By GORDON BROWN FOR THE DAILY MAIL
PUBLISHED: 18 March 2022 |
The first time I met Vladimir Putin in his giant office at the Kremlin in early 2006, an official directed me to a low couch with very soft cushions into which I naturally sank.
Putin sat at a high table, designed to disguise what Russia officially records as his height of 5ft 7in. He’s probably only 5ft 5in if you discount the platform shoes.
The message was clear from the beginning: this was not a meeting of equals. He would look down on me and I was to have no choice but to look up to him.
From a box on his desk, he brought out file of index cards that listed my date and place of birth, parentage and current residence, all of which he started to read out.
The old KGB agent in him — cold and calculating — was intent on putting me on the defensive, suggesting he knew more about me than I knew myself.
The first time I met Vladimir Putin in his giant office at the Kremlin in early 2006, an official directed me to a low couch with very soft cushions into which I naturally sank. Pictured: Gordon Brown and Vladimir Putin at their bilateral meeting in the Kremlin in 2006
Russia watchers say he has changed since the early years of his presidency, but he was issuing threats even then. He would sell Russian oil and gas to the West only on his terms, he told me. But if we did not accept his conditions, he would sell to the East.
‘East or West,’ he said, ‘it’s your choice.’
Later that year, Alexander Litvinenko, the Russian defector, was poisoned with radioactive polonium-210 in London. The official report into the death would find a ‘blatant and unacceptable’ breach of international law and conclude that the order to assassinate Litvinenko was ‘probably’ given by Putin himself.
I had no doubt he was the ringleader. We in government believed Putin was intent on murdering other opponents resident in the UK, with his agents under orders to come to Britain to start a new wave of assassinations.
We sent less-than-subtle messages, letting him know we knew he was behind these missions to kill and would not hesitate to take action in reprisal if attacks occurred.
For years, we gave day-and-night security protection to several at-risk Russians Putin had earmarked for death
Moment Russian state TV cuts away from Putin during stadium speech
For years, we gave day-and-night security protection to several at-risk Russians Putin had earmarked for death
Eleven years on, when our guard had dropped, came the Salisbury Novichok poisonings. He had never abandoned the plan to kill or maim his enemies: all he had been waiting for was the opportunity.
Our paths crossed a few times after the Litvinenko case including when he was prime minister — from 2008 to 2012 — before he became president yet again.
His ‘stand-in’ president, Dmitry Medvedev, was soft-spoken and tried charm rather than menace, but he was never allowed to make a decision.
At meetings of international leaders, Medvedev would set out the Russian position only to find himself overruled by the next day as revised orders came through from Moscow.
Such was Putin’s control over his president that at a 2009 summit, Medvedev’s wife volunteered a toast — not to her husband, but to his predecessor. ‘To President Putin,’ she said ‘Once a president, always a president’.
Eleven years on, when our guard had dropped, came the Salisbury Novichok poisonings. Pictured: Dawn Sturgess, who was killed by traces of Novichok from the Salisbury spy poisonings.
My experience of the man and his methods left me in no doubt that he would continue this ruthless pattern of threatening people and countries —the invasion of Georgia in 2008, the annexation of Crimea and the placing of Russian troops in the Donbas region in 2014, supporting the Assad regime in Syria… and now Ukraine.
His bombing of a theatre sheltering civilians — including many children — in Mariupol, his breach of humanitarian corridors and ceasefire deals, the threat to use chemical and even nuclear weapons that led President Biden to this week call him ‘a war criminal’ — none of it surprises me.
In 1997, Vladimir Putin’s Russia gained membership of the Western-dominated G7 club of advanced economies, which became known as the G8. The Germans had been most keen for this to happen.
Now, he’s a pariah; his country kicked out of the G8 and ever more isolated within Europe as the Germans turn against him, an embarrassment as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, and so unwelcome at the G20 leader’s group that he no longer attends in person.
The hope that Putin would honour the promise he made years before — that Russia would take its place in a common European home — is of course, long gone. He has chosen a different path. And as strength is all he understands, we must respond accordingly.
He must get the message that the long arm of international law is coming for him.
During World War II, a group of governments in exile in London showed us the way forward. They issued a declaration that Hitler and his cronies should be punished for war crimes. A trial was necessary ‘to satisfy the sense of justice in the civilised world’. It led to the Nuremberg Trials.
I believe we should follow suit, by indicting President Putin and his inner circle for the crime of aggression against Ukraine.
Aggression is Putin’s original crime: the planning, initiation and pursuit of a policy to declare and prosecute an invasion of Ukraine. Building a criminal case against him is the least we can do to respond to the bravery of the Ukrainian people and give them hope that justice will prevail.
As Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky told the American Congress in a televised address on Wednesday, Ukrainian hearts are being broken every hour of the day — but the unity of Ukraine remains unbreakable. And it is the Ukrainians’ resilience — and courage under fire — that has stirred the conscience of the world.
