They attack the little ones, the big ones escape. That’s how people like to judge judgments like this. A Russian soldier is to be imprisoned for life, a court in Kyiv decided on Monday at the first war crimes trial in Ukraine.
Vadim Sh., 21, has confessed to shooting dead a 62-year-old civilian cyclist on a village street in eastern Ukraine at the end of February. Vadim Sch. showed remorse in court. Yes, he should have refused his ensign’s orders to shoot. Five men from his tank column had stolen a car to flee the battle, the cyclist was a witness. He grabbed his mobile phone, the soldier his Kalashnikov. After that Wadim Sch. voluntarily taken prisoner of war.
The young man comes from the Siberian region of Irkutsk, around 6,000 kilometers from Ukraine. He is unlikely to have understood exactly what his assignment there would be, but he will nevertheless have been aware that it was wrong to shoot at an unarmed civilian.
Vadim Sch. and his group wanted to eliminate a witness, cover up their act, and achieved the opposite. Now the world public got to know what had happened – and they got to see the first accused in a trial of Russian war crimes in the Ukraine war: young, inexperienced, shaved bald.
They attack the little ones, the big ones get away? So in war: the further down the chain of command, the more likely it is that someone will be apprehended? Vadim Sch. acts like a scapegoat whose fate confirms the old saying. His act was a crime within a crime, since aggressive war itself is a criminal offense under international law.
Above all, the primary aggressor would have to stand trial, but it is currently unclear whether that will ever happen. Russian President Vladimir Putin knows why he says “special operation” instead of “war”. In war, Putin would be the commander-in-chief of the army, responsible for the course of the war and also for respect for international humanitarian law.
This is exactly what stands in the way of the goals and methods pursued by Putin’s terror when he has houses, clinics, schools or theaters shelled with artillery and awards murderers of civilians with medals. The fact that civilians and cultural assets are to be protected is an international knowledge of all armed forces, it applies to all armies.
Where lawlessness becomes the norm in armed conflicts, and where injustice is rightly asserted by the leaders themselves, a climate develops in armies that is all the more likely to commit crimes such as those of Wadim Sch. and its unity favoured.
International humanitarian law in armed conflicts applies internationally, it applies to all levels of leadership, whether civil or military. Even in Putin’s army, everyone knows that it is the central service regulation, the binding basis for armed forces worldwide. The fact that this area of law came into being at all is thanks to countless war crimes that remained unsolved or unpunished.
There are said to be many other trials against war criminals or prisoners of war in Ukraine and Russia, and a number of these have long been in preparation. The mother of Vadim Sch. is said to have written to Putin that she wanted her son back. The current Russian leadership seems to be deaf to empathy, and soldiers’ parents are said to rarely receive answers.
That Vadim Sch. will actually spend the rest of his life in prison has not yet been said. In this war, the number of prisoners increases for both the aggressor and the attacked. They are pawns and hostages, and the pressure from the soldiers’ parents will increase. The legal processing of the ongoing war has only just begun.