The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of war crimes including abducting children from Ukraine.
It also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children, on similar allegations.
The ICC arrest warrants “have no meaning for our country, including from a legal point of view,” Russia’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on her Telegram channel.
She added that Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute, the treaty underpinning the world’s permanent war crimes tribunal.
In a statement, the court alleges the Russian president is “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”.
The ICC said that its pre-trial chamber found there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that the two suspects are responsible for the alleged war crimes and that Putin “bears individual criminal responsibility”.
Russia has brought thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia but has presented the programme as a humanitarian campaign to protect abandoned children and orphans in conflict zones.
Andriy Yermak, chief of the presidential staff, said Ukraine had cooperated closely with the ICC and was currently investigating over 16,000 cases of forced children deportation to Russia. Ukraine has managed to secure the return of 308 children so far.
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In a press conference, the president of the ICC Piotr Hofmanski said the warrants were “an important moment in the process of justice”.
He also said that the judges dealing with the case “determined there are credible allegations against these persons for the alleged crime”.
“Their execution [of the warrants] depends on international cooperation,” he said.
ICC prosecutor Karim Khan had opened an investigation a year ago into possible war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Ukraine.
Mr Khan highlighted during previous trips that he was also examining the targeting of civilian infrastructure and alleged crimes against children, who have special protection under the Geneva Convention.
Senior Ukrainian officials applauded the ICC, with Ukraine’s prosecutor general Andriy Kostin saying the decision was “historic for Ukraine and the entire international law system”.
“Wheels of justice are turning: I applaud the ICC decision to issue arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova over forcible transfer of Ukrainian children,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba wrote on Twitter.
Russia has denied accusations its military forces have committed war crimes since it invaded Ukraine on 24 February last year.
Sky News correspondent Dominic Waghorn said there was “no practical consequence” to the warrant but Putin risks being arrested if he flies to a country that complies with the ICC.