War crimes court issues Putin arrest warrant

Publish: 6:58 PM, March 18, 2023 | Update: 6:58 PM, March 18, 2023

The International Criminal Court on Friday announced an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on the war crime accusation of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children.

The Hague-based ICC said it had also issued a warrant against Maria Lvova- Belova, Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights, on similar charges.

Moscow dismissed the orders as “void.” Russia is not a party to the ICC so it was unclear if or how Putin could ever end up in the dock.

War-battered Ukraine welcomed the ICC announcement, with President Volodymyr Zelensky hailing the “historic decision.”

The court’s shock notice came hours after other news with the potential to significantly impact Russia’s war on Ukraine, including a Moscow visit from
Chinese leader Xi Jinping and more fighter jets for Kyiv’s forces.

More than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia since the February 24, 2022 invasion, according to Kyiv, with many allegedly placed in institutions and foster homes.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan told AFP that Putin was now liable for arrest if he set foot in any of the court’s more than 120 member states.

He said the arrest warrants were “based upon forensic evidence, scrutiny and what’s been said by those two individuals”.

“The evidence we presented focused on crimes against children. Children are the most vulnerable part of our society,” said Khan.

The ICC said judges found there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect Putin’s criminal responsibility and grant Khan’s application for the warrants, which were made back on February 22.

ICC President Piotr Hofmanski said the execution of the warrants “depends on international cooperation”.

– ‘Historic decision’ –

During a meeting with Putin in mid-February, Lvova-Belova said she adopted a
15-year-old child from the devastated Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.

“Now I know what it means to be a mother of a child from Donbas — it is a
difficult job but we love each other, that is for sure,” she told Putin.

She added that “we evacuated children’s homes into safe areas, arranged
rehabilitation and prosthetics for them and provided them with targeted
humanitarian assistance.”

The arrest warrant for Putin, a sitting head of state of a UN Security
Council member, is an unprecedented step for the ICC.

Set up in 2002, the ICC is a court of last resort for the world’s worst
crimes, when countries cannot or will not prosecute suspects.

Prosecutor Khan launched an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes
against humanity in Ukraine just days after Russia’s invasion.

Khan recently posted pictures from a visit to Ukraine alongside empty cots in
an empty children’s care home, and said that investigating alleged child
abduction was a “priority”.

“It’s poignant,” he said. “One sees empty cribs and empty beds juxtaposed

with paintings by those children on the walls.”

Zelensky, who met Khan on his visit, welcomed the arrest warrants for his
nemesis in Moscow.

“A historic decision from which historic responsibility will begin,” Zelensky

Ukraine’s Western allies also hailed the move.

US President Joe Biden said the warrant was “justified,” and “makes a very
strong point,” while noting that the United States is not a member of the

“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,” a State Department spokesperson said. “The ICC Prosecutor is an
independent actor.”

Britain called the decision “welcome” and the European Union said it was
“just the start.” Human Rights Watch said it was a “big day for the many
victims” of Russian forces.

– ‘Void’ –

The Kremlin dismissed the warrants.

“Russia, just like a number of different countries, does not recognise the
jurisdiction of this court and so from a legal point of view, the decisions
of this court are void,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev compared the warrants to toilet
paper, while foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said they “have no
meaning” for Russia.

The ICC’s Khan however said there were “so many examples of people that
thought they were beyond the reach of the law”.

“Look at (Slobodan) Milosevic or Charles Taylor or (Radovan) Karadzic or
(Ratko) Mladic,” he said, referring to a series of war criminals from the
former Yugoslavia, and former Liberian president Taylor, who have faced

Earlier in the day, Beijing and Moscow announced that Chinese leader and
strategic ally Xi would be in Russia next week to sign accords ushering in a
new era of ties.

The United States has accused China of mulling arms shipments to support
Russia’s campaign — claims Beijing has strongly denied.

The arrest warrants come a day after UN investigators said Russia’s forced
transfer and deportation of Ukrainian children to areas under its control
amounts to a war crime.

The investigators said parents and children had spoken of youngsters being
informed by Russian social services that they would be placed in foster
families or adopted.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine are members of the ICC, but Kyiv has accepted the
court’s jurisdiction and is working with Khan’s office.

Russia denies allegations of war crimes by its troops. Experts have said it
is unlikely it would ever hand over any suspects.

With fighting still raging in Ukraine, Kyiv welcomed the news Friday that
Slovakia will donate 13 MiG-29 warplanes.

Ukraine has long requested fighter jets from Western allies, although it is
seeking primarily modern US-made F-16s.