Russia invaded the nation of Ukraine on February 24. Almost every country in the United Nations voted to condemn this act of war. But now the United States has gone further. America has accused the Russian army of war crimes.
Not long ago, President Joe Biden told reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin is a “war criminal.” But just saying “war criminal” doesn’t make it so. “War criminal” means more than “bad guy.” It has a specific legal meaning. To accuse someone of war crimes requires an official investigation.
It might seem strange to talk about whether Russia has committed crimes. After all, the world watched Russia invade Ukraine. Isn’t that enough of a crime already?
Philosophers have debated just war theory for centuries. This theory says that war can be justified only under certain conditions. The war must be declared by the right authorities, for the right reasons, to bring justice and peace. Most nations agree that Russia’s attack on Ukraine is not a “just war.”
But it’s one thing to start an unjust war. It’s another thing to fight that war in a way that breaks international laws.
Russia didn’t just invade Ukraine. It also targeted civilians. Instead of just fighting Ukrainian soldiers, Russia turned its weapons on everyday people, even those in hospitals and shelters.
According the United States, that’s a war crime. If Putin ordered those attacks—or if he even knew about them—he’s a war criminal. Russia has broken the international laws of armed conflict.
These laws come from the Geneva Conventions, which started in 1864. After World War II, many nations banded together to update the rules for war. They saw the horrific things done to civilians and prisoners during World War II. Altogether, at least 135 nations have ratified the Geneva Convention rules. They want to stop those atrocities from happening again.
The Geneva Conventions protect people who aren’t part of the fighting. This includes doctors, nurses, civilians, prisoners, and wounded soldiers. These international laws also prevent nations from using certain weapons, such as biological and chemical weapons. When nations go to war, they obey these rules. Usually.
In the Old Testament, God gave the Israelites rules for war. He commanded them not to kill women and children. (Deuteronomy 20:14) Even back then, before the invention of guns and bombs, people needed laws to keep violence contained.
Death and violence come from sin. We know that someday, God will destroy death once and for all. But until then, good laws like the Geneva Conventions can help—if people follow them.
The efforts to prove and then punish Russia’s war crimes have just begun. It won’t be easy to make Russia stand trial. Neither Russia nor the United States officially recognizes the International Criminal Court. Other nations, or a committee of nations, could potentially host a trial. But getting Russia to cooperate with the process? That’s another issue entirely
Nations such as the United States need careful wisdom. They want to seek justice, but they can’t simply send soldiers to arrest Putin. That would only cause the war to spread.
It might take a long time for Russia to face real consequences.
Why? Good laws like the Geneva Conventions can help prevent the deadly consequences of human sin, but enforcing those laws takes wisdom.
Pray for world leaders to have the wisdom to seek justice without causing more violence.