A humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding in Ukraine, and the rest of the world is eyewitness. Vladimir Putin is waging a blind war against the Ukrainian civilian population. The devastating siege of Mariupol by Russian forces, including the deliberate bombardment of a children’s hospital and a maternity hospital, is part of a pattern.
As Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said, this is further proof that genocide is taking place in our country. More than 2,100 people have been killed in Mariupol alone since the start of the invasion. Across Ukraine, Russian troops are holding hundreds of thousands of people hostage, preventing them from leaving their towns and villages while shelling them indiscriminately and without warning.
An estimated 2.8 million people have fled the country and millions more have had to leave their homes to seek refuge. People lined up at the border for days and many found safety with neighbors and strangers. A thousand communities have no heat, electricity or water. There are reports of people drinking from puddles and children dying of dehydration.
Throughout Putin’s 22-year rule, Russia has repeatedly acted with impunity, blackmailing the world with the unspoken threat of nuclear retaliation. The international community has seen his regime ravaging Chechnya and Georgia with the same kind of scorched earth campaign he is waging in Ukraine, illegally annexing Crimea and waging hybrid warfare against other countries around the world.
The Kremlin-backed regime in Syria has pushed 90% of that country’s population into poverty, and the United Nations (UN) reports that 14.6 million Syrians, out of a population of 17.5 million, need help. humanitarian aid. Today, Ukraine has become the West’s beaten shield against Putin.
With the international security system in tatters and humanitarian laws repeatedly violated, what Ukraine most urgently needs are weapons and missile systems to protect the skies. But, in addition to military, economic and humanitarian aid, Ukraine desperately needs the world to further isolate Putin through legal action.
That is why the Ukrainian Parliament Committee on Anti-Corruption Policy is asking the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on Money Laundering to expel the Russian Federation and add it to the blacklist of jurisdictions to high risk. As an international body tasked with combating terrorist financing and money laundering, the FATF could make international dealings with Russia impossible, crippling the country’s engine of war. Yet even in the face of crimes like those committed in Mariupol, the FATF failed to act.
The FATF was created by the G7 in 1989 to coordinate legal and regulatory action against threats to the global financial system from money laundering and terrorist financing. The organization has 39 members, including the Russian Federation, and more than 200 member jurisdictions.
Among its members’ core responsibilities (outlined in its 40+9 Recommendations) are the criminalization of “terrorist financing and related money laundering” and the freezing and confiscation of “terrorist assets”. Among other tasks, the FATF identifies jurisdictions that pose a threat to the international financial system due to weak enforcement of anti-money laundering and terrorist financing rules, and places them on a list of high-risk jurisdictions.
Russia was blacklisted in 2000 for its repeated failure to comply with international measures against money laundering, and was delisted in 2002 for progress in compliance. Clearly, given the amount of money laundering and terrorist financing intelligence conducted by the Russian government, any progress made has been reversed.
And make no mistake: Russia’s actions in Ukraine constitute terrorism. The so-called Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic have engaged in terrorism while operating under direct Russian control for eight years.
In July 2014, a Russian Buk missile shot down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, killing 298 passengers and crew. The Dutch public prosecutor’s office has charged three Russians (Igor Girkin, Sergey Dubinsky and Oleg Pulatov) and a Ukrainian (Leonid Kharchenko) with murder.
Since the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24, countless attacks against civilians have taken place. These include rocket fire at residential buildings, hospitals, kindergartens and asylums in Kyiv, Kharkiv, Sumy, Chernihiv and other population centers.
Russian forces even attacked the facilities of the Chernobyl and Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plants and the kyiv reservoir, showing extraordinary recklessness. All of these acts fall within the definition of terrorism. They are designed to serve Russia’s political goals by killing, maiming and intimidating the civilian population.
Russia has thereby violated both the United Nations International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism (1999) and the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism (2005). UN Security Council Resolution 1373 (2001) requires all states to prevent the financing of terrorist acts, yet that is what Russia did in Luhansk and Donetsk.
Under these circumstances, Russia’s continued membership in the FATF is a further affront to international law. The organization’s chairman, Marcus Pleyer, and G7 governments should act to expel Russia and add it to the list of high-risk jurisdictions, defined as those “with serious strategic deficiencies in combating money laundering.” money, the financing of terrorism and the financing of proliferation”.
To date, the FATF has expressed “serious concern” about the situation in Ukraine and has indicated that it is “reviewing the role of Russia” within the organisation. However, it won’t meet again until June and it seems to be sticking to that schedule. Such inaction is tantamount to supporting Putin. International agreements are worthless if they are not implemented and respected in a timely manner.
One of the great unlearned lessons of history is that appeasement does not work. My grandfather is 93 years old and he refuses to leave kyiv. He was a boy when the Nazis took over his town in 1941.
What good is saying “never again” for 80 years if we are not ready to act when the moment of truth arrives?
The least the West can do is hold Putin to account for deliberately attacking civilian targets. A decisive FATF decision would be a good start.
The world is watching. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called criticism of the Mariupol hospital bombing “pathetic”. In a way, he’s right. Responding to such crimes with words is pathetic. The West needs to do more to ensure that “never again” still means something.