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International Criminal Court issues arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin over alleged Ukraine war crimes

The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for the arrest of Vladimir Putin for war crimes because of his alleged involvement in abductions of children from Ukraine.

The ICC say that the Russian president “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 the crimes were allegedly committed in Ukrainian occupied territory “at least” from the beginning of Russia’s invasion on February 24 last year.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Putin bears individual criminal responsibility for having committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through other, and for his failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts, or allowed for their commission, and who were under his effective authority and control, pursuant to superior responsibility,” the ICC stated on Friday.

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It also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the Commissioner for Children's Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, on similar allegations.

In his nightly address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called it a "historic decision, from which historic responsibility will begin".

But Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says that Russia does not recognise the International Criminal Court and considers its decisions "legally void".

He added that Russia considers the court's move to issue an arrest warrant against Mr Putin "outrageous and unacceptable".

Hundreds of Ukrainian children have been taken from orphanages and children’s homes to Russia, the ICC's chief prosecutor Karim Khan said.

"Many of these children, we allege, have since been given up for adoption in the Russian Federation," he added.

The court's president, Piotr Hofmanski, said in a video statement that while the ICC'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," he said.

Vladimir Putin (SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
Vladimir Putin (SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

Moscow has repeatedly denied accusations of atrocities during its one-year invasion of its neighbour. Russia’s foreign ministry said the arrest warrant against Putin had “no significance whatsoever”.

Spokesperson Maria Zakharova said: “The decisions of the International Criminal Court have no meaning for our country, including from a legal point of view.Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and bears no obligations under it.”

A possible trial of any Russians at the ICC remains a long way off, but Ukraine’s presidency said the arrest warrant was “just the beginning” in its fight to restore justice over Russia’s invasion.

An aide of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it’s “a clear signal to Russian elites of what will happen to them”.

“It’s the beginning of Russian Federation’s end in its current form on the world stage. It’s a clear legal procedure.”

UK Foreign Secretary James Clevery tweeted: “Those responsible for horrific war crimes in Ukraine must be brought to justice.

“We welcome the step taken by the independent ICC to hold those at the top of the Russian regime, including Vladimir Putin, to account. Work must continue to investigate the atrocities committed.”

Ukraine is also 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.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Friday called the ICC’s issuing of an arrest warrant for Putin an important decision for international justice.

Mr Borrell said the move was just the start of “holding Russia accountable for its crimes and atrocities in Ukraine”.

“This is an important decision of international justice and for the people of Ukraine,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Maria Lvova-Belova (SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with Maria Lvova-Belova (SPUTNIK/AFP via Getty Images)

The ICC’s pre-trial chamber found, based on the prosecution’s applications made on February 22, 2023, that “there are reasonable grounds to believe” that Putin and Ms Lvova-Belova “bear responsibility” for the war crime of unlawful deportation of children - and that of unlawful transfer of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation - in prejudice of Ukrainian children.

The chamber considered keeping the arrest warrants secret in order to protect victims and witnesses, and also to safeguard the investigation.

But it decided that it was “in the interests of justice” to publicly name Putin and Ms Lvova-Belova, their alleged crimes, and the modes of liability as established by the chamber.

Ukraine War | One Year Anniversary - pictures

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a commemorative event on the occasion of the Russia Ukraine war one year anniversary (AP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attends a commemorative event on the occasion of the Russia Ukraine war one year anniversary (AP)
The Prime Minister observes a minute’s silence for Ukraine (Simon Walker/No10 Downing Street)
The Prime Minister observes a minute’s silence for Ukraine (Simon Walker/No10 Downing Street)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, holds the flag of a military unit as an officer kisses it, during commemorative event on the occasion of the Russia Ukraine war one year anniversary in Kyiv (AP)
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, left, holds the flag of a military unit as an officer kisses it, during commemorative event on the occasion of the Russia Ukraine war one year anniversary in Kyiv (AP)
Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko and his wife Inna lighting some of the 52 candles - one for each week of the war - during an ecumenical prayer service at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in London, to mark the one year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (PA)
Ukrainian Ambassador to the UK, Vadym Prystaiko and his wife Inna lighting some of the 52 candles - one for each week of the war - during an ecumenical prayer service at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in London, to mark the one year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (PA)
Ukrainian teenager, Alisa Bushuieva, who was forced to flee her country with her mother, Svitlana, in February last year, after playing piano to the crowd following a minute’s silence at Peter’s Lane in Liverpool ONE, to mark the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (PA)
Ukrainian teenager, Alisa Bushuieva, who was forced to flee her country with her mother, Svitlana, in February last year, after playing piano to the crowd following a minute’s silence at Peter’s Lane in Liverpool ONE, to mark the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (PA)
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murthy, Ukrainian Ambassador to UK Vadym Prystaiko and wife Inna Prystaiko observe a minute’s silence to mark the one year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, (REUTERS)
Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murthy, Ukrainian Ambassador to UK Vadym Prystaiko and wife Inna Prystaiko observe a minute’s silence to mark the one year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, (REUTERS)
A Ukrainian themed Wreath to mark the one year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine sits on the door of 10 Downing Street. (Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street)
A Ukrainian themed Wreath to mark the one year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine sits on the door of 10 Downing Street. (Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street)
Former prime minister Boris Johnson lights one of 52 candles - one for each week of the war - during an ecumenical prayer service at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in London, to mark the one year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (PA)
Former prime minister Boris Johnson lights one of 52 candles - one for each week of the war - during an ecumenical prayer service at the Ukrainian Catholic Cathedral in London, to mark the one year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine (PA)
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a ceremony dedicated to the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv (via REUTERS)
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy attends a ceremony dedicated to the first anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kyiv (via REUTERS)
Ukrainian volunteer recruits leave the parade ground after taking part in prayers, blessings and a one minute silence to mark the first anniversary of the 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine, on February 24, 2023 in South East England (Getty Images)
Ukrainian volunteer recruits leave the parade ground after taking part in prayers, blessings and a one minute silence to mark the first anniversary of the 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine, on February 24, 2023 in South East England (Getty Images)
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen attends wreath-laying ceremony at the War of Independence Victory Column during Independence Day celebrations in Tallinn, Estonia (REUTERS)
President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen attends wreath-laying ceremony at the War of Independence Victory Column during Independence Day celebrations in Tallinn, Estonia (REUTERS)

The ICC has made Putin “a wanted man”, Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, has said.

He added: “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.”

On Thursday, a UN-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 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.

On Friday, the ICC put the face of Putin on the child abduction allegations.

News of the arrest warrant has come ahead of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s planned state visit to Moscow next week.

The visit is likely to cement much closer ties between Russia and China just as relations between Moscow and the West hit new lows. Russia has been placed under unprecedented Western sanctions since its invasion of Ukraine.