The Hague-based ICC accused Russian President Putin of responsibility for war crimes committed in Ukraine. How to successfully extradite the Russian leader to face trial could prove a far greater challenge.
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, over responsibility for war crimes committed by Russian forces in Ukraine during the war ongoing for over a year.
The court’s accusation centered around the alleged deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia. Moscow said the warrant had no legal bearing on the Russian president.
What do we know about the warrant?
ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan said his office identified incidents of deporting “at least hundreds of children” taken from Ukrainian orphanages and children’s care homes. Many of the children are alleged to have been offered for adoption in Russia since.
Khan referred to a legal amendment, based on presidential decrees, which essentially facilitated the adoption of the children by Russian families.
“My office alleges that these acts, amongst others, demonstrate an intention to permanently remove these children from their own country,” Khan said. “We cannot allow children to be treated as if they are the spoils of war.”
The Hague-based court said there were reasonable grounds to believe that Putin “committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others,” or that he failed to properly control “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 court did not elaborate on how it intended to carry out the warrant. Russia tends not to cooperate with international extraditions, is not a full member of the ICC, and does not accept its jurisdiction.
The ICC also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights, on the same charges Putin was facing.
Russia says warrant ‘has no meaning’
Russia’s Foreign Ministry quickly undermined the significance of the warrant. Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the decision had “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,” she said in a statement on the messaging app Telegram.
The Kremlin said it did not recognize the ICC’s authority, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that any of the court’s decisions regarding Russia were “null and void.”
Peskov added that Russia found the questions raised by the warrant “outrageous and unacceptable.”
Former president and Putin-confidante Dmitry Medvedev also ridiculed the impact of the arrest warrant.
“No need to explain WHERE this paper should be used,” Medvedev wrote, using the toilet paper emoji on Twitter.
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin. No need to explain WHERE this paper should be used🧻.
— Dmitry Medvedev (@MedvedevRussiaE) March 17, 2023
Though it initially signed the Rome Statute in 2000, Moscow never ratified it to become an ICC member. In 2016, under pressure due to its illegal annexation of Crimea from Ukraine and airstrikes in Syria, Russia withdrew its ICC signature.
Ukraine also has not ratified the Rome Statute. However, Kyiv has twice accepted the court’s jurisdiction over alleged crimes on its territory regarding Russia’s 2014 Crimea annexation and the events both leading up to it and resulting from it.
Ukraine welcomes the warrant
Ukrainian officials were quick to welcome the news. President Volodymr Zelenskyy hailed it as a “historic decision from which historic responsibility will begin.”
“To part children from their families, to prevent them from contacting their relatives, to hide children on the territory of Russia, to disseminate them around far-flung regions is clearly state policy of Russia, state decisions and state evil, which starts precisely with the top official of this state.”
Andriy Yermak, the head of Ukraine’s presidential office, described the warrant as “just the beginning.”
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also applauded the ICC decision.
“International criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes,” he wrote on Twitter in response.
Wheels of Justice are turning: I applaud the ICC decision to issue arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova over forcible transfer of Ukrainian children. International criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes.
— Dmytro Kuleba (@DmytroKuleba) March 17, 2023
West hails ‘important signal’ from ICC
Western leaders were quick to praise the bid to put Putin on trial.
US President Joe Biden called the arrest warrant “justified,” adding that the move “makes a very strong point.”
A US State Department spokesperson endorsed the charges.
“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 spokesperson said in an emailed statement.
Like Russia, the United States is also not an ICC member state.
German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann described it as an “important signal of determination,” in an interview with the RND network of newspapers.
“Anyone who has instigated a bloody war like Putin should have to answer for it in court,” Buschmann said.
The French Foreign Ministry wrote on Twitter that “no-one responsible for crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine, regardless of their status, should escape justice,” in a Tweet.
The ICC's decision to issue an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova is a landmark one. No one responsible for crimes committed by Russia in Ukraine, regardless of their status, should remain unpunished.@MinColonna
Communique → https://t.co/b2QfcV5FYo https://t.co/PdaAvsbizO
— France Diplomacy🇫🇷🇪🇺 (@francediplo_EN) March 17, 2023
Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly also echoed similar sentiments, stressing firm support for the people of Ukraine.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the warrant is “the start of the process of accountability.”
Latest international attempt to prosecute a head of state
The ICC’s Friday warrant makes Putin the third sitting president to be issued an arrest warrant after Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi
Both Arab autocrats were never arrested as a result of the warrant. Gadhafi was killed in a NATO-backed 2011 uprising, and Bashir was toppled in 2019 protests then tried in Sudan, nearly a decade after his ICC warrant.
Other former heads of state like Charles Taylor of Liberia, Slobodan Milosevic of the former Yugoslavia, or Radovan Karadzic of Republika Srpska faced either trial or conviction at special courts in The Hague, but not at the ICC.
The warrant means, however, that Putin would potentially avoid visiting any ICC member states, as he would risk getting arrested.
What about all the war crimes committed in the wars in the middle east and far east?
Lol, yet we’ll never see icc arrest warrants against biggest criminals / crime ministers of those countries modi and netanhayu of india and israel because they’re backed by the ever hypocritical west… sham