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UKRAINE

German prosecutors launch investigation into Ukraine war crimes

Germany's federal prosecutor has opened a probe into suspected war crimes by Russian troops since the invasion of Ukraine, authorities said Tuesday, amid international outrage over attacks on civilians and critical infrastructure.

A secondary school destroyed in the war, about 30 kilometres south of Kyiv, Ukraine.
A secondary school destroyed in the war, about 30 kilometres south of Kyiv, Ukraine. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire | Mykhaylo Palinchak

“We will collect and secure all evidence of war crimes,” Justice Minister Marco Buschmann told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.

Germany’s federal prosecution office in Karlsruhe has opened a so-called structural investigation to begin collecting evidence, he said.

A source in the office confirmed to AFP that a probe had been opened.

Russia’s attack on Ukraine is “a serious violation of international law that cannot be justified by anything,” Buschmann added.

“Possible violations of international criminal law must be consistently prosecuted.”

READ ALSO: Russian energy imports ‘essential’ to Europeans’ lives, says German chancellor

A structural investigation does not target particular suspects, but aims to gather evidence of the suspected crimes and identify the structures behind them, such as the chain of command.

The evidence can then be used in future criminal proceedings against individual suspects.

Der Spiegel weekly reported that German prosecutors were spurred into action by reports of the use of cluster bombs by Russia, as well as images of residential areas being targeted, and attacks on a gas pipeline, a nuclear waste dump and a power plant.

Russia has come under intense criticism for its assault on Ukrainian cities, in operations that Kyiv and Western governments say have included
attacks on schools, hospitals and residential blocks.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that Washington has seen “very credible reports” that Russia has committed war crimes during its invasion of Ukraine.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague already announced last week that he was going ahead with an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine since Moscow’s invasion.

Germany has in the past repeatedly prosecuted atrocities committed abroad, including the war in Syria.

It does so using the legal principle of universal jurisdiction — which allows countries to try people for crimes of exceptional gravity, including war crimes and genocide, even if they were committed in a different country.

A German court in January sentenced a former Syrian colonel to life in jail for overseeing the murder of 27 people and the torture of 4,000 others at a Damascus detention centre a decade ago.

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GERHARD SCRHÖDER

German ex-Chancellor Schröder leaves Rosneft board

Former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder will leave the board of directors of Russian oil giant Rosneft, the company said on Friday, following public pressure.

German ex-Chancellor Schröder leaves Rosneft board

Rosneft said that Schröder and Nord Stream 2 CEO Matthias Warnig informed the company that it was “impossible to extend their powers on the board of directors” a day after Germany stripped Schröder of official perks over ties with Russia.

Rosneft praised their “strategic vision” and “significant contribution to the international business of the company”.

“Their role in the implementation of large-scale infrastructure projects in Russia and Germany, aimed at increasing the efficiency of the Germany economy and its industry and the well-being of its citizens, is invaluable,” Rosneft added.

READ ALSO: Germany strips Schröder of official perks over links to Russia

Schröder, who was Germany’s leader from 1998 to 2005, had been slammed for refusing to quit his posts with Russian energy giants Rosneft and Gazprom following Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The German Bundestag’s decision to strip Schröder of an office and paid staff on Thursday came after a long effort to get him to turn his back on President Vladimir Putin. 

“The coalition parliamentary groups have drawn consequences from the behaviour of former chancellor and lobbyist Gerhard Schröder in view of the Russian invasion of Ukraine,” the parliament decided.

“The office of the former chancellor shall be suspended,” it said, noting that Schröder “no longer upholds the continuing obligations of his office”.

The cost of Schröder’s office and employees was estimated to cost taxpayers around €400,000 per year. 

EU lawmakers separately called in a non-binding resolution on the bloc to slap sanctions on Schröder and other Europeans who refuse to give up lucrative board seats at Russian companies.

Schröder, 78, is due to join the supervisory board of gas giant Gazprom in June.

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