The International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Friday it had issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for the war crime of “illegal deportation” of Ukrainian children during the Russian invasion.
The ICC, which sits in The Hague, has also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights, on similar charges.
The Kremlin ruled that the decision had no legal value.
“Russia, like a number of states, does not recognize the jurisdiction of this court. Therefore, from the point of view of the law, the decisions of this court are null and void,” spokesman for the Russian president, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters.
For its part, kyiv welcomed the issuance of the arrest warrants, which are “only the beginning”, according to the head of the presidential administration Andriï Yermak on Telegram.
More than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia since the invasion on February 24, 2022, according to kyiv, and many have been placed in institutions and foster homes.
ICC President Piotr Hofmanski said the issuance of the two arrest warrants was an “important moment in the justice process” for the court.
“Today the International Criminal Court issued two arrest warrants in the situation in Ukraine, against Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, and Maria Lvova-Belova”, Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights, said said Mr. Hofmanski in a video statement on Twitter.
The warrants, issued following a request by ICC prosecutor Karim Khan, relate to “alleged war crimes of the deportation of children from occupied Ukrainian territories to the Russian Federation” since the start of the invasion , he specified.
Mr. Hofmanski added that the execution of these mandates depended “on international cooperation”.
– “Spoils of war” –
During a meeting with Mr Putin in mid-February, Maria Lvova-Belova said she had adopted a fifteen-year-old child from Mariupol.
“Now I know what it means to be a mother of a child from Donbass – it’s hard work but we love each other, that’s for sure,” she told the Russian president.
“We evacuated children’s homes to safe areas, organized rehabilitation and prosthetics for them and provided them with targeted humanitarian aid,” she added.
Quoted by the Russian news agency Ria Novosti, she assured Friday that she would continue her work despite the decision of the ICC.
Meanwhile, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has compared the arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin to toilet paper.
Be that as it may, the issuance of an arrest warrant for a sitting Head of State, member of the UN Security Council, is an unprecedented step for the ICC, created in 2002 to judge the worst crimes committed in the world.
Its prosecutor Karim Khan has been investigating for more than a year into possible war crimes or crimes against humanity committed during the Russian offensive.
He said earlier this month after a visit to Ukraine that the alleged child abductions were “the subject of a priority investigation”.
“Children cannot be treated as spoils of war,” he said.
– “Future crimes” –
Mr. Hofmanski said occupying powers were prohibited from transferring civilians, under the Geneva Convention.
The transfer by Russia of Ukrainian children in areas under its control in Ukraine as well as on its own territory constitutes a “war crime”, a group of UN investigators had also said on Thursday.
The content of the arrest warrants is kept secret “in order to protect the victims”, specified Mr. Hofmanski.
“Nevertheless, the judges of the chamber dealing with this case have decided to make the existence of the warrants public in the interests of justice and to prevent the commission of future crimes,” he explained.
The ICC said in a statement there were “reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Putin bears individual criminal responsibility” for the crimes named.
Mr. Putin is presumed responsible both directly in committing the acts and for “the failure to exercise appropriate control over civilian and military subordinates”, it is written.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine are members of the ICC, but kyiv has accepted the court’s jurisdiction and is working with Mr Khan’s office.
Russia denies allegations of war crimes by its troops and experts say it is unlikely to hand over any suspects.