REYKJAVIK, Iceland (AP) — Leaders from across the continent are laser-focused on holding Russia to account for its invasion of Ukraine and were poised to approve a system during their Council of Europe summit that would precisely establish the damages Moscow would have to pay to rebuild the nation.
The 46-nation Council of Europe is opening its first summit in 18 years late Tuesday, fully backing its member state Ukraine and condemning Russia, which was expelled from the organization, for inflicting war on its neighbor.
While almost all European nations have provided military support or taken in refugees from Ukraine, the Council of Europe, the continent's preeminent human rights organization, is uniquely placed to coordinate legal and judicial support.
“When we think in terms of reconstruction it’s an enormously important judicial element to have this register of damages to give justice to the victims,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
And after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy stocked up on promises of military hardware throughout a long weekend of diplomatic hobnobbing with the continent's major leaders, dozens of Europe's major leaders arrived in far-flung Iceland bent to turn the legal screws on the Kremlin.
By Wednesday's conclusion, leaders at the summit want to have the outlines of a system in place so Moscow can be held liable for compensation to the victims later and allow for the battered nation to start the economic healing process. They are hoping that the United States, which has observer status at the summit, will also back that initiative.
“The register is just one of a number of international initiatives set up to ensure accountability for the crimes inflicted in Ukraine,” U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said.
The Council of Europe also wants to make sure that Russia can be held accountable for what it sees as a plethora of crimes committed during the invasion.
“A big topic will be the accountability of Russia, the crime of aggression it is constantly committing by waging war in Ukraine,” von der Leyen said. Plans for such a court in The Hague have yet to bear fruit.
In Kyiv, the words of support were no match for Moscow's military might, as Russia launched an intense air attack on the capital using a combination of drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles.
In Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, diplomacy was seeking a counterweight, with keynote speeches by Sunak, von der Leyen, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Zelenskyy headed home Tuesday after a fruitful three-day tour through Europe where leaders promised him an arsenal of missiles, tanks and drones to replenish Ukraine’s weapons supplies before a long-anticipated spring offensive.
There will be no escaping the plight of Ukraine during the two-day summit of the Strasbourg-based Council of Europe. It has been a guardian, with fluctuating success, of human rights, democracy and the rule of law on the continent since its inception in 1949. Rarely has the need been higher than in today’s world.
The summit will also want to focus on the plight of children that have been moved from Ukraine to Russia during the invasion. In March, the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes, accusing him of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine. Another official has also been indicted.
Since the start of the war, the Russians have been accused of deporting Ukrainian children to Russia or Russian-held territories to raise them as their own. Thousands of children have been seized from schools and orphanages during Russia’s occupation of eastern Ukraine and it is not known where they are now.
Raf Casert reported from Brussels.
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