The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Friday issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova over an alleged plan to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.
The court said there are “reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Putin is individually criminally responsible” for the alleged crimes, for having committed them with others, and for “his failure to exercise proper control practice about civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts.”
The ICC charges, which relate to an alleged practice reported by CNN and others, are the first formally filed against officials in Moscow since it began its unprovoked attack on Ukraine last year.
The Kremlin called the ICC’s decision “outrageous and unacceptable.”
“We think the question is outrageous and unacceptable. Russia, like a number of states, does not recognize the jurisdiction of this court and therefore such decisions are null and void for the Russian Federation from a legal point of view,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tweeted on Friday.
Hundreds of Ukrainian children have disappeared since the invasion of Russia in February 2022, according to official Ukrainian statistics.
It is unlikely that a trial will ultimately proceed at the ICC. Russia – like the US, Ukraine and China – is not a member of the ICC. Since the court does not conduct trials in absentia, all indicted Russian officials would have to be handed over by Moscow or arrested outside Russia.
A senior Ukrainian official told CNN on Monday that Kiev has been pressuring the ICC for some time to seek arrest warrants against Russian individuals in connection with the war in Ukraine.
Kiev says many of Ukraine’s missing children were forcibly taken to Russia. The Russian government does not deny taking Ukrainian children and has made their adoption by Russian families the center of its propaganda.
In April, the office of Lvova-Belova, Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, said about 600 children from Ukraine had been placed in orphanages in Kursk and Nizhny Novgorod before being sent to families in the Moscow region.
By mid-October, 800 children from the eastern Donbas region of Ukraine were living in the Moscow region, many with families, according to the Moscow regional governor.
Some children are thousands of miles and different time zones away from Ukraine. According to the Lvova-Belova office, Ukrainian children have been sent to institutions and foster homes in 19 different Russian regions, including the Novosibirsk, Omsk and Tyumen regions of Siberia and Murmansk in the Arctic.
Responding to the ICC’s arrest warrant against her, Lvova-Belova said it was “great” that the international community appreciated her work for children, Russia’s state news agency TASS said on Friday.
“It is great that the international community appreciates the work to help the children of our country, that we do not leave them in the war zones, that we take them out, that we create good conditions for them, that we surround them with loving , caring people,” she told reporters, according to TASS. “There were sanctions against all countries, even Japan, regarding me, now that there is an arrest warrant I wonder what will happen next. And we keep working.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, Andry Yermak, said on Telegram on Friday that the arrest warrant against Putin is “just the beginning”.
“The world has received a signal that the Russian regime is criminal and that its leaders and accomplices will be brought to justice,” Ukraine’s Attorney General, Andriy Kostin, added in a Facebook post on Friday.
“This means that Putin must be arrested outside Russia and brought to trial. And world leaders will think twice before shaking his hand or sitting down with him at the negotiating table.”
Human Rights Watch called the ICC decision a “wake-up call to others who perpetrate or cover up abuse.”
“This is a big day for the many victims of crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine since 2014. With these arrest warrants, the ICC has made Putin a wanted man and taken the first step towards ending impunity for perpetrators in encouraged the Russian war. against Ukraine for far too long,” Balkees Jarrah, the NGO’s Associate International Justice Director, said in a statement Friday.
“The arrest warrants send a clear signal that giving orders to commit serious crimes against civilians or tolerating them can lead to a cell in The Hague. The court orders are a wake-up call to others who commit wrongdoing or cover up that their day in court is coming, regardless of their rank or position,” Jarrah said.
Moscow rejected the order on Friday. Maria Zakharova, a foreign ministry spokeswoman, said the court has “no meaning” for the country, “not even from a ‘legal point of view'”. 2016 signed directive.
“Russia is not a member of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and bears no obligations under it. Russia does not cooperate with this body, and possibly [pretences] for arrest coming from the International Court of Justice will be legally null and void for us,” she said.
Dmitry Medvedev, the former Russian president and deputy chairman of the Security Council of Russia, wrote on Twitter: “The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin. No need to explain WHERE this paper should be used” along with a toilet paper emoji.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba praised the ICC, saying in a tweet that “the wheels of Justice are turning”.
“I welcome the ICC’s decision to issue arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova for forcible transfer of Ukrainian children. International criminals will be held responsible for stealing children and other international crimes” Kuleba added.
News of the arrest warrants was welcomed on the streets of Ukraine’s capital Kyiv on Friday, but some doubted it would lead to action.
Victoria Tkachenko, a 64-year-old museum worker, told CNN the warrants were “great news” but was realistic about how long legal proceedings could take.
“I support and welcome the news because Ukraine is fighting an aggressor. The war year has shown that even with all the help this struggle is difficult,” Tkachenko said. “All legal procedures are long and detailed work. Even though it takes a long time, I am still optimistic about the outcome.”
Twenty-year-old student and teacher Olexandra Zahubynoga praised the ICC for raising awareness of the problem, telling CNN: “The fact that this is being brought to the public is good and I support it. I would like to believe (that the arrest warrant will bring practical results), but to be honest I have my doubts, because most international organizations are very concerned, they say many things, but I personally do not see clear action.”
Meanwhile, Serhii Voloshenyuk, a 44-year-old businessman, said that while he believes the arrest warrants are “meaningful and important,” he doesn’t think they will be seen that way in Moscow.
“Russia itself is a criminal country and behaves by its own rules,” he said.
He added: “I would like to see Putin locked up and serving time in prison, just like the Yugoslav war criminals are locked up in The Hague.”
Based in The Hague, Netherlands, and created by a treaty called the Rome Statute that was first submitted to the United Nations, the ICC operates independently. Most countries on earth – 123 of them – are parties to the treaty, but there are very large and notable exceptions, including Russia.
The ICC is intended to be a court of “last resort” and is not intended to replace a country’s legal system. The court, which has 18 judges serving nine-year terms, tries four types of crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and war crimes.
The UN found in a report on Thursday that Russia has committed “a wide range of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law” in Ukraine.
The report claims that the war crimes committed by the Russians include “attacks against civilians and energy-related infrastructure, willful killings, unlawful imprisonment, torture, rape and other sexual violence, as well as unlawful renditions and deportations of children”.
The findings also documented a small number of violations committed by the Ukrainian armed forces, “including likely indiscriminate attacks and two incidents that qualified as war crimes, in which Russian prisoners of war were shot, wounded and tortured,” according to the United Nations human rights statement.