ICC issues arrest warrant for Putin (Who is going to arrest him?)

Dmitry Astakhov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP

One of the many horrible things that Russia has been doing under cover of the “special military operation” is taking Ukrainian children and sending them to live in Russia where they can be adopted by Russian families. This policy of abduction and adoption has been managed by Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s children’s rights commissioner.


Oleksandr has not seen his mother since Russian soldiers captured the pair in Mariupol, in southern Ukraine, in April and took her away. At 12, he escaped adoption into a Russian family only because he remembered his grandmother’s phone number and called her to come and save him…

While Ukrainians face daunting logistical barriers to recover children taken to Russia, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree last May making it quick and easy for Russians to adopt Ukrainian children.

The policy is vigorously pursued by Putin’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, who openly advocates stripping children of their Ukrainian identities and teaching them to love Russia.

Russia won’t say how many Ukrainian kids have been deported to Russia but Ukraine says the number is just shy of 11,000. In the case of Oleksandr, he was injured by shrapnel during a Russian attack and was then split from his mother and sent to a hospital in occupied Donetsk. There he was told that Ukrainians were “evil.” Luckily he was able to borrow a phone and called his grandmother who came to get him back.

Abducting children who already have family in Ukraine and sending them to Russia for adoption is a war crime and today the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced it was issued arrest warrants for President Putin and commissioner Lvova-Belova.


The ICC said both Putin and Lvova-Belova are “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.”…

“Lvova-Belova’s efforts specifically include the forced adoption of Ukrainian children into Russian families, the so-called ‘patriotic education’ of Ukrainian children, legislative changes to expedite the provision of Russian Federation citizenship to Ukrainian children, and the deliberate removal of Ukrainian children by Russia’s forces,” the US Treasury said in September…

The ICC statement Friday said there are “reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Putin bears individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes,” both for having committed the acts directly or through others in his command, and for “his failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates.”

A previous report from the NY Times suggests this is one of two criminal cases for war crimes which will be brought by the ICC. The second one will involve Russia’s intentional targeting of civilian infrastructure.


The problem with these charges, of course, is that in order to prosecute this case, someone would have to actually arrest Putin and bring him before the court. Obviously that’s not going to happen within Russia. And even if Putin leaves Russia, it would likely be considered an act of war to arrest him. So Russia’s foreign ministry is already scoffing at this.

“The decisions of the International Criminal Court have no meaning for our country, including from a legal point of view,” Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry, said on Telegram Friday. “Russia does not cooperate with this body, and possible ‘recipes’ for arrest coming from the International Court will be legally null and void for us.”

Practically speaking, these arrest warrants change nothing. That they can’t accomplish any prosecution of Putin doesn’t necessarily mean they are of no value at all. Since the start of this war, Putin’s objective internationally has been to try to divide the western forces arrayed against him by making them doubt their own resolve.

For instance, his decision to cut off the natural gas supply to Germany prior to last winter was an attempt to separate Germany from the US and Britain. That effort failed but it showed that Putin realizes there is a lot to be gained if he can divide his opponents.


The corollary to this is that Putin is in the worst possible position when his opponents are united against him and confident that his behavior should be opposed. Hopefully this move by the ICC adds to that collective certainty. Putin won’t ever be arrested, but the idea that he probably belongs behind bars for what he’s done in Ukraine is a clarifying one.

Here’s the announcement from the ICC:

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