The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of responsibility for the war crime of illegal deportation of children from Crimea to Russia. The court also issued an arrest warrant for Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, who allegedly facilitated the deportation. The warrants were issued on Friday, 17 March 2023, in the context of the situation in Ukraine, which was referred to the ICC by the Ukrainian government in 2015.
The ICC alleges that Putin and Lvova-Belova are responsible for the forcible transfer of more than 10,000 children from Crimea to Russia between 2014 and 2016, following Russia’s annexation of the peninsula. The court claims that the children were separated from their families and subjected to indoctrination, abuse, and exploitation in Russian orphanages and military schools. The court also claims that the deportation was part of a systematic and widespread attack against the civilian population of Crimea, aimed at altering its ethnic composition and eliminating its Ukrainian identity.
The arrest warrants are based on evidence collected by the ICC prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, who conducted a preliminary examination of the situation in Ukraine since 2015. Bensouda concluded that there was a reasonable basis to believe that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by both sides of the conflict in Ukraine, including by Russian forces and pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. However, she decided to focus her investigation on the crime of illegal deportation of children from Crimea, as it was the most serious and most underreported crime in the situation.
The arrest warrants are the first ones issued by the ICC against a sitting head of state and a high-ranking official of a permanent member of the UN Security Council. They are also the first ones issued by the ICC in relation to the situation in Ukraine, which is not a party to the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the court. However, Ukraine has accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC for crimes committed on its territory since 2014.
The reaction of Russian elites to the arrest warrants has been one of defiance and denial. Putin has dismissed the warrants as a political move by Western countries to undermine his legitimacy and sovereignty. He has also accused the ICC of being biased and incompetent, and has reiterated his position that Russia does not recognize the jurisdiction of the court. Putin has vowed to continue his policies in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, and has warned that any attempt to arrest him or Lvova-Belova would be met with a strong response.
Lvova-Belova has also rejected the warrants as baseless and slanderous. She has claimed that she was acting in the best interests of the children in Crimea, who were allegedly neglected and abused by their Ukrainian parents. She has also claimed that she was providing humanitarian assistance and protection to the children, who were voluntarily transferred to Russia with their consent or that of their guardians. She has denied any involvement in any crime or violation of human rights.
Other Russian elites have expressed their support and solidarity with Putin and Lvova-Belova. They have condemned the ICC as a tool of Western aggression and interference in Russia’s internal affairs. They have also questioned the credibility and legitimacy of the court, which they claim is biased against non-Western countries and leaders. They have called for Russia to withdraw from any cooperation with the ICC and to resist any pressure or sanctions from the international community.