The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for Russian president Vladimir Putin for the "unlawful deportation" of Ukrainian children.

Putin "is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation."

The ICC said the crimes dated from February 24, 2022, when Russia invaded Ukraine. "There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Putin bears individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes," it said.

Putin was allegedly responsible both directly by committing the acts and for "failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts, or allowed for their commission."

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The ICC added that the arrest warrants themselves are being kept secret to protect the indentities of victims and witnesses.

In a post on Telegram, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the decision has "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."

Russia is not a member of the ICC so it is unclear how it plans to enforce the warrant.

But Ukraine's presidency hailed the decision and said it was just an initial step in restoring justice over Russia's full-scale invasion.

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"The Hague Chamber of the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Putin. This is just the beginning," Ukraine's presidential chief of staff Andriy Yermak said on social media.

Ukraine's Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin described the move as "a historic decision" for both Ukraine and "the entire system of international law.

"The world received a signal that the Russian regime is criminal and its leadership and henchmen will be held accountable," he added.

The ICC is a court of last resort for crimes that countries cannot or will not prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

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ICC prosecutor Karim Khan launched an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine just days after Russia's invasion.

Khan said earlier this month after a visit to Ukraine that the alleged abductions of children "are being investigated by my office as a priority", AFP reports.

"Children cannot be treated as the spoils of war," he said in a statement on March 7.

Posting a picture of himself alongside empty cots, Khan said he had visited a care home for children in southern Ukraine that was "empty, a result of alleged deportation of children from Ukraine to the Russian Federation" or other occupied areas.

Khan also confirmed that the ICC was investigating attacks on "critical civilian infrastructure" in Ukraine and that he had visited the sites of several such strikes. Along with Ukraine's prosecutor general "we underlined our collective commitment to ensure that such acts are fully investigated and those responsible for alleged international crimes held to account," he added.

The ICC prosecutor added in the statement that he had a "sense that the momentum towards justice is accelerating." Khan has previously described Ukraine as a "crime scene", and has also visited the town of Bucha where AFP journalists saw at least 20 bodies lying in a street.

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Neither Russia nor Ukraine are members of the ICC, but Kyiv has accepted the court's jurisdiction and is working with Khan's office.

Russia denies allegations of war crimes by its troops. Experts have said it is unlikely it would ever hand over any suspects.

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