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McCain Institute Interview with Dr. Gleb Bogush about Russia’s Crime of Aggression Against Ukraine, and Putin’s illegitimacy

On his first visit to Washington, DC, McCain Institute Assistant Director of Democracy Programs Pedro Pizano sat down with Dr. Gleb Bogush, an expert in international criminal law, the law on the use of force, and international humanitarian law. He earned his Ph.D. from Moscow State University. Previously, Dr. Bogush taught courses at the University of Luxembourg, Moscow State University, the Russian Academy of Justice, and the Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law. He is currently a research fellow at the University of Copenhagen. In June 2023, Dr. Bogush co-authored, with a group of Russian lawyers, a Brussels Declaration that condemns Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and calls for the establishment of a Special International Tribunal on the Crime of Russia’s Aggression against Ukraine.  

They discussed how the crimes of aggression, crimes against humanity, and war crimes are being committed by Russia in Ukraine (meet some of the people who are prosecuting these crimes as we speak) and how Russian lawyers such as himself have engaged in legal advocacy from Moscow and now in exile. Dr. Bogush reminded us that it was a Soviet lawyer, Aron Trainin, who first introduced the concept of trying the Nazis for the crime of aggression (then called a crime against peace) at the 1945 Nuremberg trials, and why it is essential to stop and prosecute this practice of threatening or using force against the political independence, territory or sovereignty of a UN member State, such as the UN Charter Art. 2(4) from 1945 prohibits.  Pizano noted that the prohibition on aggressive war might have been first codified in the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1928), an idea first suggested by Chicago lawyer Salmon Levinson.  They also remembered that it was in present-time Lviv, Ukraine, where perhaps two of the most influential international criminal lawyers of the 20th Century, Lauterpacht and Lemkin, once resided.

The brief recount of the modern history of international criminal law led them to reassert that the purposes of international criminal law are, among others, to bring individual accountability and justice, hold the perpetrators responsible, create a historical record, bring healing and remedy to victims, stop the cycles of violence, impunity, and immunity, and, perhaps, are even a precondition for peace.  International Crimes are also borne out of domestic impunity. (See Pizano’s recent interview with Natalia Arno, President of the Russia Foundation, on the murder of her friend Alexei Navalny and the imprisonment of her colleague and friend Vladimir Kara Murza).  As Dr. Bogush co-wrote in his Brussels declaration:

« This war became possible because previous grave crimes committed by Russia’s leadership and military on its own soil and abroad went unpunished. The chain of impunity that leads to re-occurring criminality should be broken. We stand ready to help achieve accountability for the perpetrators and reparations for their victims. » 

Dr. Bogush and Pizano concluded the conversation by examining the recent Russian « election » from March 15-17 that gave Vladimir Putin his fifth illegitimate term as president, his « coronation » on May 7th, and how and when it is possible to derecognize the legitimacy of a regime such as Putin’s. 

The interview was recorded in Washington, DC, and New York City on Wednesday, March 20, 2024, with the expert aid and editing skills of the McCain Institute’s Senior Program Coordinator of the Democracy Programs Luke Englebert, who also provided additional subject-matter research.

Date de publication
avril 1, 2024