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International Criminal Court cements Putin's pariah status with arrest warrant for alleged war crimes — illegally snatching kids from Ukraine

Vladimir Putin Sergei Shoigu Russia navy day
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu at a ceremony for Russia's Navy Day in St. Petersburg on July 30, 2017.ALEXANDER ZEMLIANICHENKO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images
  • The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

  • Putin has allegedly committed war crimes in Ukraine, the ICC said in a Friday statement.

  • He's been accused by the court of orchestrating the illegal mass transfers of children from Ukraine to Russia.

The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, alleging he is responsible for war crimes committed in Ukraine.

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 ICC said in a Friday statement.

The Netherlands-based court alleged these crimes have been carried out since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in late February 2022.

The ICC's announcement comes a day after the United Nations published a report that detailed violations of human rights and international humanitarian law by Russian forces in Ukraine. The UN said many of the actions, including the transfer and deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia, "amount to war crimes."

"It is forbidden by international law for occupying powers to transfer civilians from the territory they live in to other territories. Children enjoy special protection under the Geneva Conventions," ICC President Judge Piotr Hofmański said in a video posted to social media.

The ICC also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, who is the commissioner for children's rights in the Kremlin's presidential office, for war crimes allegations similar to those leveled against Putin.

Hofmański said in the video that ICC judges issued the arrest warrants, but that the execution of these warrants will depend on international cooperation.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said the decision was "outrageous and unacceptable," but also said Moscow considers the move to be "legally void," the Associated Press reported. The Russian embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Insider.

Since Putin launched an unprovoked invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, Russia has placed more than 6,000 Ukrainian children in "re-education" camps, according to a US State Department-funded study conducted by Yale University researchers that was released last month. The report said that the alleged actions of the Russian government, including "unnecessarily expediting the adoption and fostering of children from Ukraine during the current emergency, could constitute a potential war crime and crimes against humanity in some cases."

Top Ukrainian officials praised the ICC's decision. The country's president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, expressed his gratitude toward the court, and referred to the arrest warrant as a "historic decision, from which historical responsibility will begin."

"Separating children from their families, depriving them of any opportunity to contact their relatives, hiding children on the territory of Russia, throwing them in remote regions — all this is an obvious state policy of Russia, state decisions and state evil," Zelenskyy said in his nightly address. "Which begins precisely with the top official of this state."

 

Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine's top diplomat, praised the move on social media. "Wheels of justice are turning," he wrote on Twitter, adding that criminals will be "held accountable for stealing children."

Some human rights groups also celebrated the ICC's decision.

"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 its first step to end the impunity that has emboldened perpetrators in Russia's war against Ukraine for far too long," Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

Jarrah added that 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," and serve as a "wakeup call" to others involved in abuses or covering them up.

That said, the limitations of the international justice system make it extremely unlikely that Putin will ever stand trial.

Russia is not an ICC member and therefore does not recognize its jurisdiction, and the court cannot try defendants in absentia. In other words, Putin would have to agree to appear before the court or be arrested in order for a trial to proceed — two improbable scenarios. The Russian leader has limited his travel to countries friendly to Moscow since the war began, skipping the G20 in Bali, Indonesia, for example, in November.

But the arrest warrant still cements Putin's status as an international pariah and is a remarkable rebuke of the leader of one the most powerful countries in the world.

Like Russia, the US is also not a member of the ICC, and the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A State Department spokesperson told Insider "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."

"The ICC Prosecutor is an independent actor and makes his own prosecutorial decisions based on the evidence before him. We support accountability for perpetrators of war crimes," the spokesperson added.

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