That is why pressure is growing from all continents to supplement the sanctions, travel bans, and humanitarian and military help offered to Ukraine with action to arraign Putin and his inner circle for their crimes.
Aggression is Putin’s original crime: the planning, initiation and pursuit of a policy to declare and prosecute an invasion of Ukraine
Today, 140 lawyers and former world leaders, myself included, will issue a declaration calling for a special international war crimes tribunal to be set up to arrest Putin and bring him to trial. Such a tribunal would show we are serious and close off a loophole in international law that Putin could use to dodge justice.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague has already begun an investigation into alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Ukraine: 41 states have referred the situation to the ICC, and have asked ICC lead prosecutor, British lawyer Karim Khan QC, to open an investigation.
Such is the strength of the case against Putin that a lawyer who has previously represented Russia at the ICC and International Court of Justice has said he cannot act on Moscow’s behalf, and has resigned from the legal team.
However, the ICC does not have jurisdiction over the separate charge of aggression because Russia has not signed up to the relevant statute.
So, there is a gap in international law. An international tribunal would fill that gap, creating a system in which those most responsible for the crime of aggression would be held accountable. This would be complementary to the investigation of the ICC, and would support its work.
This week, President Zelensky declared: ‘We are stepping up work to bring the invaders to justice. There must be an international tribunal. And it will be… for every act of terrorism of Russian troops on the territory of our state’
Shocking footage shows bombed out remains of Mariupol theatre
A body dedicated to the crime of aggression would speed up the investigation and reinforce a sense of global solidarity. And that is what the Ukrainians want.
This week, President Zelensky declared: ‘We are stepping up work to bring the invaders to justice. There must be an international tribunal. And it will be… for every act of terrorism of Russian troops on the territory of our state.’
We must move with speed, to assure people in Ukraine that we are committed to action and not just warm words. And we must make Putin’s collaborators aware that the noose is tightening. If they do not distance themselves from Putin, they face prosecution and prison.
Ukraine’s foreign minister has called on Western countries to support his country’s request for the special tribunal. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia — countries bordering Russia and most at risk from Moscow’s bullying — are likely to follow suit
It is time for governments like ours to oil the wheels of justice by appointing an interim prosecutor, based alongside the ICC in the Hague, to record all incidents which may constitute the crime of aggression.
A charge sheet itemising each crime has already been published by a group of American lawyers, starting from the decision to invade Crimea in 2014 plus sending Russian troops to Donbas.
We must move with speed, to assure people in Ukraine that we are committed to action and not just warm words. Pictured: An apartment building in Kyiv destroyed by shelling
But the crime of aggression does not end with the invasion of Ukraine: it continues with Putin’s systematic attacks on the country’s cities and towns, the bombing of innocent civilians and the shelling of hospitals.
The cost of Putin’s war is not only to be counted in tanks destroyed, aircraft shot down, and missiles fired but in lives cut short, children maimed and the unspeakable suffering of the innocent.
The reasons given in 1942 for proposing a war crimes tribunal — and for indicting the authors of crimes against humanity in Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the 1990s — are as apposite today as they were then.
In both instances, we spoke of the need for moral leadership and argued that such a tribunal was there to ‘draw a line’ — the one dividing line that really matters —between those who would wield a clenched fist against their neighbours and those who would extend a welcoming hand.
Today, the choice we must make is exactly the same.
It is time to match the generosity of the British people with the full force of international law. Pictured: The aftermath of shelling in Kyiv today.
It is time to match the generosity of the British people with the full force of international law. Pictured: The aftermath of shelling in Kyiv today
full force of international law. Pictured: The aftermath of shelling in Kyiv today
‘Only 100 people escaped’: Woman describes Mariupol theatre bombing
When the dividing line is between those like Vladimir Putin, who see the world as a never-ending struggle between the ‘us’ and ‘them’, and those who would embrace the common humanity we all share, we know what side we are on.
So strongly do the British people sympathise with Ukrainians that thousands of families have offered accommodation to refugees and many more — including Mail readers — are giving money.
They want our leaders to leave no stone unturned in humanitarian and practical efforts to help Ukraine. It is time to match the generosity of the British people with the full force of international law.
In just two days, an online petition backing a tribunal has already gained more than 750,000 signatures. From Britain — which rightly prides itself on democracy and the rule of law — the message must go out. At Nuremberg we held the Nazi war criminals to account. Eight decades on, we must ensure there will be a day of reckoning for Putin.
Full article, with heartbreaking videos, here:
I was not a fan of Gordon when he was PM, but this article is right on the money.
The West had been asleep for much too long regarding this evil little shrimp. To service justice, he and his cronies must be brought in front of a tribunal for war crimes and crimes against humanity, just like the Nazis did. Furthermore, the West must confiscate every bit of asset it can from mafia land and its oligarchs and church, to help pay restitution to Ukraine.
Yeah, the little shrimp has followed in the footsteps of Hitler so he should be treated like Hitler.
Yes, he should. He has already gone too far to ever be treated any different than Hitler.