President Joe Biden said on March 17 that he thinks it’s “justified” that the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over alleged war crimes, but he admitted that the move is mostly symbolic because neither Russia nor the United States recognizes the court’s jurisdiction.
“I think it’s justified,” Biden told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House. “It’s not recognized internationally [nor] by us. … But I think it makes a very strong point.”
Biden later told reporters that he believes Putin had “clearly committed war crimes.”
ICC President Piotr Hofmanski said in a video statement on March 17 that an arrest warrant had been issued for Putin for the “alleged war crimes of deportation of children from Ukrainian occupied territories into the Russian Federation.”
International law bars occupying powers from transferring civilians from occupied areas to other territories.
Hofmanski said the warrant would remain under seal to protect the identities of the allegedly abducted children.
“Nevertheless, the judges of the chamber dealing with this case decided to make the existence of the warrants public in the interest of justice and to prevent the commission of future crimes,” he said.
The ICC’s announcement was met with criticism by the Kremlin and enthusiastic praise by Ukrainian leaders.
“Wheels of Justice are turning,” Ukraine’s foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, wrote on Twitter. “International criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes.”
‘Null and Void’
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists in Moscow on March 17 that Russia doesn’t recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction and considers the warrant meaningless.
“We consider the very formulation of the issue outrageous and unacceptable. Russia, as well as several other states, [does] not recognize the jurisdiction of this court and, accordingly, any decisions of this kind are null and void for Russia in terms of law,” Peskov said.
Peskov declined to comment on whether the arrest warrant would affect Putin’s international travel.
In a similar vein, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said that the ICC’s decisions have no legal power in Russia and so the warrant is meaningless.
“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,” Zakharova said.
“Who would have thought 15 years ago that in the West taking care of children, saving them, and helping them would become a criminal offence?”
Besides seeking Putin’s arrest, the ICC also announced on March 17 that it had issued an arrest warrant for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, on similar allegations.
The ICC stated that both Putin and Lvova-Belova are “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 crimes were allegedly committed in Ukrainian occupied territory” since Feb. 24, 2022, the date of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a “special military operation.”
Lvova-Belova was cited by Russia’s RIA Novosti news agency as saying that the removal of children from the war zone is a humanitarian act and the arrest warrant is “something very strange.”
“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 said.
“All this is very strange. It seems to me that this is clear confirmation that when you have no other way to intimidate a country, you come up with something absolutely fantastic … Like little children, when they can do nothing else, they just show their fist from somewhere far away.”
While the ICC’s judges have issued the warrants, it will be up to the international community to enforce them because the ICC has no police force of its own.
“The execution depends on international cooperation,” Hofmanski said.
Although it’s unclear which countries might lend a hand to take Putin into custody, Russia has made clear it has no intention of cooperating and sees the move as a provocation.
“Yankees, hands off Putin!” Vyacheslav Volodin, Russia’s Parliament speaker and close Putin ally, wrote on Telegram, calling the move evidence of Western “hysteria.”
“We regard any attacks on the President of the Russian Federation as aggression against our country.”
The war in Ukraine has displaced millions, with about 2.6 million Ukrainian refugees recorded in various European countries and about 2.9 million in Russia, according to the latest data from the United Nations.