The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, a member of Putin’s government, it announced in a news release yesterday.
Lvova-Belova is the official at the centre of the alleged scheme to forcibly deport thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia.
The ICC said both Putin and Lvova-Belova are “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.”
However, Moscow has rejected an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for Putin.
Spokesperson for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, in a statement, yesterday, said the warrants have “no meaning” for Russia, including from a “legal point of view.”
“Russia is not a member of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and bears no obligations under it,” Zakharova said. “Russia does not cooperate with this body, and possible (pretenses) for arrest coming from the International Court of Justice will be legally null and void for us.”
According to the US and several European governments, Putin’s administration has carried out a scheme to forcibly deport thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia, often to a network of dozens of camps, where the minors undergo political reeducation.
“Lvova-Belova’s efforts specifically include the forced adoption of Ukrainian children into Russian families, the so-called ‘patriotic education’ of Ukrainian children, legislative changes to expedite the provision of Russian Federation citizenship to Ukrainian children, and the deliberate removal of Ukrainian children by Russia’s forces,” the US Treasury said in September.
Lvova-Belova’s government title is commissioner for children’s rights in the Office of the Russian President.
The ICC statement yesterday said there were “reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin bears individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes,” both for having committed the acts directly or through others in his command, and for “his failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates.”
Russia has characterised reports of forcible relocation as “absurd” and said it does its “best” to keep minors with their families.
The ICC announcement came just days after several US news outlets reported the court was planning to open two war crimes cases tied to the invasion of Ukraine and issue arrest warrants against “several people.”
Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Chief of Staff, Andriy Yermak, in a post on Telegram yesterday, described the arrest warrant issued by the ICC for Putin as “just the beginning.”
Ukrainian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dmytro Kuleba, also applauded the warrant, saying the “wheels of justice are turning.”
“International criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes,” he added.
With the warrant, “the world has received a signal that the Russian regime is criminal and that its leadership and accomplices will be brought to justice,” Ukrainian General Prosecutor, Andriy Kostin said in a post on Facebook yesterday.
“This means that Putin must be arrested outside of Russia and brought to trial. And world leaders will think twice before shaking his hand or sitting down with him at the negotiating table.”
Kostin called the move a historic decision and said he was personally grateful to the ICC.
“In particular, regarding forced deportation of children, [the] Prosecutor General’s Office has submitted more than 40 volumes of materials to the ICC — more than 1000 pages,” he added. “Today’s decision is a historic step. But it is only the beginning of a long journey to restore justice.”
“We expect all states that consider themselves part of the civilised world to take appropriate steps to bring those suspected of committing international crimes to justice,” Kostin added.