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

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant on Friday against Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of being responsible for war crimes committed in Ukraine.

Russian government spokesperson says arrest warrant has 'no significance whatsoever'

A man in a dark suit wags his finger as he speaks into a microphone in front of a red, blue and white backdrop.
Russian President Vladimir Putin gestures during a meeting in Moscow in February. (Mikhail Metzel/Sputnik/Kremlin pool photo/The Associated Press)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant on Friday against Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of being responsible for war crimes committed in Ukraine.

Moscow has repeatedly denied accusations of atrocities during its one-year invasion of its neighbour. A spokesperson for Russia's Foreign Ministry said the arrest warrant had "no significance whatsoever."

"The decisions of the International Criminal Court have no meaning for our country, including from a legal point of view," spokesperson Maria Zakharova said on her Telegram channel. "Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and bears no obligations under it."

The ICC issued the warrant for Putin's arrest on suspicion of unlawful deportation of children and unlawful transfer of people from the territory of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

Putin is only the third serving president to have been issued an ICC arrest warrant, after Sudan's Omar al-Bashir and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi.

Separately, the court issued a warrant for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Russia's commissioner for children's rights, on the same charges.

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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 co-operation."

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia found the very questions raised by the ICC "outrageous and unacceptable," and that any decisions of the court were "null and void" with respect to Russia.

Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister, Mélanie Joly, said she welcomed the warrants in light of Putin's and Lvova-Belova's "alleged roles in the egregious scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia."

A possible trial of any Russians at the ICC remains a long way off, as Moscow does not recognize the court's jurisdiction and does not extradite its nationals.

However, the warrant means that Putin could be arrested and sent to The Hague if he travels to any ICC member states.

Ukraine also is 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.

A glass building and blue sign are displayed.
Exterior view of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, is shown in December. Putin is only the third serving president to have been issued an ICC arrest warrant, after Sudan's Omar al-Bashir and Libya's Moammar Gadhafi. (Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)

Senior Ukrainian officials applauded the ICC decision, with the country's Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin hailing it as "historic for Ukraine and the entire international law system."

Andriy Yermak, chief of the presidential staff, said that issuing the warrant was "only the beginning."

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that the International Criminal Court's decision to issue an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin was historic and blamed Putin for the deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children.

"This is an historic decision which will lead to historic accountability," Zelenskyy said in his nightly video address. The real number of deported children could be "far more" than 16,000, he said, and said their deportations constituted a policy of "state evil which starts precisely with the top official of this state."

The ICC said that its pre-trial chamber found "reasonable grounds to believe" Putin and Lvova-Belova are responsible for "the war crime of unlawful deportation … in prejudice of Ukrainian children."

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.

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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.

News of the arrest warrant comes ahead of a planned state visit to Moscow next week by Chinese President Xi Jinping, which 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 it sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022.

With files from CBC News and The Associated Press


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