Explosions across Ukraine as Zelenskyy calls for war crimes tribunal

President demands justice for his country in speech to International Criminal Court

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy gives a speech in The Hague in the Netherlands. EPA
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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday called for justice for his country at the International Criminal Court, saying Russia must be forced to pay for its aggression.

His comments came after several cities in Ukraine were rocked by explosions following accusations from Russia that the country had carried out a drone attack on the Kremlin aimed at assassinating President Vladimir Putin.

In a speech entitled “No peace without justice for Ukraine” given during a surprise visit to the Netherlands, Mr Zelenskyy called for a special tribunal to be set up for Ukraine, rather than a so-called hybrid court.

The President arrived at the ICC under heavy guard, as a Ukrainian flag was flown at the court.

“There should be responsibility for this crime, and this can only be enforced by the tribunal,” he told diplomats and officials at the ICC, which has issued an arrest warrant for Mr Putin on a war crimes charge.

“Only one Russian crime led to all of these crimes: this is the crime of aggression, the start of evil, the primary crime. There should be responsibility for this crime.

“That's why we insist on the tribunal creation.”

Kyiv is pressing for the special tribunal to prosecute Moscow for the crime of aggression as it sees this as the best way to hit the Kremlin's top officials and achieve justice more quickly.

The ICC, based in The Hague, is currently investigating possible war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the war in Ukraine but it has no mandate to pursue the broader crime of aggression.

“If we want true justice, we should not look for excuses and should not refer to the shortcomings of current international law, but make bold decisions that will correct the shortcomings of those norms that unfortunately exist in international law, Mr Zelenskyy said.

“This is exactly what the creators of Nuremburg did. We should do the same. Now.”

In March, the ICC issued arrest warrants for Mr Putin and Russia’s children's commissioner for the alleged deportation of children under the age of 16 from Ukraine.

Speaking later at a press conference, Mr Zelenskyy said Ukraine was “realistic” that it would not be able to join Nato while still fighting Russia.

“We are realistic, we know we will not be in Nato during the war,” Mr Zelenskyy said after meeting Dutch and Belgian prime ministers Mark Rutte and Alexander De Croo.

“But we want a very clear message that we will be in Nato after the war.”

Mr Zelenskyy made the surprise visit to the Netherlands a day after meeting Nordic leaders in Finland to drum up support ahead of Ukraine's expected spring counter-offensive against Russia.

“The most important thing is to deliver as quickly as possible what was promised to our soldiers,” he told reporters.

“We hope that the Netherlands and our other partners will help as quickly as possible.”

The Netherlands has pledged both financial and military support to Ukraine since Russia launched its invasion in February 2022, so far giving or pledging €1.2 billion in assistance.

This has included 45 T-72 tanks, armoured personnel carriers and at least 100 Leopard 1 tanks, together with Denmark and Germany, as well as 14 Leopard 2 tanks together with Denmark.

It also included eight howitzers and 120mm shells as well as two Patriot missile systems, 100 mobile air defence cannons and Stinger missiles, among other weapons, the Dutch defence ministry said on its website.

Dutch instructors are also helping to train Ukrainian recruits along with other western nations.

Mr Zelenskyy was to visit a Dutch military base later on Thursday in central Netherlands to view equipment reserved for Ukraine.

Meanwhile, blasts were heard in the capital Kyiv, in Zaporizhzhia and Odesa overnight.

“The invaders launched up to 24 Shahed-136/131 attack drones … The Air Force of Ukraine, in co-operation with other air defence units, shot down 18 attack drones,” military officials said on Telegram.

'Purposefully staged'

On Wednesday, the Kremlin blamed Ukraine for a drone attack, saying it regarded the actions as a “planned terrorist attack”.

The remnants of the downed drones fell inside the Kremlin but did not injure anyone, Moscow said.

“We regard these actions as a planned terrorist act and an attempt on the President's life, carried out on the eve of Victory Day, the May 9 parade, at which the presence of foreign guests is also planned,” it said.

“The Russian side reserves the right to take retaliatory measures where and when it sees fit.”

The allegation was strenuously denied by Mr Zelenskyy, who said Ukraine only “fights on its own territory”.

And on Thursday, US-based think tank the Institute for the Study of War said several indicators suggest it was “purposefully staged” by Russia.

The think tank said Russian authorities had increased air defences, including in Moscow.

“It is therefore extremely unlikely that two drones could have penetrated multiple layers of air defence and detonated or been shot down just over the heart of the Kremlin in a way that provided spectacular imagery caught nicely on camera,” it said.

“The Kremlin’s immediate, coherent and co-ordinated response to the incident further suggests that the attack was internally prepared in such a way that its intended political effects outweigh its embarrassment.

“The rapid and coherent presentation of an official Russian narrative around the strike suggests that Russia staged this incident in close proximity to the May 9 Victory Day holiday in order to frame the war as existential to its domestic audience.”

On Thursday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell warned Moscow against using the alleged drone attack to escalate its war in Ukraine.

“We call on Russia not to use this alleged attack as an excuse to continue the escalation of the war,” Mr Borrell told journalists before an EU ministers meeting in Brussels.

“This is what worries us: this can be used to justify more conscription of people, more soldiers, more attacks on Ukraine.”

Mr Borrell said he had heard Mr Zelenskyy deny that Ukraine was behind the attack.

“I listened to President Zelenskyy — President Zelenskyy said clearly Ukraine is not involved in the attacks, that they are defending their country, but they are fighting on their soil, that they are not attacking Russian soil,” he said.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, who on Wednesday called for the “physical elimination” of Mr Zelenskyy over the purported drone attack, on Thursday criticised Mr Borrell as “an impudent old fool”.

The White House said on Wednesday that the Kremlin was “lying” by accusing the US of guiding Ukraine towards launching the alleged drone attack.

Updated: May 04, 2023, 2:38 PM