The International Criminal Court on Friday issued an arrest warrant for one “Mr. Vladimir Putin” in connection with the systematic abduction of Ukrainian children.
Also hypothetically under arrest: Maria Lvova-Belova, Putin’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights, who’s in charge of a sweeping effort to transfer the children and teenagers to Russia, where they’re adopted and assimilated. Russian state media portrays the chillingly nefarious program as a rescue mission, often using props (like teddy bars) to create favorable optics domestically.
The ICC isn’t enamored with it. “Incidents identified by my Office include the deportation of at least hundreds of children taken from orphanages and children’s care homes,” ICC prosecutor Karim Ahmad Khan said, calling a series of Kremlin decrees which expedite the conferral of Russian citizenship to the children “an intention to permanently remove [them] from their own country.”
He described visits to children’s homes in Ukraine, near the frontlines. First-hand accounts from caregivers “underlined the urgent need for action,” the ICC said.
Of course, Russia isn’t a party to the court, something Maria Zakharova, Putin’s de facto propaganda secretary, was keen to point out. “Russia is not cooperating with this body,” she said. Attempts to arrest Putin are “legally null and void for us.”
For all intents and purposes, they’re legally null and void for everyone, but the symbolism was meaningful. Putin is now a wanted man, and Lvova-Belova a wanted woman. There’s no diplomatic immunity at the ICC for heads of state when war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide are in question.
The timing was notable. Putin is set to receive Xi Jinping in Moscow next week. The news also came as Poland and Slovakia agreed to send Ukraine fighter jets, although the latter are mostly for spare parts, apparently.
America’s relationship with the ICC is notoriously fraught, and well beyond the scope of any single article. In a recent dust-up, Donald Trump sanctioned investigators looking into possible war crimes committed by the CIA and Americans in Afghanistan, and Mike Pompeo derided the court in harsh terms. The ICC called Pompeo’s remarks “an escalation and an unacceptable attempt to interfere with the rule of law and the court’s judicial proceedings.”
That dispute was resolved when the Biden administration annulled Trump’s sanctions, and Khan effectively dropped the investigation. Carve-outs in recent US legislation appeared to open the door for cooperation with the court, and perhaps even financial assistance, or at least as it relates to Ukraine.
Although Merrick Garland did visit Lviv this month, the US Justice Department isn’t currently investigating Putin for war crimes, but the White House has repeatedly suggested the US believes such crimes have in fact been committed.
Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that the Pentagon was preventing the Biden administration from sharing evidence of Russian atrocities with the court because “American military leaders… fear setting a precedent that might help pave the way for it to prosecute Americans.”
In Friday’s statement, the ICC suggested it might issue additional warrants tied to other war crimes, including those allegedly committed in Bucha. Whatever the case, the ICC said, “we cannot allow children to be treated as if they are the spoils of war.”