International Criminal Court issues Arrest Warrant for Putin over War Crimes in Ukraine
Furious Vladimir Putin has condemned the International Criminal Court’s ‘outrageous’ decision to issue an arrest warrant for him over war crimes in Ukraine, that one expert said could hasten his removal as Russia’s leader.
The ICC on Friday called for Putin’s arrest and accused the despot of committing war crimes by abducting Ukrainian children from their homes and deporting them to Russia to be given to Russian families.
It also issued a warrant Friday for the arrest of Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Russia’s ‘Children’s Rights Commissioner’, on the same charges.
The Kremlin slammed the court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Putin ‘outrageous and unacceptable’; in contrast, Ukraine hailed the decision and said ‘the wheels of justice are turning’.
The Kremlin insisted that any decisions of the ICC were ‘null and void’ with respect to Russia as Moscow does not recognise the court’s jurisdiction.
Sir Geoffrey Nice, who was the lead prosecutor at former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s trial, said it was ‘extremely important’ that the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Putin.
He suggested that Putin being ‘labelled and treated as a criminal’ could inspire a change in regime or ‘encourage the process of replacement.’
‘There’s enough information seeping out to indicate that there are some unhappy with his leadership,’ Sir Geoffrey told Sky News on Friday.
‘It’s important because this man is now – as many would say he should have been a few weeks after the war started – labelled as a criminal.’
Sir Geoffrey added that the war in Ukraine is now a ‘right, just war’ that is being ‘criminally led.’
Alexander Bastrykin, the head of Russia’s Investigative Committee, reacted to the ICC’s decision by proposing to create an ‘international court’ for ‘Ukrainian war criminals’ – following similar comments from Putin’s cronies on state television.
The ICC’s chief prosecutor Karim Khan said hundreds of Ukrainian children have been taken from orphanages and children’s homes to Russia.
He said: ‘Many of these children, we allege, have since been given up for adoption in the Russian Federation.
Mr Khan said a Russian law change has made it easier for the children to be adopted by Russian families while at the time of the deportations, Ukrainian children were protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention.
In his statement, he called Friday’s arrest warrants ‘a first concrete step’. while other Ukraine investigations are ongoing.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky hailed the warrant, saying: ‘A historic decision from which historic responsibility will begin.’
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly also welcomed the the ICC’s decision, adding that investigations into alleged atrocities in Ukraine must continue.
‘We welcome the step taken by the independent ICC to hold those at the top of the Russian regime, including Vladimir Putin, to account,’ Cleverly tweeted, adding ‘those responsible for horrific war crimes in Ukraine must be brought to justice’.
But the ICC’s president, Piotr Hofmanski, admitted that while the court’s judges have issued the warrants, it will be up to the international community to enforce them. The court has no police force of its own to enforce warrants.
‘The ICC is doing its part of work as a court of law. The judges issued arrest warrants. The execution depends on international cooperation,’ Hofmanski said.
A possible trial of any Russians at the ICC remains a long way off, as Moscow does not recognise the court’s jurisdiction and does not extradite its nationals – a position reaffirmed on Friday by Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova in a first reaction to the warrants.
‘The decisions of the International Criminal Court have no meaning for our country, including from a legal point of view,’ she said.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Friday compared the arrest warrant for Putin to toilet paper.
‘The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin. No need to explain WHERE this paper should be used,’ Medvedev said on Twitter, adding a toilet paper emoji.
In contrast, Ukrainian officials were jubilant at the decision. ‘The world changed,’ said presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the ‘wheels of justice are turning’ and added that ‘international criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes’.
Olga Lopatkina, a Ukrainian mother who struggled for months to reclaim her foster children who were deported to an institution ran by Russian loyalists, welcomed the news of the arrest warrant. ‘Good news!’ she said. ‘Everyone must be punished for their crimes.’
Ukraine also is not a member of the court, but it has granted the ICC jurisdiction over its territory and ICC prosecutor Karim Khan has visited four times since opening an investigation a year ago.
The ICC said in a statement that Putin is allegedly ‘responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.’
The court added that its pre-trial chamber found there were ‘reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children.’
Putin was allegedly responsible both directly by committing the acts and for ‘failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts, or allowed for their commission’, the court said.
The ICC said the crimes dated from February 24 last year, when Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine.
Since Putin launched the invasion more than a year ago, Russians have been accused of deporting Ukrainian children to Russia or Russian-held territories to raise them as their own.
At least 1,000 children were seized from schools and orphanages in the Kherson region during Russia’s eight-month occupation of the area, local authorities say. Their whereabouts are still unknown.
And in response to the ICC issuing Lvova-Belova an arrest warrant for war crimes, the children’s commissioner said in a bizarre statement: ‘It’s great that the international community has appreciated the work to help the children of our country.’
Lvova-Belova said last month she had ‘adopted’ a child from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, now under Russian control.
Russia claims that the Ukrainian children don’t have parents or guardians to look after them, or that they can’t be reached.
