International criminal Court judges issue arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin over alleged war crimes

Vladimir Putin, President of Russia

Vladimir Putin has been placed under arrest by the International criminal Court(ICC) in The Hague for organizing the kidnapping of Ukrainian children, which is a major step toward making Russia a pariah state.

A panel of judges agreed that there were “reasonable grounds” to think that Putin and his children’s rights commissioner, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, were accountable for the “unlawful deportation” of Ukrainian children and granted the ICC prosecutor’s request for warrants.

The warrants are the first to be issued by the ICC for crimes committed in the Ukraine war, and it is one of the rare occasions when the court has issued a warrant for a sitting head of state, putting Putin in the company of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi and the Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir.

Months after his death warrant was made public, Gaddafi was overthrown and murdered. Bashir was overthrown as well, and he is presently detained in Sudan; however, he has not yet been sent to The Hague.

Given that Russia does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction and maintained on Friday that it was unaffected by the warrants, Putin is likely to flee justice in the near future. The 123 member states of the ICC will place restrictions on the Russian president’s ability to travel freely, further increasing his seclusion.

The ICC pre-trial chamber of judges debated whether to keep the warrants private when deciding to issue them but ultimately decided that making them public could “contribute to the prevention of the further commission of crimes.”

The number of kids that Russian troops have kidnapped from Ukraine is unknown. In a report released last month, the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab claimed that in the previous year, at least 6,000 Ukrainian minors had been deported to Russian “re-education” camps. Karim Khan, the ICC investigator, said in a statement on Friday that his office had “identified incidents” that included deporting “at least hundreds of children taken from orphanages and children’s care homes.”

Khan claimed that many of the kids had been placed for adoption in Russia and that Putin had signed a decree hastily granting the kids Russian citizenship, making adoption simpler.

“My office alleges that these acts, amongst others, demonstrate an intention to permanently remove these children from their own country,” Khan said. “We must ensure that those responsible for alleged crimes are held accountable and that children are returned to their families and communities … We cannot allow children to be treated as if they are the spoils of war.”

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Putin bears individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes,” the ICC judges’ statement said, adding that he both committed the acts directly and failed to stop others from doing so.

The Kremlin was defiant in the face of the ICC announcement.

“The decisions of the international criminal court have no meaning for our country, including from a legal point of view,” the foreign ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said on her Telegram channel. “Russia is not a party to the Rome statute of the international criminal court and bears no obligations under it.”

Lvova-Belova told Russian media that the arrest warrant reflected “appreciation” for her work “to help the children of our country, that we don’t leave them in the war zone, that we take them out”.

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, estimated the number of deported children at far more than 16,000 and said the warrants represented “an historic decision which will lead to historic accountability.

“It would have been impossible to enact such a criminal operation without the say-so of the man at the helm of the terrorist state,” Zelenskiy said.

Wayne Jordash, a Kyiv-based international human rights lawyer and managing partner of Global Rights Compliance, said that the warrants for Putin and Lvova-Belova were likely to be the first of many.

“More will come over the next few months. This has got to be a sort of warning shot across the bow,” Jordash said.

The Russian leadership has been overt about its taking Ukrainian children to Russia and placing them in camps or putting them up for adoption by Russian families. On 16 February, Lvova-Belova appeared on television telling Putin about the programme and thanking him for being able to “adopt” a 15-year-old boy from Mariupol, the south-eastern Ukrainian city that was devastated and occupied by Russian forces.

“Thanks to you, now I know what it’s like to be a mom of a Donbas child,” she told Putin.

“There’s a clear case here against Putin,” Jordash said. So I think it’s good to see the prosecutor focusing on children’s rights. I think this is what international prosecutors have failed to do over the last 20 years, so this is a good focus, as it’s one of the worst crimes being committed.”

The warrant for Putin’s arrest was welcomed by Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, who called it “the start of the process of accountability” and by the UK’s foreign secretary, James Cleverly, who said “those responsible for horrific war crimes in Ukraine must be brought to justice”.

The US responded with more caution. According to Joe Biden, Putin had undoubtedly committed war crimes, making the ICC’s ruling appropriate. However, the US does not belong to the ICC, and the Pentagon has resisted working with the court out of concern that US troops might someday face prosecution by the tribunal.

“There is no doubt that Russia is committing war crimes and atrocities in Ukraine, and we have been clear that those responsible must be held accountable,” Adrienne Watson, the national security council spokeswoman said. “The ICC prosecutor is an independent actor and makes his own prosecutorial decisions based on the evidence before him. We support accountability for perpetrators of war crimes.”

Reed Brody, a veteran war crimes prosecutor and author of To Catch a Dictator, a book about the pursuit of Chadian leader, Hissène Habré, said the warrant “makes Putin’s world a smaller place”.

“I don’t think we were expecting to see him travel to France or Ukraine anytime soon, but he’s got to be careful,” Brody said. “Obviously, these are crimes that never go away. They will hang over his head forever and making them go away is very hard. We’ve seen time and again that the wheels of international justice grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly fine.”


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