ICC issues war crimes arrest warrant for Putin


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The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of being responsible for war crimes committed in Ukraine.

Russia has repeatedly denied accusations of atrocities during its one-year-old invasion of its neighbour.

The ICC issued the warrant for Mr Putin’s arrest on suspicion of unlawful deportation of children and unlawful transfer of people from the territory of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

The court also issued a warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights, on the same charges.

In the first reaction to the news from Moscow, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on her Telegram channel: “The decisions of the International Criminal Court have no meaning for our country, including from a legal point of view”.

“Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and bears no obligations under it.”

Russia signed the Rome Statute in 2000 but never ratified it to become a member of the ICC. It finally withdrew its signature in 2016.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia found the very questions raised by the ICC “outrageous and unacceptable” and that any decisions of the court were “null and void” with respect to Russia.

Asked if Mr Putin now feared travelling to countries that recognised the ICC, Mr Peskov said: “I have nothing to add on this subject. That’s all we want to say.”

Senior Ukrainian officials applauded the ICC decision. The country’s Prosecutor General, Andriy Kostin, hailed it as “historic for Ukraine and the entire international law system”.

“Today’s decision is a historic step. But it is only the beginning of the long road to restore justice,” Mr Kostin said on the Telegram messaging app.

“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.

Andriy Yermak, chief of the presidential staff, said issuing the warrant was “only the beginning”.

He said Ukraine had co-operated closely with the ICC and was investigating more than 16,000 cases of forced children deportation to Russia.

Ukraine has managed to secure the return of 308 children so far.

Russia has not concealed a program under which it has brought thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia. It presents it as a humanitarian campaign to protect orphans and children abandoned in the conflict zone.

Ms Lvova-Belova, Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights, said the ICC decision to order her arrest validated her work.

“It’s great that the international community has appreciated this work to help the children of our country: That we don’t leave them in war zones, that we take them out, that we create good conditions for them, that we surround them with loving, caring people,” she told journalists, according to the state-run RIA news agency.

Ms Lvova-Belova said last month she had “adopted” a child from the Ukrainian city of Mariupol, now under Russian control.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan opened an investigation into possible war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Ukraine a year ago.

He highlighted during four trips to Ukraine that he was looking at alleged crimes against children and the targeting of civilian infrastructure.

It is unlikely that Mr Putin will actually appear before the court in The Hague, Netherlands.

Russia does not recognise the court, and the court is not allowed to hold trials in the absence of the accused.

The ICC move came a day after a United Nations-mandated investigative body accused Russia of committing wide-ranging war crimes in Ukraine, including wilful killings and torture, in some cases making children watch loved ones being raped and detaining others alongside dead bodies.

News of the arrest warrant also came ahead of a planned state visit to Moscow next week by Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Mr Xi’s trip from Monday to Wednesday comes after China last month published a 12-point plan for “a political resolution of the Ukraine crisis” and after a senior Chinese diplomat called on Thursday for negotiations during a phone conversation with Ukraine’s foreign minister.

The plan calls for the protection of civilians and for Russia and Ukraine to respect each other’s sovereignty.

However, the US and NATO have said Beijing’s efforts to mediate are not credible as it has refrained from condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation”.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Mr Xi’s visit to Russia – his first in almost four years – was in part to promote “peace”, although he made no explicit mention of the Ukraine war.

He said the leaders would also exchange opinions on major regional and international issues, strengthen bilateral trust and deepen economic partnerships.

Mr Xi will hold a telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelensky following his Russia visit, according to some media reports. Beijing has not confirmed the call.

-with AAP

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