But it has emerged that officials have deported Ukrainian children to Russia or Russian-held territories without consent, lied to them that they weren’t wanted by their parents, used them for propaganda, and given them Russian families and citizenship.
Whether or not they have parents, raising the children of war in another country or culture can be a marker of genocide, an attempt to erase the very identity of an enemy nation. Prosecutors say it also can be tied directly to Putin, who has explicitly supported the adoptions.
‘It’s not something that happens spur of the moment on the battlefield,’ said Stephen Rapp, a former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues who is advising Ukraine on prosecutions. ‘And so your ability to attribute responsibility to the highest level is much greater here.’
Even where parents are dead, Rapp said, their children must be sheltered, fostered or adopted in Ukraine rather than deported to Russia.
Russian law prohibits the adoption of foreign children without consent of the home country, which Ukraine has not given. But in May, Putin signed a decree making it easier for Russia to adopt and give citizenship to Ukrainian children without parental care — and harder for Ukraine and surviving relatives to win them back.
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan launched an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine just days after Russia’s invasion.
Following the court’s decision on Friday, experts said the ICC action will have an important impact.
‘The ICC has made Putin a wanted man and taken its first step to end the impunity that has emboldened perpetrators in Russia’s war against Ukraine for far too long,’ said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch.
‘The warrants send a clear message that giving orders to commit, or tolerating, serious crimes against civilians may lead to a prison cell in The Hague.’
The French government said ‘no-one should escape justice’, as it reacted to the ICC’s decision.
‘No-one responsable for crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine, regardless of their status, should escape justice,’ said the French Foreign Affairs Ministry on its FranceDiplomatie Twitter account
Prof. David Crane, who indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor 20 years ago for crimes in Sierra Leone, said dictators and tyrants around the world ‘are now on notice that those who commit international crimes will be held accountable to include heads of state.’
Taylor was eventually detained and put on trial at a special court in the Netherlands. He was convicted and sentenced to 50 years’ imprisonment.
‘This is an important day for justice and for the citizens of Ukraine,’ Crane said.
On Thursday, a U.N.-backed inquiry cited Russian attacks against civilians in Ukraine, including systematic torture and killing in occupied regions, among potential issues that amount to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.
The sweeping investigation also found crimes committed against Ukrainians on Russian territory, including deported Ukrainian children who were prevented from reuniting with their families, a ‘filtration’ system aimed at singling out Ukrainians for detention, and torture and inhumane detention conditions.
Indeed, in the year since the war began, the world has watched in horror as Putin’s soldiers have dropped missiles on apartment buildings, tortured civilians before shooting them dead, and systematically raped women and girls.
Men, women and children – the youngest known victim being a 14-year-old boy – have been executed by Russian soldiers, their bodies thrown into deep troughs dug into the ground.
The scale of the suffering and the indiscriminate targeting of men, women and children has seen at least 7,000 civilians killed and nearly eight million Ukrainians flee to countries across Europe.
In March last year, a month into the war, Russian soldiers unleashed a series of indiscriminate bombs on civilian areas, leaving death and destruction in their wake.
During a three-month siege in the southern city of Mariupol, Russian forces levelled the city and killed hundreds of civilians in missile attacks. The world watched in horror as Russian forces bombed a maternity hospital on March 9, killing a pregnant woman and her baby, and wounding at least 17 people.
A week later, Russian aircraft again dropped missiles on civilian areas – this time on the Donetsk Regional Theatre in Mariupol, which was housing hundreds of civilians and had ‘children’ written in large white letters outside. At least a dozen people were killed and scores more were injured in the attack.
The attacks on civilians continue. On January 14, a Russian missile strike on an apartment building in the city of Dnipro killed at least 44 people, including five children, and injured 79 people.
Since October, Russian forces have also repeatedly targeted Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, plunging cities into darkness and leaving millions without heat during the bitterly cold winter months.
In the early months of the war, Russian forces were forced to retreat from towns and cities across Ukraine – but as they retreated, the war crimes they have committed against civilians has become clear.
Since March, mass graves have been filled with the bodies of thousands of civilians, many with their hands tied behind their backs, along with torture chambers discovered in liberated areas of Ukraine in areas across the Kyiv and Kharkiv regions – including the cities of Bucha, Irpin and Izyum.
Mr Zelensky was visibly emotional and stood motionless as he surveyed the scene of utter devastation he encountered when he visited Bucha in April last year, with dozens of bodies shot at close range lying on the empty streets.
The civilians who survived have detailed how Russian soldiers detained them for months and subjected them to electric shocks, waterboarding and beatings.
Horrific testimonies – including how Russian soldiers gang-raped a 22-year-old Ukrainian mother, sexually abused her husband and made the couple have sex in front of them before raping their four-year-old daughter – have also shown how Putin’s men have used rape as a weapon of war.
In many cases, the Russian soldiers would shoot dead the women’s husbands – or threaten to do so – as soon as they tried to defend their wives and stop them from being raped.
Russian soldiers have also detained more than 20,000 Ukrainian ‘hostages’ and sent them to Russia, Ukraine’s human rights envoy said in January.