Vladimir Putin’s supporters don’t like to acknowledge that they’re living in a ruthless kleptocracy. It’s nicer to portray Russia as a beacon of anti-fascism. With that self-image in mind, a legislator called Andrei Kresov demanded almost three months ago that Moscow stage a ‘Nuremberg 2.0’ to put captured Ukrainians on trial. That’s apt in ways he probably doesn’t know. There was nothing inherently progressive about Nuremberg 1.0. Winston Churchill didn’t want it to happen at all; he proposed in 1942 that leading Nazis be ‘shot to death within six hours of capture’ and hankered for summary executions until the eve of the trial. It was Stalin who insisted on court-imposed punishments (lest people say the Allies ‘were wreaking vengeance on their political enemies’) and that’s because, in his experience, they were useful to cloak murder. The lawyer he put in charge of Soviet preparations was Andrei Vyshinsky, who’d prosecuted his rivals to death at a series of show trials in the late 1930s. The senior Soviet judge, Iona Nikitchenko, had ordered many of their executions, and he was appointed for just one reason: he could be trusted to follow instructions without question.
The link between Stalin’s show trials and Nuremberg is described in my book The Trial, but if you prefer your insights shorter, I wrote a piece about the recent convictions in Donetsk for the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2022/jun/10/trial-donetsk-precedent-conflict-21st-century