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Zelenskyy calls for special court to try suspected Russian war crimes in Ukraine

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. (The Presidential Office of Ukraine)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has called for the creation of a special court to try suspected Russian war crimes in Ukraine and for the prosecution of President Vladimir Putin for his “criminal actions.”

Zelenskiy made the comments on May 4 in The Hague in a speech at the International Criminal Court (ICC) during a rare trip outside of Ukraine as it fights to repel invading Russian forces.

“We all want to see a different Vladimir here in The Hague, the one who deserves to be sanctioned for his criminal actions here, in the capital of international law. I am sure this will happen when we win,” Zelenskiy said.

The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Putin on March 17, accusing him of responsibility in the illegal deportation of children from Ukraine, which constitutes a war crime, since he launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Zelenskiy said the special court should be modeled on the Nuremberg tribunal implemented by the Allies at the end of World War II to try Nazi war crimes.

Zelenskiy said later at a press conference that the tribunal would “show that these people are not untouchables” and stressed that the invasion itself should be seen as the “primary offense” committed by Moscow.

He also told the news conference that Ukraine wants assurances that it will be admitted into NATO once the war is over.

Zelenskiy’s surprise visit to the Netherlands came amid an escalation of Russia’s deadly strikes on Ukrainian civilian targets.

Russia overnight launched another wave of drone attacks across Ukraine. Most of the incoming drones were shot down by Ukrainian air defenses, the military said on May 4, a day after more than 20 civilians were killed by Iranian-made Shaheds.

Ukrainian defenders downed 18 out of 24 drones across Ukraine, the Air Force Command said, adding that the attack was again launched from two directions — from the western Russian region of Bryansk to the north and from the Sea of Azov to the southeast.

Air-raid alarms sounded late on May 4 in Kyiv because of a suspected drone attack, but the Ukrainian Air Force said later the aircraft that caused the alarm was one of its own.

The drone lost control during a scheduled flight in the Kyiv region and was shot down, a statement from the air force said.

Mayor Vitali Klitschko said an explosion had been heard in the Solomyansk district of the Ukrainian capital and a fire had broken out. He said this was probably due to the impact of a drone.

City authorities reported falling wreckage from a drone, saying it caused two fires in Solomyansk and Pechersk districts, and said no one was injured.

All drones aimed at the city the night before were destroyed, the city’s military administration said. No casualties were reported; however, debris from the falling drones damaged vehicles and roads in parts of the capital.

The attacks came on the heels of deadly drone strikes on May 3 that killed at least 25 people — 23 of them in the southern city of Kherson — in attacks that Zelenskiy said hit a residential building and civilian commercial areas.

Moscow has repeatedly denied targeting civilians since the start of its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, despite air attacks often hitting hospitals, residential buildings, schools, and other civilian infrastructure.

The Kremlin, meanwhile, accused the United States on May 4 of being the mastermind of an alleged drone attack on the Kremlin intended to kill Putin.

The Kremlin on May 3 claimed Ukraine attempted to hit Putin’s residence with two drones that it said were destroyed “as a result of timely action by the military and special services.”

“Decisions on such attacks are not made in Kyiv, but in Washington,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on May 4, without providing any evidence to support the claim.

White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said in response that Peskov was “just lying” and that the United States neither encouraged nor enabled Ukraine to strike outside its borders.

Ukraine denied any involvement in the alleged attack, suggesting Moscow staged it ahead of an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Russian forces continued to launch wave of unsuccessful assaults on the city of Bakhmut, in the eastern region of Donetsk, the Ukrainian military said in its daily update on May 4.

Russia’s main efforts remain focused on attacks on the Bakhmut-Maryinka-Avdiyivka front line, where the fiercest combat and incessant Russian shelling is under way, Ukraine’s General Staff said, adding that its forces repelled 40 attacks over the 24-hour period ending early on May 4.