Russian President Vladimir Putin is responsible for “crimes against nature,” according to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who condemned the Kremlin chief as European counterparts made their case for Ukraine’s admission into NATO.
“It’s imperative that our global community works together to hold Putin accountable,” Pelosi said Thursday at the Capitol. “I’m encouraged by the International Criminal Court’s decision to put a warrant [out for] Putin’s arrest. He must answer for the blatant disregard for [Ukraine’s] sovereignty and for territorial integrity.”
Pelosi relinquished the speaker’s gavel but remains a heavyweight among congressional Democrats and internationally. She was one of three elected American officials to join a forum of European lawmakers who want to stiffen trans-Atlantic military and political support for Ukraine over the coming year, a case often reinforced by the reports of Russian war crimes that have surfaced during the campaign to overthrow the Ukrainian government.
“This raping of women in front of their parents, in front of their children; kidnapping children — taking them closer to Alaska than Ukraine, some of them so young they have no idea of [their] name, address, and nationality — these are crimes against nature,” Pelosi said. “It’s really important that … we hold Vladimir Putin responsible for those individual crimes.”
The International Criminal Court issued its arrest warrant last week, accusing Putin of orchestrating the abduction of Ukrainian children into Russia. They leveled the charge one day after a separate United Nations-backed investigation concluded that the deportations amounted to “a war crime.”
Pelosi endorsed the finding in the company of Central European lawmakers who fear that U.S. and Western European officials will try to conciliate Putin in ways that give the Kremlin the confidence to continue its aggression.
Lithuanian legislator Zygimantas Pavilionis and other European lawmakers have their eye on the annual NATO Leaders Summit, which will take place in Vilnius, Lithuania, against a likely backdrop of Russian and Ukrainian soldiers trading blows in the second summer of full-scale war.
“We need to be very clear that it doesn’t involve current NATO members sending their troops. It doesn’t involve immediate use of Article 5,” Polish Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Radoslaw Fogiel said. “But in Vilnius, and then in Washington, we need to make sure that it’s very clear for everyone, especially for Putin, that NATO membership for Ukraine is inevitable in the near future.”
NATO leaders have declined to make any substantial progress toward admitting Ukraine into the trans-Atlantic alliance since 2008, when Western leaders declared that Ukraine and Georgia “will become members of NATO” eventually. Then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced during a press conference in Russia later that year that she would block the provision of a so-called Membership Action Plan, a practical veto that has remained in place ever since.
“We need to put Ukraine onto a clear track for NATO membership,” Atlantic Council senior fellow Ian Brzezinksi said. “Ukrainian membership is long overdue. But I also understand the political realities of the NATO alliance. At a minimum, if they can’t give [Ukraine] membership now, at a minimum, they can put it on a clear path to membership — that would be the membership action plan.”
Exiled Belarusian opposition leader Svitlana Tsikhanouskaya — “President Tsikhanouskaya, that’s how we call her in Vilnius; her election was stolen,” Pavilionis emphasized — echoed Pelosi’s endorsement of the ICC warrant for Putin, but urged Washington not to forget about Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, the Kremlin’s client in Minsk.
“It was Putin who helped Lukashenko to choke our uprising because Russia doesn’t want Belarus to be free and democratic,” she said. “Lukashenko’s regime has been a laboratory for Putin’s Russia. They tested their evil repression upon us, the ordinary people. Now Moscow, Minsk, Tehran, and Beijing are starting to form a new axis of tyranny.”
Those forces have gathered strength, according to Pavilionis, due to a series of “stupid” decisions by Western powers.
“It was your naivety, your arrogance, thinking that with your values, you will change the thieves and killers just by giving them money. Stupid. It’s never happening,” Pavilionis said at the forum. “You empowered it. So, decouple. It started with Russia, but it’s not stopping so much with China.”
Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez (D-NJ), who appeared at the gathering at the end of the event, offered his own lament that Western allies hesitated to confront Putin more forcefully after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
“But we have learned from history, and we are now united,” Menendez said. “We are not just fighting for Ukraine, which in and of itself is a worthy cause. We are fighting for the international proposition that you cannot by force take another country’s territory. If we fail in that endeavor, the domino effect will be severe, and the consequences — we will feel them.”