The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant on Friday for Russian President Vladimir Putin for alleged war crimes over unlawful transfer of children from Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
THE HAGUE — The International Criminal Court said Friday that it has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes, accusing him of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine.
It was the first time the global court has issued a warrant against a leader of one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.
The ICC said in a statement that Putin "is allegedly responsible 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."
It also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Lvova-Belova, the commissioner for Children's Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation.
The move was immediately dismissed by Moscow — and welcomed by Ukraine as a major breakthrough. Its practical implications, however, could be limited as the chances of Putin facing trial at the ICC are extremely unlikely.
But the moral condemnation will likely stain the Russian leader for the rest of his life — and in the more immediate future whenever he seeks to attend an international summit in a nation bound to arrest him.
"So Putin might go to China, Syria, Iran, his ... few allies, but he just won't travel to the rest of the world and won't travel to ICC member states who he believes would ... arrest him," said Adil Ahmad Haque, an expert in international law and armed conflict at Rutgers University.
Others agreed. "Vladimir Putin will forever be marked as a pariah globally. He has lost all his political credibility around the world. Any world leader who stands by him will be shamed as well," David Crane, a former international prosecutor, told The Associated Press.
The court's president, Piotr Hofmanski, said in a video statement that while the ICC's judges issued the warrants, it will be up to the international community to enforce them. The court has no police force of its own to do so.
The court can impose a maximum sentence of life imprisonment "when justified by the extreme gravity of the crime," according to its founding treaty, the Rome Statute, establishing the ICC as a permanent court of last resort to prosecute political leaders and other key perpetrators of the world's worst atrocities — war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Still, the chances of Putin facing trial remain extremely remote, as Moscow does not recognize the court's jurisdiction — a position it vehemently reaffirmed Friday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that Russia doesn't recognize the ICC and considers its decisions "legally void." He added that Russia considers the court's move "outrageous and unacceptable."
Peskov refused to comment when asked if Putin would avoid making trips to countries where he could be arrested on the ICC's warrant.
Ukraine's human rights chief, Dmytro Lubinets, has said that based on data from the country's National Information Bureau, 16,226 children were deported. Ukraine has managed to bring back 308 children.
Lvova-Belova, who was also implicated in the warrant, reacted with dripping sarcasm. "It is great that the international community has appreciated the work to help the children of our country, that we do not leave them in war zones, that we take them out, we create good conditions for them, that we surround them with loving, caring people," she said.
Ukrainian officials were jubilant at the move.
In his nightly address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called it a "historic decision, from which historic responsibility will begin."
"The world changed," said presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the "wheels of justice are turning," and added that "international criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes."
In Washington, President Joe Biden called the ICC's decision “justified,” telling reporters as he left the White House for his Delaware home that Putin “clearly committed war crimes.” While the U.S. does not recognize the court either, Biden said it “makes a very strong point” to call out the Russian leader's actions in ordering the invasion.
Olga Lopatkina, a Ukrainian mother who struggled for months to reclaim her foster children who were deported to an institution run by Russian loyalists, welcomed news of the arrest warrant. "Everyone must be punished for their crimes," she said in an exchange of messages with the AP.
While Ukraine is also not a member of the global court, it granted the court jurisdiction over its territory and ICC prosecutor Karim Khan visited four times since opening an investigation a year ago.
Besides Russia and Ukraine, the United States and China are not members of the 123-member ICC.
The ICC said its pretrial chamber found "reasonable grounds" that Putin "bears individual criminal responsibility" for the child abductions "for having committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others" and for failing to "exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts."
After his most recent visit this month, ICC prosecutor Khan said he went to a care home for children just over a mile from front lines in southern Ukraine.
"The drawings pinned on the wall … spoke to a context of love and support that was once there," he said in a statement. "But this home was empty, a result of alleged deportation of children from Ukraine to the Russian Federation or their unlawful transfer to other parts of the temporarily occupied territories."
"As I noted to the United Nations Security Council last September, these alleged acts are being investigated by my office as a priority. Children cannot be treated as the spoils of war," Khan said.
On Thursday, a U.N.-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 sweeping 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.
But on Friday, the ICC put the face of Putin on the child abduction allegations.
Timeline: A look at key moments in a year of war between Russia and Ukraine
A month-by-month timeline of the war in Ukraine
The war in Ukraine that began a year ago has killed thousands, forced millions to flee their homes, reduced entire cities to rubble and has fueled fears the confrontation could slide into an open conflict between Russia and NATO.
A look at some of the main events in the conflict.
Feb. 24, 2022: Russia invades Ukraine
March 2, 2022: Russia takes Kherson, gets stuck near Kyiv
March 29, 2022: Russia withdraws from Kyiv, shifts focus east
April 2022: Mass graves discovered in Bucha
April 9, 2022: Russia strikes train station, killing 52 civilians
April 13, 2022: Ukraine sinks Russian missile cruiser
May 16, 2022: Ukraine defenders surrender key steel mill
May 18, 2022: Finland, Sweden apply for NATO membership
June 2022: Western weapons flow into Ukraine
June 30, 2022: Russian troops pull back from Snake Island
July 22, 2022: Deal struck on grain exports
July 29, 2022: 53 killed in missile strike on prison
Aug. 9, 2022: Ukraine strikes air base in Crimea
Aug. 20, 2022: Daughter of Russian ideologist killed in car bombing
Sept. 6, 2022: Ukraine counteroffensive retakes parts of Kharkiv region