The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, alleging that Russia’s forcible deportation of Ukrainian children is a war crime. The Kremlin responded with outrage, denouncing the move as “outrageous and unacceptable” and declaring that any decisions of the court are “null and void” with respect to Russia. Russia, like the United States and China, is not a member of the ICC.
The move has sparked debate about the perceived biased treatment of Putin in comparison to previous war crimes committed by US President George W. Bush in Iraq and Afghanistan. Critics argue that the US has yet to face any consequences for its actions, while Putin has been targeted by the ICC despite Russia’s non-membership status.
Russia has not concealed a program under which it has brought thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia, but it presents it as a humanitarian campaign to protect orphans and children abandoned in the conflict zone. However, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has condemned the deportations as a policy of “state evil which starts precisely with the top official of this state.” He welcomed the arrest warrant, saying it would lead to “historic accountability.”
The ICC prosecutor Karim Khan began investigating possible war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Ukraine a year ago. He has been looking at alleged crimes against children and the targeting of civilian infrastructure. The arrest warrant for Putin makes him only the third serving president to be issued such a warrant by the ICC, following Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Ivory Coast’s Laurent Gbagbo.
While Putin is unlikely to end up in court anytime soon, the warrant means that he could be arrested and sent to The Hague if he travels to any ICC member states. Some have hailed the move as a step toward holding world leaders accountable for their actions, while others see it as a politicized move that unfairly targets Putin.
Critics of the ICC’s decision point to the perceived lack of accountability for the US in the wake of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While the ICC has previously launched an investigation into US war crimes, the US has refused to recognize the court’s jurisdiction and has not faced any consequences for its actions. Some argue that this double standard undermines the credibility of the ICC and highlights the need for greater accountability across the board.
In response to the ICC’s decision, the United States said there was “no doubt” Russia was committing war crimes in Ukraine. The court also issued a warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, on the same charges.
The announcement has provoked a furious response from Moscow, with parliament Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, a close ally of Putin, writing on Telegram, “Yankees, hands off Putin!” He added, “We regard any attacks on the president of the Russian Federation as aggression against our country.”
The move comes as relations between Russia and the West hit new lows, with tensions escalating over Russia’s military buildup near the Ukrainian border. Ukrainian forces have been battling Russian assaults on the ruined city of Bakhmut, the focal point for eight months of Russian attempts to advance through the industrial Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine bordering Russia.
Bakhmut has become Europe’s bloodiest infantry battle since World War Two, with Russian forces capturing the city’s eastern part but failing to encircle it. The General Staff of Ukraine’s armed forces said Russia had carried out 19 airstrikes and 26 rocket attacks on Friday.