As part of the West’s attempt to ramp up the pressure on President Vladimir Putin, the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Friday issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader. It’s a largely symbolic step, given detaining Putin remains entirely unenforceable, but is enough to create a firestorm of hyped and breathless headlines.
Another arrest warrant for a top official was announced simultaneously for Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova. The warrants for both Putin and Lvova-Belova allege severe human rights violations against children, and mark the first formal international charges brought by the ICC against Moscow.
The ICC said in a statement that 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.”
According to Axios, it stems from allegations that “Russia systematically relocated at least 6,000 children from Ukraine to Russia since the start of the war” – based on findings by a group called Conflict Observatory and their report published in February.
“Many of the children, who were taken to camps or other facilities, engaged in pro-Russia reeducation efforts, per the report,” Axios details. “Some of the facilities were used for foster care or adoption in Russia and Crimea.”
But it remains that the warrants are largely merely symbolic. “The ICC is doing its part of work as a court of law,” ICC court president Piotr Hofmanski said. “The judges issued arrest warrants. The execution depends on international cooperation.”
Given the ICC doesn’t have a police force, any actual attempt to detain Putin would be the decision of a government, so needless to say it could not possibly be enforced. However, it does complicate Putin’s ability to travel to European or other capitals which cooperate with the ICC. This also means it could hinder peace efforts in the scenario Putin might choose to personally engage in negotiations or diplomacy in a European city.
The Kremlin responded quickly to the ICC warrants, with Dmitry Peskov stressing that Russia doesn’t recognize the international court, calling its decisions “legally void.” He blasted the attempt to go after the recognized head of state of Russia as “outrageous and unacceptable.”
Recent debate at the Hague-based ICC ahead of Friday’s announcement certainly put Washington in an awkward position, with Axios pointing out that “The New York Times reported earlier this month that the Pentagon was blocking the Biden administration from sharing U.S. intelligence with the ICC about Russian war crimes in Ukraine for fear that it could set a precedent for prosecuting Americans.”
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