The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant on Friday against Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of the war crime of illegal deportation of at least 100 children from Ukraine.
The bold legal move will obligate the court’s 123 member states to arrest Putin and transfer him to The Hague for trial if he sets foot on their territory.
Moscow has repeatedly denied accusations that its forces have committed atrocities during its one-year invasion of its neighbor and the Kremlin branded the court decision as “null and void”.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine are members of the ICC, although Kyiv granted it jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed on its territory. The tribunal has no police force of its own and relies on member countries to detain and transfer suspects to The Hague for trial.
While it is unlikely that Putin will end up in court any time soon, the warrant means that he could be arrested and sent to The Hague if traveling to any ICC member states.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia found the very questions raised by the ICC “outrageous and unacceptable.”
Asked if Putin now feared traveling to countries that recognized the ICC, Peskov said: “I have nothing to add on this subject. That’s all we want to say.”
Stephen Rapp, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues under former president Barack Obama, said: “This makes Putin a pariah. If he travels he risks arrest. This never goes away. Russia cannot gain relief from sanctions without compliance with the warrants.”
Putin is the third serving president to be the target of an ICC arrest warrant, after Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.
Reuters reported earlier this week that the court was expected to issue warrants.
DEPORTATION OF CHILDREN
In its first warrant for Ukraine, the ICC called for Putin’s arrest on suspicion of unlawful deportation of children and unlawful transfer of people from the territory of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
“The crimes were allegedly committed in Ukrainian-occupied territory at least from February 24, 2022. There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin bears individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes,” it said.
Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Andriy Kostin, hailed the ICC move as a “a historic decision for Ukraine and the entire international law system.”
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said it was just the start of “holding Russia accountable for its crimes and atrocities in Ukraine.”
Some Russians saw the hand of the United States in the ICC decision.
“Yankees, hands off Putin!” wrote parliament speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, a close ally of the president, on Telegram, saying the move was evidence of Western “hysteria”.
“We regard any attacks on the President of the Russian Federation as aggression against our country,” he said.
The court also issued a warrant on Friday for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, on the same charges. She responded to the news with irony, according to RIA Novosti agency: “It’s great that the international community has appreciated the work to help the children of our country.”
Ukraine has said more than 16,000 children have been illegally transferred to Russia or Russian-occupied territories in Ukraine.
A U.S.-backed report by Yale University researchers last month said Russia has held at least 6,000 Ukrainian children at sites in Crimea, which Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
The report identified at least 43 camps and other facilities where Ukrainian children have been held that were part of a “large-scale systematic network” operated by Moscow since its February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
Russia has not concealed a program under which it has brought thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia but presents it as a humanitarian campaign to protect orphans and children abandoned in the conflict zone.
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan opened the investigation into possible war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Ukraine a year ago. He highlighted during four trips to Ukraine that he was looking at alleged crimes against children and the targeting of civilian infrastructure.
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