According to Ukraine’s top lawyer, an arrest warrant was issued against Russian President Vladimir Putin. It is the International Criminal Court’s first shot in what could be a serious indictment against him.
The intergovernmental group, based in The Hague, has accused Russian President Putin of abducting children from Ukraine.
Maria Alekseyevna Lvova–Belova was also arrested on similar charges of war crimes.
Sky News spoke with Ben Emmerson, the lead lawyer representing the government of Ukraine. He stated that he believes there are two main reasons the arrest warrant for Mr Putin was issued right now.
He stated that the timing seemed to have been the Office of the Haut Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations Geneva to publish a report listing what the judges consider Russian war crimes in Ukraine, including the claims of forced transfers of Ukrainian children to Russia.
Mr Emmerson stated that the other aspect of the timing for an arrest warrant is that indictments can be sealed “occasionally when they are issued”.
They are not published. We are seeing more indictments against leaders in ongoing conflicts, such as the indictment against General Gaddafi during the Libyan uprising.
Putin is at risk of being ‘held accountable’
He stated that indicting a sitting head state in the middle of an armed conflict was to “some degree affecting the conduct or aimed at affecting the conduct of those involved”.
Mr Emmerson stated that “In other words this is clearly the first shot of what might eventually be a much larger indictment against President Putin.”
He stated that he believed that the main goal was to inform Mr Putin and his circle about “the very real possibility that they will be held criminally responsible in due course”.
He said that Karim Khan (the head prosecutor at International Criminal Court) has stated that he will not act on a political basis but only on the basis that prosecutable cases are being brought to his attention.
“In other words, Mr Emmerson would select cases that he believed could be won and win with evidential support,” stated Mr Emmerson.
Russian leadership makes “erratic and belligerent movements”
Mr Emmerson believes that this specific charge against Mr Putin was chosen because it “proves his responsibility for that and the responsibility of children’s commissioner is simple”.
When asked if the arrest warrant might offer any hope for Ukrainian families to get their children back, Mr Emmerson stated that he was always skeptical because “one thing seems fairly clear is that [Russian authorities] can be very unpredictable”.
“But that being said, these children were unlawfully taken and violated humanitarian law. They were effectively kidnapped. This is not Russia’s first attempt at this. It did it during the 2014 war on Donbass.
He said that everything would remain unpredictable if the lawlessness situation continues as it is now, with the Russian authorities, troops, and leadership acting increasingly erratically and belligerently.
“Putin clearly committed war crime’
After US President Joe Biden described ICC’s decision to issue the warrant as “justified”, the arrest warrant was issued.
According to the Kremlin, Russia does not recognize the ICC and found the court’s questions “outrageous” and unacceptable.
Putin’s “child snatcher” and other fugitives wanted at the International Criminal Court
Vladimir Putin visits Crimea to commemorate the annexation of Ukraine’s region
Speaking at a news conference, Mr Biden said that Putin had committed war crimes.
“I believe it’s justifiable [the warrant]. It’s not recognized internationally, but that is the question. It’s a strong point, I believe.”
Although both Russia and the US were once signatories of the Rome Statute – which established the ICC – the US has not ratified it. Russia pulled out after being criticised by the court for its 2014 annexation in Crimea.
The US also issued an arrest warrant for the ICC and concluded that Russian forces committed war crimes against Ukraine.
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A spokesperson for the State Department stated that “there is no doubt Russia is committing war crime and atrocities in Ukraine” and that it was clear that they must be held responsible.
Russia claimed that the warrants of the ICC were null and void because it doesn’t recognize the court.
Ms. Lvova-Belova stated that her arrest warrant was valid for her work “helping children of our country”.
These allegations are made as Russia prepares for the ninth anniversary of its 2014 annexe of Crimea. This weekend, Mr Putin will hold a “patriotic” rally at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium.