Russian war criminals are easily traveling the world, and Interpol does not want to track them down. We explain why and what to do about it

Oksana Kovalenko
Dmytro Rayevskyi
Russian war criminals are easily traveling the world, and Interpol does not want to track them down. We explain why and what to do about it

Kateryna Bandus / «Бабель»

In February 2023, Russian war criminal Daniil Martynov, who participated in the occupation of the Kyiv region, arrived in Turkey. He was a member of the "rescue mission" of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations, which helped to eliminate the consequences of a series of earthquakes in Turkey, and is currently the chief of security for the president of Chechnya Ramzan Kadyrov. On Martynovʼs orders, the "Kadyrovites" took local residents hostage in the Kyiv region to use as human shields for the Russian army. In August 2022, the Security Service of Ukraine declared him of the suspicion, and later the court issued a guilty verdict. This did not prevent Martynov from spending time in Turkey and calmly returning home. This is the only case that has become known publicly, but most Russian war criminals still travel the world without problems. Babel correspondent Oksana Kovalenko spoke with representatives of law enforcement agencies, Interpol, and the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals and explains why no one detains Russians and what to do about it.

How Russians are declared internationally wanted

After the Revolution of Dignity, when many suspects in crimes fled Ukraine, Ukrainian legislation allowed for a special pre-trial investigation without the participation of the suspect. The court was also allowed "in absentia" — without the participation of the accused, but with the mandatory participation of his (or her) lawyer.

Currently, about 600 Russian war criminals have been identified in Ukraine, and over 118 have already been tried. But only 17 Russians were in person at the court hearings — the rest of the verdicts were announced in absentia, because the accused are now in Russia or in the occupied territories.

The first convicted Russian war criminal Vadim Shishimarin.


Usually, when the suspect does not respond to the summons of the investigation (or it is known that he is abroad), he is first declared wanted in Ukraine. And then — in an international search through Interpol. Then, in all 196 Interpol member countries, the police will have a file on that person and they can be detained during a document check. After that, Ukraine can request extradition.

But in wartime, everything is much more complicated. And not a single Russian connected with war crimes in Ukraine was wanted by Interpol. Ukrainian law enforcement officers complained that since 2014, Interpol has been doing this for various reasons. Already in 2023, the Minister of Internal Affairs (MIA) Ihor Klymenko stated that Interpol showed itself as an organization that plays politics, and does not perform the functions for which it exists.

The logic of Interpol is as follows: there is a third article in its statute, according to which Interpol does not consider requests of a political, military, religious or racial nature. Therefore, it can officially reject requests regarding the war in Ukraine. For example, Russia will not be able to declare on the international wanted list its military personnel who escape from the army and want to testify against their commanders. When a country submits a search request, Interpolʼs File Control Commission reviews it for compliance with the statute. And if the commission determines that it is, for example, political persecution, then the search is not announced.

After the creation of international tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda, the Special Court for Sierra Leone, as well as the International Criminal Court (ICC), Interpol began to receive numerous requests for the international search for war criminals. Even then, there were disputes between the member states as to whether these criminals fell under the protection of the third article of the statute.

Interpol Secretary General Jürgen Stock at the meeting of the General Assembly of the organization, December 2023.

Therefore, in 2010, Interpol adopted a resolution that it can declare wanted for suspects and accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide only in three cases.

  • The first case is if the request is made by an international tribunal, a special court or the International Criminal Court. That is, in the future, a special tribunal on the crime of aggression by Russia will be able to apply to Interpol, if it can be created.

    There are also Russian military personnel who could already be put on international wanted list through Interpol. For example, Russian generals Sergei Kobylash and Viktor Sokolov, whose arrest warrants were issued by the International Criminal Court in the winter of 2024 for attacks on Ukrainian energy infrastructure. Babel asked the ICC if they were going to contact Interpol, but the ICC prosecutorʼs office said they "do not comment on issues related to ongoing investigations." However, from the previous practice of the ICC, it can be expected that the court will turn to Interpol when indicting suspects.

    There is no point in asking about Vladimir Putin and the Commissioner for Childrenʼs Rights under the President of the Russian Federation Maria Lvova-Belova, who also have warrants from the International Criminal Court — there were no such precedents of international investigation in the history of Interpol.

    It is likely that the International Criminal Court will soon be able to do without Interpol. So far, the International Criminal Court has not had its own capabilities to detain or track those involved in investigations. But at the end of 2023, the court opened vacancies in the newly created Group for the Search of Suspected Fugitives — these are investigators, analysts, lawyers, advisers on international cooperation and other experts. Babel turned to the ICC and asked how the group will work, but they do not comment on such issues.
  • The second case іs if the request is submitted by the UN Security Council or another entity to which it has given the relevant mandate. In the case of the Russian military, this scenario is unlikely, because Russia has the right of veto in the Security Council.
  • The third case is if the country whose citizen is wanted gives its consent. The chances that Russia will agree to look for its own military are slim to none, so this way is not suitable for Ukraine either.

According to Babel, Ukraine constantly consults with Interpol regarding Russian war criminals. Only in the spring of 2024, Ukraine convinced Interpol to declare about fifteen Russians wanted for murder, rape, and torture. However, the results of the consultations are still disappointing. Why Interpol refuses and how it argues is unknown, because the details of the negotiations are classified. The Interpol headquarters in Lyon did not respond to Babelʼs request.

Babelʼs interlocutor at Interpol explains that one must act carefully in this matter so that the Russians do not take advantage of it later. Because Russia has the experience of cooperation with Interpol. For example, in 2014, at the request of Russia, Interpol put Dmytro Yarosh on the wanted list on charges of extremism. The card was withdrawn only in 2016. In 2018, Interpol also announced an international wanted man under the pseudonym “Stephan Kapinos”, whom Russian law enforcement officers called involved in the case of Pavlo Hryb, a Ukrainian who was lured by the Russians to Belarus and kidnapped there, and later accused of preparing a terrorist attack. Pavlo Hryb was exchanged in September 2019.

Interpol red card issued in 2014 to Dmytro Yarosh.

There were also cases when it was possible to convince Interpol to refuse Russia. In 2017, National Guardsman Vitaliy Markiv was detained in Italy on suspicion of murdering Italian reporter Andrea Rocchelli and translator Andrii Myronov near Slovyansk in 2014. The trial in Italy lasted three years. In November 2020, Markiv was acquitted and returned to Ukraine. But already in December, Russia started its own investigation on the same accusation, the Basmanny Court of Moscow arrested Markiv in absentia, and Russia decided to put him on the international wanted list. But Ukraine convinced Interpol not to do this precisely with reference to the third article of the statute, proving that the charges against Markiv are unfounded and politically motivated.

Search through bilateral agreements

Another option for Ukraine to arrest Russians is bilateral agreements on international legal assistance. This is a complicated process, because such requests must be sent separately to all countries for each suspect — this is a huge amount of documents. And there are no guarantees that the country will agree to detain someone, because according to such agreements, it itself decides whether to grant the request.

And this is already a political issue — the better the countryʼs relations with Russia, the less likely it is to extradite a Russian to Ukraine. An interlocutor familiar with extradition procedures explained to Babel that, for example, Turkey or the UAE will think carefully before responding to Ukraineʼs requests, because they have close relations with Russia and are unlikely to want to spoil them.

Itʼs easier with EU countries: they cooperate better, and some of them have universal jurisdiction, which gives them the opportunity to investigate international crimes themselves and turn to Interpol. In such cases, it is more difficult for Interpol to refuse, because the search is announced by a "third party" that has no political interest in the case.

As an interlocutor from law enforcement agencies told Babel, sometimes European countries do not want to extradite criminals to Ukraine, because they are in danger here due to constant shelling. It is because of this that protected prisons with shelters were built in the west of Ukraine.

"For example, if there is a court in the Poltava region, they are not taken to court, but they participate in court sessions via video conference. That is, the court itself is under threat of shelling, and the suspect is in a safe place," says the law enforcement officer.

Europeans are also dissatisfied with the conditions in our prisons. In July 2023, Russian mercenary Yan Petrovsky, who has been fighting against Ukraine since 2014, flew to France via Finland. He was detained because Finland had previously banned him from entering the country. Ukraine has asked Finland to extradite Petrovsky, because he is suspected of war crimes in Ukraine. In December 2023, Finland refused extradition due to conditions in Ukrainian prisons, but launched its own investigation into Petrovskyʼs war crimes. Finnish investigators were already in Ukraine and collecting evidence. Petrovsky himself is being held in custody.

Yan Petrovsky next to the killed fighters of "Aidar", which his squad was waiting for at the captured checkpoint with the Ukrainian flag. This photo was posted by the soldiers of the “Rusich” unit, who later admitted that they had shot several wounded Ukrainian soldiers.


