Politics

International Criminal Court issues arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over alleged Ukraine war crimes

Key Points
  • The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over alleged war crimes committed during his invasion of Ukraine.
  • The court also issued a warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia's commissioner for children's rights.
  • The Kremlin has said it does not recognize the court's jurisdiction.
Vladimir Putin arrest warrant seen in press release from the International Criminal Court in The Hague. On 17 March 2023 in Brussels, Belgium. 
Jonathan Raa | Nurphoto | Getty Images

WASHINGTON The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant on Friday for Russian President Vladimir Putin over alleged war crimes committed during his invasion of Ukraine.

The court also put out a warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia's commissioner for children's rights.

Putin and Lvova-Belova are "allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation" of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia, the court wrote in a statement.

"There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin bears individual criminal responsibility" for the forced deportation of Ukrainian children, the ICC said. The court alleged that he committed the offenses either directly or in cooperation with others, or failed to stop subordinates under his authority.

The warrants are the first the ICC has issued in response to the war in Ukraine, as officials within the country and around the world ramp up probes into the horrors of Russia's nearly 13-month assault. Investigators have uncovered allegations of forced deportations, torture, sexual violence and deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure, outlined in reports backed by the United Nations and other organizations.

The arrest warrant for Putin did not mention alleged crimes beyond the deportations.

Russian Presidential Commissioner for Children's Rights Maria Lvova-Belova meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia February 16, 2023. 
Mikhail Metzel | Sputnik | Reuters

The ICC's prosecutor, Karim Khan, opened an investigation into possible Russian war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Ukraine after Moscow launched its full-scale invasion in February of last year. Khan, who has met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy several times, has made at least three separate trips to visit sites across Ukraine to investigate alleged war crimes.

"Incidents identified by my office include the deportation of at least hundreds of children taken from orphanages and children's care homes," Khan wrote in a statement.

"Many of these children, we allege, have since been given for adoption in the Russian Federation. The law was changed in the Russian Federation, through Presidential decrees issued by President Putin, to expedite the conferral of Russian citizenship, making it easier for them to be adopted by Russian families," he added.

The Kremlin reiterated on Friday that it does not recognize the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.

"We consider the very posing of the question outrageous and unacceptable. Russia, like a number of states, does not recognize the jurisdiction of this court and accordingly, any decisions of this kind are null and void for the Russian Federation from the point of view of law," Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said, according to an NBC News translation.

Russia in 2000 signed the Rome Statute, which established the ICC and its jurisdiction but did not ratify the agreement to become a member.

Piotr Hofmanski, president of the ICC, said international authorities will have to enforce the warrants as the court does not have a police force.

The move is the first time the court has issued a warrant against a leader whose country is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Russia will take the rotating presidency of the Security Council in April.

U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told NBC News that there is "no doubt" that Russia is committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine.

"President Biden has been very clear, since the beginning of this war, that we're going to look for ways to make sure that Russia is held accountable for the war crimes for the atrocities that they are perpetrating against the Ukrainian people," Kirby said.

The Kremlin has previously denied that its forces commit war crimes or deliberately target civilians. The Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., did not immediately respond to CNBC's request for comment.

"Wheels of justice are turning," wrote Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba on Twitter. "International criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes."

Ukraine's prosecutor general, Andriy Kostin, separately said "this is a historic decision for Ukraine and the entire system of international law."

"But this is only the beginning of a long road to the restoration of justice," Kostin wrote on his official Telegram channel.

War crime prosecutor of Kharkiv Oblast stands with forensic technician and policeman at the site of a mass burial in a forest during exhumation on September 16, 2022 in Izium, Ukraine.
Yevhenii Zavhorodnii | Global Images Ukraine | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Kostin, who is leading Ukraine's prosecution of Russian war crimes, told journalists in Washington, D.C., last month that regional Ukrainian authorities have registered more than 65,000 offenses since Moscow's conflict began.

"We have all witnessed with horror the evidence of atrocities committed in Bucha, Irpin, Mariupol, Izium, Kherson, Kharkiv regions and other liberated cities and towns," Kostin said at the time. He said that Ukrainian authorities have discovered mass burial sites in areas occupied by Russian troops.

Read more: UN report details horrifying Ukrainian accounts of rape, torture and executions by Russian troops

Kostin added that the crimes "are not incidental or accidental." At the time, he said that more than 75,000 buildings, including homes, schools and hospitals, have been reduced to rubble.

'Consider this a giant Amber alert'

A teddy bear is seen on the playground next to a destroyed apartment building on April 21, 2022 in Borodianka, Ukraine.
Alexey Furman | Getty Images

Last month, the Conflict Observatory, a program supported by the U.S. State Department, said that Russian forces have moved at least 6,000 Ukrainian children to camps and facilities across Russia for forced adoptions and military training.

The allegations detailed in the 35-page report, entitled "Russia's systematic program for the re-education and adoption of Ukraine's children," took more than a year to produce. It outlines what it calls the Kremlin's systematic efforts to abduct children, prevent their return to Ukraine and "re-educate" them to become pro-Russia.

"Consider this report a gigantic Amber Alert," Nathaniel Raymond, executive director of Yale University's Humanitarian Research Lab, said on a call with reporters at the time of its release. He added that this is the most "consequential and comprehensive report" yet published on the matter.

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Raymond said that Conflict Observatory researchers, in partnership with Yale's Humanitarian Research Lab, discovered a network of at least 43 camps and facilities where Russian authorities hold Ukrainian children.

The sites span Russia's extensive territory, as some are located in Siberia, near Ukraine's border or approximately 13,000 miles from Alaska, according to the report.

At the time, the Russian Embassy in Washington called the allegations detailed in the report "absurd."

"We do our best to keep minors in families, and in case of absence or death of parents and relatives - to transfer orphans under guardianship. We ensure the protection of their lives and well-being," Russian spokesman Igor Girenko wrote in a statement to CNBC last month.

New evidence of war crimes in Ukraine
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New evidence of war crimes in Ukraine