Interview with RBA Fellow Pierre Hazan

“The question of wartime collaboration is extremely sensitive”

Pierre Hazan is a senior advisor with the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, one of the main organizations in armed conflict mediation. He closely monitors the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine, focusing on questions of transitional justice. Here, the Robert Bosch Academy Fellow discusses the sensitive topic of wartime collaboration between Ukrainians and Russians, the grain deal between the two countries and how Putin was able to deceive the West.

Dr. Tim Tolsdorff
Robert Bosch Stiftung
April 26, 2023

In mid-March 2023, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for his alleged responsibility in the unlawful deportation and transfer of children from Ukraine to Russia. Is it actually possible to prosecute the leader of a nuclear power?

Yes, the ICC can indict anyone who allegedly committed an international crime. But the ICC doesn't have an international police force, so no one is going to arrest Vladimir Putin in Russia. But what is going to happen if President Putin travels to one of the 123 countries that ratified the Rome Statutes? In theory they should be obliged to arrest him. Will they? That would be an important test for the ICC's credibility. You may recall that the former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir went to South Africa and was not arrested. Hungary already said that it's not going to arrest Putin. And a lot of countries from the Global South don't seem so keen about the indictment.

What challenge does Putin’s indictment pose for a possible peace process?

It is more difficult to deal directly with someone who has been indicted. The Serbian President, Slobodan Milosevic, was not yet indicted in 1995. That is why he could travel to the US take part in the Dayton peace negotiations. 
From a judicial perspective, two articles of the ICC statutes give some flexibility to regulate the tension between the struggle for peace and the pursuit of justice. Article 16 states that the UN Security Council, by adopting a resolution, can stop any investigation or prosecution. Article 53 allows the prosecutor to stop any investigation or prosecution if he or she believes it is not “in the interest of the victims” or “in the interests of justice.”  But would a prosecutor take such a decision? It's unlikely, but not impossible. 

About Pierre Hazan

Pierre Hazan is a senior advisor with the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HD), one of the main organizations in armed conflict mediation worldwide. He has worked with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and collaborated with the United Nations in the Balkans. He was a member of the International Contact Group on the Basque Conflict, which contributed to the ending of political violence in the Basque country, and has worked in conflict zones worldwide. Hazan has been a fellow with renowned universities and think tanks like Harvard Law School. He has published numerous books and papers, among them “Negotiating with the Devil”. In 2022, Pierre Hazan became a Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

Which new players have acted as intermediaries in this conflict – and why?

Mainly Turkey, but also Saudi Arabia and the Arab Emirates have played the intermediaries. The two Western countries that usually serve as intermediaries were not solicited. This is not surprising: Norway is a NATO member and Switzerland also adopted sanctions against Russia. 
Turkey, the UN and other actors, including the organization I’m working with, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue, were instrumental to the success of the grain deal between Ukraine and Russia  The African Union was also a major actor, as Africa is by far the main importer of grain from both countries. In nine months, Ukraine was able to export some 30 million tons of grain. This helped keep the price low. However, this successful agreement is now in jeopardy because Russia doesn't think it’s getting a good enough deal. New discussions have been taking place to facilitate Russian exports of ammonia, hoping to keep the grain deal running. 

In the political and public sphere there are ongoing discussions about whether to speak to Vladimir Putin or not. Would mediators discuss with him?

The conditions need to be right. A third party can only do something meaningful if there is a common interest between the warring parties. Unfortunately, it seems we are not yet there. Ukraine insisting on regaining its territorial integrity, and Russia having annexed territories, make the idea of a productive discussion today close to impossible. Unless the situation changes, either militarily or politically, I don't see any talks materializing.

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The Russian war in Ukraine was preceded by years of unsuccessful negotiations. Why was Vladimir Putin able to deceive representatives of the West?

The French philosopher Montesquieu was convinced that commerce tends to civilize people, making them less inclined to resort to violence. I think the Western world, and the Europeans in particular, believed that economics would be the main driver of relations with Russia. President Putin, however, obviously didn't think that way. It's interesting to go back to the Munich Security Conference of 2007. There, Putin said very clearly that he wanted a different world order, but the Europeans wanted to believe that by giving hard currency to Russia in exchange for gas, the status quo would prevail. One year later, Russia attacked Georgia, but the Europeans still didn't pay attention. Then Russia intervened militarily in Syria, and in 2014, Crimea and Donbas were next. Vladimir Putin definitely sent some messages. But the Europeans didn't want to listen, thinking like Montesquieu, that economics remains the main driver in our relations with Russia.

You have been working in war-ridden Ukraine a lot in recent years. What projects did you work on there?

I'm mostly specialized in questions regarding reconciliation after mass violence. This field is often called “transitional justice” or “dealing with the past.” The aim is to use different tools like truth commissions, reparation programs, amnesty law and others to help a society to move from a violent conflict to a political conflict. In Ukraine, there were a lot of discussions and ideas about these issues in Parliament and among civil society groups after the 2014 conflict. But since February 24, 2022, the situation has obviously changed dramatically.

Pierre Hazan

Mediator Pierre Hazan talks to Tim Tolsdorff about Putin's attitude and the situation in Ukraine.

You also have been involved in working with the Sviatohirsk group in Eastern Ukraine. Can you give some insights regarding this project?

Among other initiatives and before February 24, the Centre for Humanitarian dialogue has supported a group of civil society leaders living on both sides of the conflict lines in the Donbas region. The aim at the time was to prepare the ground for a reconciliation process in a future re-united Donbas. We called this group the Sviatohirsk group, named after the city where the meetings took place. But obviously February 2022 created a new situation. Recently, the remaining members of the group conducted sixteen in-depth interviews with the residents of the territories under the control of Ukrainian authorities and people from the territories of Ukraine under temporary occupation after 24 February, in order to explain a life-changing decision: should they stay under Russian occupation or leave and abandon their home?

How do the Ukrainians you talked to view wartime collaboration with the Russians in the occupied territories?

The question of wartime collaboration is always extremely sensitive. We know what happened after World War II in many countries when popular vengeance took place against the “collaborators.” During the occupation, people were trapped in a terrible situation. To survive, they sometimes needed to collaborate with the occupying forces, although some willingly sided with the occupiers. But collaboration is not always clear cut. 
According to international law, people can continue to do the job they did before the occupation without being considered a “traitor” or a “collaborator.” The situation in Ukraine is even more complex: Russia annexed some territories and established a policy of “passportization,” which means giving Russian passports to thousands of people. It also imposed, for instance, that teachers must use the Russian school curriculum. That has created a very difficult situation for many people. What happens when Ukraine controls these territories one day? Who will be punished? Who will be granted amnesty and under what conditions? History teaches us that it is necessary to prepare the ground for building a more peaceful society. 

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