“There must be justice for Ukraine before there can be peace”.

That was the overriding message from panellists at Cliveden Literary Festival on the subject of Russia’s war against the former Soviet country.

The two-day event, held at the historic mansion in Taplow, Bucks, brings together writers, academics, journalists and politicians for discussions on current affairs.

Speaking on a session titled “War on trial: from Nuremberg to Ukraine, can international justice ever be delivered” was Times columnist Daniel Finkelstein, author Olesya Khromeychuk and barrister and writer Philippe Sands.

Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, in the biggest invasion on a European country since the Second World War.

To date, an estimated 500,000 Ukrainian and Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded with 9,600 civilians and non-armed people slaughtered, more than 500 of whom were children.

Writer Olesya, whose brother died fighting for Ukraine, said she hoped the conflict would have been resolved now – but said there must be “justice” before there can be peace.

Mr Sands, professor of law at University College London and barrister at 11 KBW, agreed, saying it was imperative that at the end of the conflict the people responsible at the top must be held accountable.

He said: “What we don’t want is in five years’ time you have half a dozen Russian soldiers hauled up in the Hague while the top table is off the hook.”

The author of ‘East West Street: On the Origins of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity’ described the impact an opinion article he had written in the Financial Times days after Russia’s invasion had had.

“I was approached by the FT and asked to write 700 words [on the day Russia invaded Ukraine]”, he said. “Now usually when you write a piece for a newspaper you get maybe seven or eight people write into you to say they loved what you did or hated it or whatever.

“But something strange happened. Former prime ministers and presidents wrote to me, and one thing led to another now the idea is with Zelensky.”

In the piece, Mr Sands called for a special criminal tribunal to be set up to investigate and hold Putin and his associates accountable for the war.

The idea gained momentum following the article, with support from Ukraine and several countries, with discussions on the structure and nature of the tribunal and necessity for individual criminal liability.

The professor, who lives in North London, revealed former Prime Minister Gordon Brown had also reached out to him.

But said there was a "big elephant in the room". He said that the British calling for justice in Ukraine was “hypocritical” when Iraq was a “manifestly illegal war”.

He added: “The two top guys – Bush and Blair – what’s happened to them? They’ve lost some of the public’s support and Blair can’t go walking around the streets of London but hundreds of thousands of people died in Iraq and there have been no consequences."

Philippe questioned: “What does peace look like? I think none of us can understand the scale of the crimes that are happening in Ukraine – it is literally unbelievable. But it is nothing new.

“The West did nothing with Chechnya, it did nothing with Syria."

Speaking back to the current situation in Ukraine, he said: "Targeting hundreds of thousands of civilians away from the frontline, there has to be accountability for that and there must be a way to address the horrors that have happened there but it is going to be very difficult."

But he warned that Russia had made it "clear" that its number one objective in negotiations with Ukraine to take any talk of criminality off the agenda.

Answering what he thought would happen next in Ukraine, he said: “What do I think? If Ukraine makes progress on the ground in relation to Donbas, when they reach Crimea the West and the United States will say, enough, and give Russia the option as a way of saving face. But it will be up to Ukraine to decide.”

Writer Olesya said in order to have peace in Ukraine, justice must be served. 

Olesya described frustration with how the war was sometimes perceived by those in the UK, including the “excitement” around Wagner’s coup.

She said: “It’s not a video game – it’s not a film. This is real life.”