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Ukraine announces first war crime trial of Russian soldier in custody as UK enters pact with Sweden, Finland

By Ellen Francis and Annabelle Chapman
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson during a joint press conference yesterday about the UK-Sweden defence pact. Photo: Frank Augstein/PA

Ukraine’s prosecutor general yesterday said the country would try a 21-year-old Russian soldier who is in custody, adding that he would be the first Russian service member to stand trial there on a war crimes charge in the 11-week conflict.

The prosecutor’s statement accused soldier Vadim Shishimarin of firing several shots with a Kalashnikov rifle from a car, killing an unarmed 62-year-old resident in a village in the Sumy region of northeastern Ukraine on February 28.

It said the victim was pushing a bicycle by the side of the road before he was shot in the head and “died on the spot a few dozen metres from his home”.

The prosecutor’s office said Ukrainian investigators collected “evidence of his involvement in violation of the laws and customs of war combined with premeditated murder”.

The crime can carry a penalty of 10 to 15 years or life in prison. The statement did not provide details on the nature of the evidence or how the Russian soldier ended up in Ukrainian custody.

“Shishimarin is actually physically in Ukraine,” Iryna Venediktova, the prosecutor general, told Ukraine’s public broadcaster. “We are starting a trial not in absentia, but rather directly with the person who killed a civilian, and this is a war crime.”

Ukrainian authorities have pushed ahead with efforts to investigate alleged war crimes by Russian forces across the country, even as holding senior officials of a world power to account faces big hurdles and Kyiv has acknowledged it may be difficult to bring perpetrators to justice during a raging war.

Last month, prosecutors filed their first charges, in absentia, to Ukrainian courts against 10 Russian service members they accused of war crimes in Bucha, on the outskirts of Kyiv, where investigators uncovered evidence of torture and mutilation after Russian forces retreated. Moscow has dismissed the accusations.

The term “war crimes” has a precise definition referring to violations of international law governing conduct in combat and during occupation. These include the deliberate targeting of civilians, as well as attacks on hospitals, schools and historic monuments.

Ukrainian authorities have the primary responsibility to investigate alleged violations of international law committed on Ukrainian territory, according to some experts, although that requires a functional Ukrainian justice system, The Washington Post reported. Another avenue could be the International Criminal Court.

Prisoners of war cannot be prosecuted for taking a direct part in armed conflict, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross and Human Rights Watch. The detaining power may prosecute them for possible war crimes, and they are also entitled to legal protections.

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson yesterday said he had agreed new deals with Sweden and Finland to bolster European security, pledging to support both countries’ armed forces should they come under attack.

Mr Johnson is due to sign the new declarations, described by Britain as “a step-change in defence and security cooperation”, during visits to both Sweden and Finland yesterday.

“What we are saying, emphatically, is that in the event of a disaster or the event of an attack upon Sweden, then the UK would come to the assistance of Sweden with whatever Sweden requested,” Mr Johnson said after meeting Swedish premier Magdalena Andersson.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced a rethink of how Sweden and neighbour Finland safeguard national security.

Both are expected to join Nato, but both are worried they would be vulnerable while their applications are processed, which could take up to a year.

“In times of crisis, co-operation becomes even more important,” Ms Andersson told reporters at a briefing with Mr Johnson at the Swedish government’s country retreat south of Stockholm.

“If either country should suffer a disaster or an attack, the United Kingdom and Sweden will assist each other in a variety of ways. The support will be given on request by the affected country and may include military resources.”

Sweden and Finland have also received assurances of support from the United States and Germany.

The British statement said the new arrangements would intensify intelligence sharing and accelerate joint military training, exercises and deployments.

Sweden and Finland already have close ties with Britain and are part of the Joint Expeditionary Force, a multinational military group focused on security in the High North, North Atlantic and Baltic Sea regions.

But the war in Ukraine has increased fears in Stockholm and Helsinki that bilateral agreements are no substitute for Article 5 of Nato’s charter, which guarantees that an attack on one member state would be considered as an attack on all.

Sweden is coordinating with Finland over possible Nato membership and both countries are expected to announce their intentions in the coming days.

(© Washington Post)


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Dive Deeper:
First Russian soldier to go on trial in Ukraine for war crimes
As Nato expansion ratchets up the pressure on Vladimir Putin, Vadim Shysimarin, 21, is charged with murdering a 62-year-old civilian
Ukraine begins first war crimes trial of Russian soldier
A Ukrainian court held a preliminary hearing on Friday in the first war crimes trial arising from Russia's Feb. 24…
First Russian soldier goes on trial in Ukraine for war crimes
Vadim Shysimarin accused of killing civilian on 28 February while fighting in Sumy region in north-east Ukraine
Ukraine: Russian soldier goes on trial in first war crimes case
Some 10,700 potential war crimes involving more than 600 suspects are being investigated by Kyiv
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
First Russian soldier on trial for war crimes in Ukraine says he was ‘ordered to shoot’
Ukraine opened its first war crimes trial of the war yesterday, putting a Russian soldier in the dock for allegedly…
Boris Johnson commits UK to defence pact with Sweden and Finland
British troops would come to the aid of Finland and Sweden in the event of a Russian attack under a…
Get all your news in one place