Russia charges Ukrainian officials with crimes in absentia, violating sovereignty

The moves are just the latest examples of Russia filing dubious legal cases against Ukrainian targets over actions that occurred entirely within Ukraine’s borders and airspace.

The Russian government is charging Ukrainian military personnel and officials with alleged crimes committed during Moscow’s war in Ukraine – but in absentia and outside of Russia’s jurisdiction, part of an aggressive legal campaign that the United States warns violates Ukrainian sovereignty.

On June 18, Russia’s Interior Ministry placed two former high-ranking Ukrainian defence officials, Pyotr Mekhed and Viktor Bokiy, on a wanted list for unspecified war crimes, according to reports. Neither is in Russian custody.

A day earlier, Russian authorities also ruled to detain a Ukrainian commander, who was not named, over charges he helped shoot down a Russian aircraft in February – a legitimate act during an armed conflict that Moscow is treating as a violation of domestic law.

The moves are just the latest examples of Russia filing dubious legal cases against Ukrainian targets over actions that occurred entirely within Ukraine’s borders and airspace.

Previously, Russian authorities also placed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, former President Petro Poroshenko, and other top officials on wanted lists for purported violations of Russian federal laws while those individuals were in Ukraine.

Russia has gone even further, the ISW noted, putting multiple officials from most NATO countries on its wanted lists for supposed lawbreaking acts while those individuals were within their own nations’ territory.

The Kremlin’s efforts appear aimed at lending a veneer of legitimacy to Moscow’s armed invasion of Ukraine and a legal pretext for targeting Ukrainian officials and institutions.

At the same time, the absurd cases that reach far outside of Russia’s borders demonstrate how President Vladimir Putin’s government is attempting to enforce its own laws across the territory of the former Soviet Union and well into Western Europe.

Ukrainian officials have broadly shrugged off the Russian legal manoeuvrings as meaningless propaganda. But Western analysts say they provide insight into the revanchist attitudes driving the Kremlin’s foreign policy and its refusal to treat Ukraine as a fully sovereign state, even as Moscow’s battlefield losses mount.