ICC's top prosecutor in Ukraine to probe Russian attacks on power grid

·4 min read

By Mike Collett-White

VYSHHOROD, Ukraine (Reuters) -The International Criminal Court has a "historic" role to play in bringing justice for crimes committed in the war in Ukraine and ensuring long-term security, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Tuesday after meeting with the ICC's top prosecutor.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan was in Ukraine to investigate Russia's campaign of missile and drone attacks on power and other infrastructure that killed hundreds of civilians and left millions with no electricity or water.

Russia says they are legitimate strikes aimed at weakening the enemy's military, but Ukraine casts them as a means of intimidating ordinary people.

The ICC's role was to provide effective justice for Ukrainians and "not to get a round of applause by a conjuring trick," Khan told reporters.

Zelenskiy said the court and Khan "will undoubtedly play a historic role in bringing Russian criminals" to justice.

"Responding to Russian crimes in the face of this aggression exactly in terms of the rule of law and through the power of an international court is what will serve as one of the guarantees of the long-term future security of both Ukrainians and other peoples," Zelenskiy said in his nightly address.

The Geneva conventions and additional protocols shaped by international courts say parties involved in a military conflict must distinguish between "civilian objects and military objectives" and that attacks on civilian objects are forbidden.

"Generally we see clearly a pattern, I think, in terms of the number, scale and breadth of attacks against the power grids of Ukraine and we need to look at why that's taking place; are they legitimate targets or not?" Khan said.

Khan was speaking to a small group of reporters in front of a badly damaged apartment block in the satellite town of Vyshhorod just north of Kyiv, where a Russian missile fell in late November killing eight civilians and wounding many more.

It was not clear whether the missile was aimed at a power installation nearby and missed its target.

"We need to find out what pattern, if any, is demonstrated by that because these are not isolated occurrences."

The job of the ICC and Ukraine's own legal system in pursuing justice after Russia launched a full-scale invasion just over a year go is vast.

More than 70,000 alleged war crimes have been reported, the vast majority of which would be dealt with in domestic courts.

'TWO TO TANGO'

The ICC in The Hague has jurisdiction to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide on the territory of Ukraine committed by either side, and is expected to focus on high-profile suspects. Such cases could take years to build.

Khan said there had not yet been any arrest warrants issued by the ICC resulting from the past year's work in Ukraine, but he defended the court and its Ukrainian partners.

"What people want are not Pyrrhic victories," he said when asked whether the process may be too slow to satisfy the desire for justice shared by many Ukrainians.

"As a prosecutor we are officers of the court... Whenever we do move, (people) should have confidence that this is not a political process."

Andriy Kostin, Ukraine's Prosecutor General who accompanied Khan to the bomb site, praised the cooperation between his offices and those of the ICC.

"Ninety-nine-plus percent of them will be prosecuted and will be tried in Ukrainian courts," Kostin said, standing before a large, litter-strewn bomb crater.

Evidence gathered so far by Western and Ukrainian authorities, particularly in areas occupied by Russian forces that have been liberated, points to widespread abuses, including torture, execution, forced deportation and sexual violence.

Russia denies such accusations and says some of the evidence cited has been fabricated.

Moscow has also accused Ukraine's military of abuses, including killing prisoners of war and shelling civilians in Russian-held territory in the east.

Khan told Reuters that he had tried to contact the Russian government on several occasions to discuss his work in Ukraine.

"I've got evidence from the Ukrainians. I have not got evidence from the Russians," he said. "If you've got something, give it. I stand ready to receive it and engage with them, but it takes two to tango."

(Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by William Maclean and Christopher Cushing)