US Lawmakers Advance Legislation to Prosecute Russian War Crimes in Ukraine

U.S. lawmakers are set to advance legislation Tuesday urging President Joe Biden to create a special tribunal that would prosecute Russia for crimes of aggression against Ukraine.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee vote would clear the way for the legislation to come up for a full vote on the House floor and is part of a broader bipartisan congressional effort to see Russia held accountable by the international community.

Earlier this year, a group of senators led by Democrat Dick Durbin and Republican Lindsey Graham urged Biden to support the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s investigation into Russian war crimes in Ukraine after that body issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The vote comes just hours after Ukraine beat back a Russian hypersonic missile attack on Kyiv using U.S. Patriot missiles systems.

Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen told VOA that was an encouraging sign for U.S. support for Ukraine.

“It’s crucial. Ukraine needs the support of the United States and our allies in order to stave off the Russian unprovoked invasion that we’re seeing, and the civilian population in Ukraine is taking a huge devastating toll,” she said.

But Democratic Senator Ben Cardin told VOA that while air defense is a critical part of security for Ukraine, “They have a huge border. So, there’s a limit as to how effective we can be on the defensive weapons that we supply to them for their defense. But it’s critical, and we need to do more,” he said.

Lawmakers are also weighing longer-term options for countering the threat posed by Russia.

Republican Senator Jim Risch, the ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, warned Tuesday, “It appears the White House never really thinks about Russia until Moscow makes a move and has never acted proactively to force the Kremlin to respond to our initiatives. Before Russia’s unprovoked invasion last year reminded us that weakness invites aggression, this administration’s approach resembled the failed Obama ‘reset.’”

Analysts told lawmakers that U.S. policy needs to think beyond the immediate need of assisting Ukraine.

Andrea Kendall Taylor, director of the Transatlantic Security Program at the Center for a New American Security, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, “There are things that the U.S. Congress could do to demonstrate that we will have credible deliveries of weapons out into the future. I think that shapes Putin’s calculus about our staying power.”

The House panel also considered legislation Tuesday calling on Russia to immediately release U.S. citizens Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan from wrongful custody. (Katherine Gypson/VOA)