Experience of International Tribunals

The problem is that even an Interpol search is not a guarantee that the suspect will be detained. This is the experience of international tribunals. For example, the International Tribunal for Yugoslavia could not detain anyone for several years because the criminals were hiding in countries that did not extradite them. So it was necessary to work with a special unit of the tribunal itself, which tracked and even lured criminals. And involve special services of different countries.

One of the representatives of the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, who cannot be named, told Babel that usually the investigation of each fugitive case lasts at least a year. But the search must be active, it is not enough to simply send out arrest warrants.

"The Interpol red card is not a useful document — itʼs just a piece of paper, thatʼs not how fugitives are arrested. Active investigations are needed to arrest them. The suspect must be thoroughly studied, everything about him must be understood: where he can be, what names he uses, how much money he has, what his surroundings are like, who he is connected with, who helps him. Sometimes their environment can give a lot of information," says the interlocutor.

When refugees hide in countries that support them at the state level, diplomacy has to be involved.

"We need to work with each country, meet with ministers, general prosecutors, police chiefs. We created working groups with many countries of the world to cooperate in the search for criminals," he recalls.

The interlocutor cites the example of the arrest of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, who were hiding in Serbia, and it was clear that they could not be found without cooperation with this country.

International Tribunal for Yugoslavia prosecutor Carla Del Ponte holds up a map of Bosnia and Herzegovina, demanding that the leader of Republika Srpska arrest criminals Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic, 2001.


"We knew that the Serbian government wants something, such as joining the EU, and needs the financial support of a number of countries, including the United States. Therefore, the issue of extradition of Mladic and Karadzic was tied to these issues," explains the employee of the tribunal.

According to him, even now several Serbs are hiding from Bosnian justice — Serbia does not extradite its citizens, like many other countries. Therefore, Serbia is offered to conduct such trials itself.

Sometimes the argument about exactly what crimes the fugitive committed works. If he raped, abused defenseless women, tortured, cut off limbs or gouged out eyes, the country itself might not want him to live there too much.

"Therefore, you can ask: will your citizens feel safe when such people walk freely on your streets," says the interlocutor.

The very fact of being wanted can also greatly spoil the life of a criminal and limit his comfort, even if he cannot be caught. One of Rwandaʼs war criminals, the former commander of the presidential guard Protais Mpiranya hid from justice first in the Congo, but then he was forced to move to Zimbabwe. At first, he had a lot of money, he lived comfortably, had connections with "big people". But over time the money ran out. He tried to earn money — he was engaged in business.

"It turned out that he was good at killing people, but he didnʼt know how to run a business, so he wasnʼt particularly good at making money, and he continued to spend the money he brought with him," says the interlocutor.

Mpiranya fell ill. There was not enough money for treatment, and the 50-year-old former Rwandan commander died in 2006.

A sticker with a photo of Rwandan fugitive criminal Protais Mpiranya in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, in May 2020.


"If he didnʼt have to hide and lead a normal life, he would have been able to overcome this disease without any problems, but he died. He died a poor, destitute person without family and support. He was buried under an assumed name in a giant cemetery in Zimbabwe. Is this justice? Literally no. But the victims received some satisfaction," says the employee of the tribunal.

Also, there are always cases when criminals try to escape, for example to Europe, under the guise of refugees. So there is a possibility that they will be detained.

"The main thing is not to sit idly by, but to work, to do everything possible," he says.

This publication was made possible by the support of the American people, provided through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) within the Human Rights in Action Program, implemented by the Ukrainian Helsinki Human Rights Union.

The views and interpretations presented in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID, the US Government, or the UHSPR. The authors and editors of the Babel website are solely responsible for the content of the publication.

USAID is one of the worldʼs leading institutions in the field of development, acting as a catalyst for these processes and helping to achieve positive results. USAIDʼs activities are a manifestation of the benevolence of the American people, and also support the advancement of aid-recipient countries to self-reliance and stability, and contribute to strengthening the national security and economic well-being of the United States. USAID has been supporting partnership relations with Ukraine since 1992. During this time, the total cost of aid provided to Ukraine by the Agency exceeded $3 billion. Among the current strategic priorities of USAIDʼs activities in Ukraine are strengthening democracy and mechanisms of good governance, promoting economic development and energy security, improving health care systems, and mitigating the consequences of the conflict in the eastern regions. In order to receive additional information about the activities of USAID, please contact the public relations department of the USAID Mission in Ukraine at tel. (+38 044) 521-57-53. We also suggest visiting our website or Facebook page.

Oksana Kovalenko
Dmytro Rayevskyi
Human Rights in Action
International Tribunal
war crimes

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