nazi groups exist in Russia as well as in other parts of the world, Ukraine has a democratically elected government and president, Mr. Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who happens to be Jewish. Additionally, on Tuesday (March 1), the Russian army bombed and partially damaged the Babyn Yar Holocaust memorial site in Kyiv.

“It appears that the Russian army has by and large refrained from shooting peaceful Ukrainian protesters so far. But I am afraid Putin and his military officers on the ground will get frustrated with the ongoing resistance of the Ukrainian people and we will see massacres.”

Ionescu is the Theodore Zev and Alice R. Weiss-Holocaust Educational Foundation Visiting Associate Professor in Holocaust Studies in the department of history at Northwestern University. He can be reached at