The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant Friday for Russian President Vladimir Putin over the forced transfer of children to Russia after the Kremlin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainians accuse Moscow of attempting genocide against them and seeking to destroy their identity — partly through deporting children to Russia.
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,” the Hague-based court said in a statement Friday.
“There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin bears individual criminal responsibility” for these crimes, the statement read.
The Russian president, the court argued, failed “to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts” and who were “under his effective authority and control.”
Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights in the office of the president, was also hit by the ICC warrant for her role in the deportations.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the issuance of the warrant against Putin “historic” and said it will lead to “historical responsibility.”
“Over 16,000 cases of forced deportation of Ukrainian children by the occupier have already been recorded in criminal proceedings investigated by our law enforcement officers,” Zelenskyy said in his nightly address late Friday. “But the real, full number of deportees may be much higher.”
This is the first time the ICC has issued warrants in relation to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which began last February. It comes ahead of a visit to Russia next week by Chinese President Xi Jinping and will severely limit Putin’s own potential range of diplomatic visits.
Moscow has previously said it did not recognize the court’s authority.
In response, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said: “The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin. No need to explain WHERE this paper should be used … ” concluding with a toilet paper emoji.
U.S. President Joe Biden welcomed the arrest warrant, saying Putin “clearly committed war crimes.” In issuing the warrant, the ICC “makes a very strong point,” Biden told reporters on Friday.
In spite of numerous reports that Russian forces had committed war crimes in Ukraine — including a recent U.N. investigation which said that Russia’s forced deportation of Ukrainian children amounted to a war crime — the Kremlin has denied it committed any crimes.
In a statement, Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, welcomed the announcement, saying the warrant sent “a clear message that giving orders to commit or tolerating serious crimes against civilians may lead to a prison cell.”
This article has been updated.