U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH) this week urged allocation of additional funding to support Ukraine as it prepares to prosecute alleged war crimes committed by Russian military personnel.
The senator said his view of the need for more aid was informed through discussions he and Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) had with Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin on Wednesday concerning how America can help its ally to pursue war-crime cases against enemy soldiers. Portman and Durbin co-chair the Senate Ukraine Caucus.
“The United States stands with Ukraine and its efforts to hold Russia accountable for its heinous war crimes against the Ukrainian people,” Portman said in a statement. “I strongly encourage my colleagues to approve more funding for Ukraine. This will help Ukrainian prosecutors investigate more war crimes cases and secure justice for innocent victims, and it will help Ukrainian soldiers liberate their fellow citizens from future Russian atrocities.”
In a Senate floor speech on Tuesday, the senator condemned Russia’s aggression against Ukraine since the former invaded its western neighbor in February, drawing particular attention to the discovery of over 400 graves in the town of Izium. Ukrainian forces, with the substantial financial backing of the United States, have managed to largely repel Russian occupiers from Izium and other strategically important areas of northeastern Ukraine.
Still, nearly 6,000 civilians have been confirmed dead as a result Russia’s invasion, including almost 400 children. Thousands more non-military individuals have been injured.
U.S. officials have responded with increased focus on collaborating with Ukraine in probing and pursuing alleged cases of Russian inhumanity toward civilians. On Tuesday, Attorney General Merrick Garland met with Kostin in Washington, where the two signed a memorandum of understanding to advance cooperation in handling these cases.
“The United States stands by the people of Ukraine in their tireless pursuit to uphold the rule of law and seek justice for victims in the face of Russia’s continued aggression,” Garland said in the memorandum. “Today, the Department of Justice and the Prosecutor General’s Office announced our decision to work more closely together to identify, apprehend, and prosecute individuals involved in war crimes and other atrocities in Ukraine. We will be relentless in these efforts to hold perpetrators accountable.”
During a trip to Ukraine in June, Garland announced the creation of a War Crimes Accountability Team within the Justice Department. The team will take the lead in prosecuting certain alleged Russian crimes, such as aggression against American journalists covering the conflict. Journalists killed in the war include American documentarian Brent Renaud, who was shot in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin.
In an email to The Ohio Star, Portman’s office said he hopes Congress will approve the full $11.7 percent President Joe Biden has requested to fund various Ukraine-related priorities. America has already committed over $53 billion in Ukraine-related spending this year.
Luke Coffey, a U.S. Army veteran who formerly advised the U.K. Ministry of Defense and now works as a senior fellow at at the D.C.-based Hudson Institute, strongly endorsed America’s continued financial support of Ukraine’s position.
“Ukraine is engaged in a fight of national survival against a country that is one of America’s adversaries,” he told The Star. “And they’re not asking for U.S. boots on the ground; they’re not asking for Americans to spill blood. They’re asking for the weapons and the resources needed to fight the Russians themselves and they’ve done so quite effectively.”
He observed that the American people overwhelmingly voice solidarity with Ukraine, describing Russia’s posture toward the U.S. as thoroughly hostile ever since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 1999. He cited Russia’s payment of bounties to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, diplomatic cooperation with Iran on the latter’s nuclear ambitions, and coalescence with communist China.
Veteran and war historian James Carafano, a scholar at the D.C.-based Heritage Foundation who recently came back from a trip to Ukraine in which he met with its President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, concurred that America has been correct to assist its ally. He added he would have been more aggressive and swift than the Biden administration in transferring military assistance.
“There was definitely, indisputably a need for military aid,” he said. “That’s the most important thing. Nothing else is really relevant unless you can actually win the war. Ukrainians have actually been very efficient at using foreign military aid.”
Carafano, however, urged lawmakers to carefully scrutinize any spending toward war-crimes prosecution. While he said it may be worth supporting, none of it should go to the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court (ICC).
“We have very serious concerns about ICC prosecutions in the past,” he said. “We have serious concerns about sovereignty … . I don’t think it’s an institution that we have a great deal of confidence in.”
He said national and regional tribunals have tended to prosecute war crimes more cost-effectively and with less politicization.
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