THE HAGUE: The International Criminal Court on Friday annou­nced an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on the war crime accusation of unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children.

The Hague-based ICC said it had also issued a warrant against Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights, on similar charges.

The Kremlin dismissed the ord­ers as “void”. Russia is not a party to the ICC so it was unclear if or how Putin could ever be extradited.

War-battered Ukraine welcomed the ICC announcement, with the nation’s chief prosecutor saying the “historic” warrant for Putin was “just the beginning”.

Kremlin dismisses orders as ‘void’; US says Chinese call for Ukraine ceasefire will aid ‘Russian conquest’

In London, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said the UK welcomed the ICC’s decision, adding that investigations into alleged atrocities in Ukraine must continue.

The court’s shock notice came hours after other news with potential to significantly impact Russia’s war on Ukraine, including a Moscow visit from Chinese leader Xi Jinping and more fighter jets for Kyiv’s forces.

More than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia since the Feb 24, 2022 invasion, according to Kyiv, with many allegedly placed in institutions and foster homes.

The warrants, issued after an application by ICC prosecutor Karim Khan, were “for the alleged war crimes of deportation of children from Ukrainian occupied territories into the Russian Federation” since the invasion, he said.

ICC President Piotr Hofmanski added “the execution (of the warrants) depends on international cooperation”.

‘Spoils of war’

The arrest warrant for Putin — a sitting head of state of a UN Security Council member — is an unprecedented step for the International Criminal Court.

Set up in 2002, the ICC is a court of last resort for the world’s worst crimes, when countries cannot or will not prosecute suspects.

Prosecutor Khan launched an investigation into alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Ukraine just days after Russia’s invasion.

Khan said earlier this month after a visit to Ukraine, during which he posted a picture of himself alongside empty cots in an empty children’s care home, that investigating alleged child abduction was a priority”. He added, “Children cannot be treated as the spoils of war,” he said in the statement on March 7.

Ukraine’s prosecutor general Andriy Kostin, who met Khan on his visit, hailed the decision. “The world received a signal that the Russian regime is criminal and its leadership and henchmen will be held accountable,” Kostin said on social media.

But Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova dismissed the ICC warrants.

“The decisions of the International Criminal Court have no meaning for our country, including from a legal point of view,” Zakharova said on social media.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev added on Twitter that the ICC “has issued an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin. No need to explain WHERE this paper should be used,” adding a toilet paper emoji.

The contents of the arrest warrants were being kept secret “in order to protect the victims”, he said.

Ukraine ceasefire

Separately, the United States opposes Chinese calls for a ceasefire in Ukraine, a White House spokesman said on Friday, saying this would simply consolidate “Russian conquest” and allow the Kremlin to prepare a new offensive.

“We don’t support calls for a ceasefire right now,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters ahead of next week’s visit to Moscow by Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

“We certainly don’t support calls for a ceasefire that would be called for by the PRC in a meeting in Moscow that would simply benefit Russia,” he said, using China’s official acronym — the People’s Republic of China.

“A ceasefire now is... effectively the ratification of Russian conquest,” Kirby said. “Russia would be free then to use a ceasefire to only further entrench their positions in Ukraine, to rebuild, refit and refresh their forces so they can restart attacks on Ukraine at a time of their choosing.”

He added, “We do not believe this is a step toward a just and durable peace.”

Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2023

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