Amid the Russian government's military actions in Ukraine, multiple non-governmental organizations, international groups, and individual countries have begun investigations to determine what could lead to prosecution of war crimes.

Should these investigations prove fruitful, some key Russians could eventually be charged with and possibly convicted of war crimes. Here's what that means.

Russian War Crimes In Ukraine Today

With Russian Shellings in several cities, some have wondered if that could be seen as a war crime. However, international law allows for some collateral damage during a war. There is a difference between collateral damage and intentionally producing a significant number of civilian casualties, however.

"Any side that targets — directly targets — civilians or civilian objects is committing a crime," Karim Khan, chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, said previously.

Many see Russia's attacks as the indiscriminate targeting of civilians in majority civilian areas. Examples, including Russia’s alleged use of a vacuum bomb and a recent attack on and seizure of one of the largest power plants in Europe, have been cited as potential war crimes.

The word genocide is also being thrown around, though the word has a very specific definition — in this case, meaning that Russia was intentionally eliminating portions of the Ukrainian population “in whole or in part.” In order for Russian officials to be accused of it, anyone claiming it occurred would need to prove that an order was either given to allow it or that someone acted in a way that would constitute it.

Currently, no concrete evidence exists which suggests genocide is the Kremlin’s intention. As for all of the investigations, they are still in their infancy and will not be completed for a long time—and could take 10 or more years before justice is seen.

The Application And Prosecution Of War Crimes

Russian officials have been accused of war crimes before in Chechnya, the country of Georgia, Syria, the Central African Republic, and Ukraine previously. However, the application and prosecution of war crimes are not always uniform and often gets political and immensely complicated very quickly, but Russia’s actions in Ukraine have received worldwide condemnation.

The targeting of civilians, intentionally or negligently, leaves them open to investigations by various human rights organizations, non-governmental organizations, intergovernmental groups, etc. Ultimately which non-governmental institutions get involved will largely depend on which ones Ukraine and Russia recognize and grant authority. It also depends on which established set of conventions and standards regarding human rights and war crimes they are party to and acknowledge.

Individual countries also usually have their own agencies and laws that keep track of those who commit war crimes — though what different countries define as a war crime will vary — abroad and at home.

“It's very clear ... if crimes are committed — if there is evidence to support it — the writ of law will allow prosecution,” Khan has said.