Greece says it will ask the International Criminal Court in The Hague to launch an investigation into possible war crimes in Ukraine’s southern port of Mariupol. The move comes as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addressed Greece's parliament on Thursday, urging Athens to use all its diplomatic might to prosecute Russian military and political officials for atrocities he said were being waged not just in Mariupol, but across Ukraine. Anthee Carassava reports, the legal move may not be that easy.
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias announced the government’s bid as he moved to meet with his NATO counterparts in Brussels to discuss developments in Ukraine. He said the government’s war crimes prosecution was linked to attacks waged against ethnic Greeks at the start of the offensive in Mariupol.
"Greece has a special interest in Mariupol because of the existence of a 100,000-strong community there," Dendias said. "But apart from that, I am going to ask my colleagues in the Alliance to help Ukraine protect Odesa, so that Odesa can avoid the fate of Mariupol.”
The announcement marks the latest sign of Greece’s shifting alliance, sidelining traditional and long-standing relations with Russia after a convoy of ethnic Greeks were attacked at the start of the offensive in Mariupol, killing at least 10 people.
Russia has denied targeting civilians in Ukraine.
Since the deadly attack, Greece has poured in more than 40 tons of military assistance, aiding Ukrainian fighters with Kalashnikov rifles and rocket propelled grenades to fend off further attacks, mainly in areas where ethnic Greeks have resided since the 6th century, influencing local culture and customs.
On Thursday, President Zelenskyy alluded to the long-standing links during a live, video conference with the Greek Parliament to drum up additional support.
Speaking through a Greek translator, Zelenskyy underscored Ukraine’s Christian links with Greece, saying the country turned to Christianity because of the strong Greek influence there. He said much of Ukraine’s culture and traditions hinged on those links and that the loss of the Greek community there would spell what he called “a loss of Ukraine’s identity” as well.
But in rallying further Greek support, Zelenksy invoked Greece’s motto in seeking independence from its Ottoman rulers in the 19th century.
As your revolutionaries fought under the saying “Freedom or death,” so are we today, he said. We need, however, more help immediately, he said. Russia must be made accountable of its crimes, he said. And time is of crucial essence.
Zelenskyy received a standing ovation for his seven-minute speech, but hardline communists refused to attend the assembly and several other leftist lawmakers who did attend, walked out when the Ukraine president introduced two freedom fighters of Greek descent to speak.
Both were part of the far-right nationalist Azov Batallion, a controversial militia group in Ukraine attracting extremists, including white supremacist neo-Nazis.
It is unclear whether Zelenskyy’s move to include them in his address will reduce Greek lawmakers' support for seeking war crimes prosecution of Russian atrocities in Ukraine.
Experts, however, warn that even if it doesn’t, the legal move may prove more show than substance.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine are members of the International Court of Justice at The Hague, making it impossible to call either side to any potential hearing, even if atrocities being waged merit war crimes charges.