Any discussion of war crimes committed by Vladimir Putin and the Russian army during the invasion of Ukraine has to begin with the premise that the entire invasion is effectively a war crime. The invasion was completely unjustified. Despite Putin’s attempts to create justification for the invasion, those justifications were fabricated, with no basis in fact. Yes, Ukraine had formerly been a part of Russia. But Ukraine had formerly been a part of Poland and Lithuania. Does that mean Poland and Lithuania have rights to the territory now recognized internationally as the sovereign nation of Ukraine? No, Ukraine had not been taken over the Nazis – what an absurd claim! Putin told his troops that they would be welcomed by the Ukrainians as liberators. What a surprise for them to learn that they were rightly regarded as invaders.
Reports of several actions by Russia, if confirmed, would constitute war crimes. These include attacks on civilian targets, including neighborhoods, a kindergarten and a hospital, the use of vacuum bombs, which are prohibited by the Geneva Convention, and an attack on a nuclear power plant, which is illegal under international law because of the obvious risk of radiation poisoning.
Putin wasn’t expecting such fierce resistance from the Ukrainians. Neither, I suspect, was he expecting such fierce opposition to the invasion from inside Russia. Thousands of Russians have been arrested for protesting the invasion of Ukraine. Ordinary citizens as well as members of the Russian intelligentsia, celebrities and scientific community have voiced or written their opposition. It can’t be denied, however, that Putin is not also receiving a great deal of support among Russians, and talk of a coup is premature, as no one in the top levels of government or military have broken with Putin yet.
Putin’s designs on Ukraine, and possibly designs on other former Soviet states, must be resisted and stopped somehow. Why? Because otherwise the world would be telling those in the path of political and military bullies, ruthless dictators, and war criminals that there is no hope or help for them. They are simply at the mercy of the whims of thugs who are willing to use their muscle to force their wills on innocent nations. The idea that one nation could simply sweep in and take over a weaker neighbor were supposed to be an idea whose time had gone with the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Empire. The world can ill afford to enter back into those dark days. Now, Iran has attacked a base in Iraq with a ballistic missile, sending a message of defiance against those wanting to limit its influence in the region.
What are Christians in the West to do? There’s not much we can do, outside of offering financial and moral support to Ukraine, especially to the millions of refugees forced to abandon their homeland, and to pray. Here are some organizations to consider for support:
Lord God of peace, hear our prayer!
Open our eyes and our hearts,
and give us the courage to say:
“Never again war!”;
“With war everything is lost.”
Instill in our hearts the courage
to take concrete steps to achieve peace.
Keep alive within us the flame of hope,
so that with patience and perseverance
we may opt for dialogue and reconciliation.
In this way may peace triumph at last.
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.