The International Criminal Court said on Friday it had detained Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes over his alleged involvement in the kidnapping of children from Ukraine.
The court said in a statement that Mr. Putin was “allegedly responsible for the war crime of illegal deportation. [children] and illegal transfer [children] From the occupied territories of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
It also issued a warrant Friday for the arrest of Maria Alekseevna Lvova-Belova, the commissioner for children’s rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, on similar charges.
The move was immediately rejected by Moscow and hailed by Ukraine as a major step forward. However, its practical implications may be limited, as the chances of being tried at the ICC are extremely unlikely.
But the moral condemnation is likely to haunt Mr. Putin for the rest of his life, and in the near future, when he wants to attend an international summit in a country that can arrest him.
“So Putin can go to China, Syria, Iran, some of his … allies, but he just won’t go to the rest of the world and he won’t go to ICC member states that he thinks are actually … him,” said the Rutgers University Adil Ahmad Haque, an expert on international law and armed conflicts.
The others agreed. “Vladimir Putin will forever be known as a madman around the world. He has lost all his political credibility in the whole world. Any world leader who stands up to him will be ashamed too,” former international prosecutor David Crane told The Associated Press.
Even though the court has indicted world leaders before, it was the first time it ruled against one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.
Court President Piotr Hoffmanski said in a video message that although the ICC judges issued the warrants, it will be up to the international community to enforce them. The court does not have its own police force to enforce warrants.
“The ICC is doing its job as a court of law,” he said. “The judges issued an arrest warrant. Implementation depends on international cooperation.”
The chances of any Russian being tried at the ICC remain highly unlikely because Moscow does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction, a position it strongly reaffirmed on Friday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov claimed that Russia does not recognize the ICC and considers its decisions “legally invalid”. He added that Russia considers the court’s move “outrageous and unacceptable”.
Mr. Peskov declined to comment when asked whether Putin would avoid visiting countries where he could be arrested by the ICC. Ukrainian officials were happy.
President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskiy in his night address to the nation called it “a historic decision, from which historical responsibility will begin.”
“The world has changed,” said the adviser to the president, Mykhailo Podoliak. Foreign Minister Dmitry Kuleba said “the wheels of justice are turning” and added that “international criminals will be held accountable for child theft and other international crimes.”
Olga Lopatkina, a Ukrainian mother who has been fighting for months to return her foster children who were deported to a facility run by Russian loyalists, welcomed news of the arrest warrants. “Good news!” he said during an exchange of messages with the Associated Press. “Everyone should be punished for the crimes they committed.”
Ukraine is also not a member of the international court, but it has granted it jurisdiction on its territory, and ICC prosecutor Karim Khan has visited four times since launching an investigation a year ago.
The ICC said its pre-trial chamber “found reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect is responsible for the illegal displacement of population and the illegal transfer of population from the occupied territories of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, to the detriment of Ukrainian children.” .
The court’s statement said there are “reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin bears individual criminal responsibility” for the child abduction “for committing these acts directly, in concert with others, and/or through others.” [and] for not exercising proper control over the civilian and military subordinates who performed the actions.
After his last visit in early March, the ICC prosecutor, Mr. Khan, said he visited a childcare home two kilometers (just over a mile) from the front line in southern Ukraine.
“The drawings on the wall … spoke of the context of love and support that once existed. But this house was empty, allegedly as a result of the deportation of the children from Ukraine to the Russian Federation or their transfer to other regions of the illegally temporarily occupied territories,” he said in the statement. “As I mentioned to the UN Security Council last September, these alleged actions are being investigated by my office as a matter of priority. Children should not be treated as spoils of war.
And while Russia dismissed the court’s charges and warrants as nothing, others said the ICC action would have important implications.
“The ICC made Putin a wanted man and took its first step toward ending the impunity that has for too long emboldened those responsible for Russia’s war on Ukraine,” said Balkis Jarrah, director of international justice at Human Rights Watch. “Oder sends a clear message that ordering or tolerating serious crimes against civilians can lead to a prison cell in The Hague.”
Professor David Crane, who 20 years ago accused Liberian President Charles Taylor of crimes in Sierra Leone, said dictators and tyrants around the world “now recognize that those who commit international crimes will be held accountable, including heads of state”.
Mr. Taylor was eventually arrested and tried in a special court in the Netherlands. He was convicted and sentenced to 50 years in prison.
“This is an important day for justice and for the citizens of Ukraine,” Mr. Crane told The Associated Press in a written statement on Friday.
A U.N.-backed investigation on Thursday cited Russian attacks on civilians in Ukraine, including systematic torture and killings in occupied territories, as war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.
The comprehensive investigation also found crimes against Ukrainians on Russian soil, including deported Ukrainian children who were not allowed to be reunited with their families, a “filtering” system designed to segregate Ukrainians in custody, and torture and inhumane detention conditions.
But on Friday, the ICC put Putin’s face on the child abduction charges.
This is reported by the Associated Press. This was reported by AP writer Raf Kasert from Brussels. AP writers Hanna Arhirova in Kyiv, Ukraine; Ellen Knickmeyer in Washington and Sarah El Deeb in Beirut contributed.