An arrest warrant has been issued against Vladimir Putin by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, accusing him of war crimes by taking hundreds of Ukrainian children from orphanages.
The court accuses Putin and his children’s rights commissioner, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, of “unlawful deportation” of children “from occupied territories of Ukraine to the Russian Federation”.
It means that the court’s 123 member states must detain him and Mr Putin for trial if he sets foot on their territory.
He becomes only the third sitting president in history to receive an order, after Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.
It is one of the most ambitious things the ICC has undertaken, and the symbolism of the first order issued for the Russian invasion is marked by going straight to the top of the Kremlin.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called it a “historic decision, from where historical responsibility will begin”.
But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia does not recognize the ICC and considers its decisions “legally void”. Ex-President Dmitry Medvedev described the arrest warrants as “toilet paper”.
ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan said that “many of these children, we claim, have since been given up for adoption in the Russian Federation” and that a change in Russian law has made it easier for the children to be adopted by families.
“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 were spoils of war,” Khan said.
Ms Lvova-Belova said last month she had “adopted” a child from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, now under Russian control.
“It is great that the international community appreciates this work to help our country’s children: that we don’t leave them behind in war zones, that we take them out, that we create good conditions for them, that we surround them with loving, caring people,” she said, according to RIA Novosti.
Mr Khan said multiple interlinked investigations are continuing. “Ukraine is a crime scene with a complex and wide range of alleged international crimes. We will not hesitate to make further requests for arrest warrants when the evidence compels us to do so.”
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly welcomed the ICC’s moves “to hold the top of the Russian regime accountable”. 2Work must continue to investigate the atrocities committed,” he tweeted.
Ukraine’s chief of presidential staff Andriy Yermak said the order was “just the beginning”. Ukraine has worked closely with the ICC and is currently investigating more than 16,000 cases of forced deportation of children to Russia, he said. It has so far managed to secure the return of 308 children.
Khan opened his investigation into possible war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Ukraine a year ago. During four visits, he stressed his involvement in alleged crimes against children and targeting civilian infrastructure through Moscow’s repeated rocket attacks.
A recent US-backed report by researchers at Yale University said Russia has detained at least 6,000 Ukrainian children in Russian-held Crimea sites. The report identified at least 43 camps and other facilities detaining Ukrainian children as part of a “large-scale systematic network” administered by Moscow.
Although the issuance of a warrant is deeply embarrassing for Putin, it is unlikely that he will see the inside of a courtroom. Russia signed the Rome Statute in 2000, but never ratified it to join the ICC, eventually withdrawing its signature in 2016. The court relies on its 123 member states to enforce arrest warrants. The president of the court, Piotr Hofmanski, said in a video statement: “The ICC is doing its share of the job as a court. The judges issued arrest warrants. The implementation depends on international cooperation.”
The ICC has the power to accuse political leaders of “waging an aggressive war”, but since Russia is not a signatory, that avenue was closed, especially as Moscow would also use its UN Security Council veto to limit further powers . However, it could leave Putin to fend for himself in his own country.
Stephen Rapp, the US ambassador for war crimes under former President Barack Obama, said: “This makes Putin a pariah. If he travels, he risks arrest. This never goes away. Russia cannot be exempted from sanctions without complying with the orders.”
Peskov said Russia found the ICC’s questions “outrageous and unacceptable”. When asked if Putin is now afraid to travel to countries that have recognized the ICC, Peskov replied: “I have nothing to add on this subject. That’s all we want to say.”
The ICC order came a day after a UN-backed investigative body accused Russia of committing a variety of war crimes in Ukraine, including deliberate killings and torture, in some cases forcing children to watch loved ones raped and others next to them. dead bodies were held.