The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin for alleged war crimes in Ukraine. This was announced by the court in The Hague on Friday.
Putin is allegedly responsible for the deportation of Ukrainian children from occupied territories to Russia. The judges had granted a request by the chief prosecutor Karim Khan to issue an arrest warrant. At the moment, however, this arrest warrant has a primarily symbolic meaning. Because a trial against Putin seems impossible.
It is the first arrest warrant issued by the court in connection with alleged war crimes in Ukraine. The court also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Lwova-Belova, the Russian Commissioner for Children's Rights. She is also accused of war crimes in connection with the deportation of Ukrainian children.
Putin's freedom of movement is restricted
Putin should be called to account as commander. The suspicion is justified that he insufficiently controlled his civilian or military subordinates. The exact text of the arrest warrants will not be released to protect victims and witnesses, the court said.
But it is very unlikely that Putin will actually be arrested and locked up in one of the court's cells in the North Sea resort of Scheveningen. The Hague-based court does not have its own police power to arrest the President. It is also currently illusory to think that Russia would hand over its own president to court.
But such an international arrest warrant further restricts Putin's freedom of movement. Once he travels to a country that has ratified the court's basic treaty, he faces arrest. Because all contracting states are obliged to carry out the arrest warrants.
At the moment, however, a trial against the Russian President in The Hague seems to be out of the question. The Criminal Court may not conduct trials in the absence of the accused. Russia does not recognize the court. "We consider the wording of the question to be outrageous and unacceptable," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday, according to the Russian state news agency TASS. "Accordingly, decisions of this kind are irrelevant for Russia from a legal point of view." Peskov declined to comment on whether an imminent arrest of the Kremlin chief in countries that recognize the court could affect Putin's travel plans, according to Russian agencies.
outrage in Russia
The prominent Russian foreign politician Leonid Slutsky accused the court in The Hague of allowing the West to exploit it for propaganda purposes. Rather, the court should issue an arrest warrant for "Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and his gang" and his "Western protector." These are "the real war criminals".
Meanwhile, the Ukrainian leadership welcomed the arrest warrants against Putin and Lvova-Belova as historic. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said: "The leader of a terror state and another Russian official are officially suspects in a war crime." Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin praised the decision as a signal to the world that the "Russian regime" was criminal. "World leaders will now think three times before shaking hands with him (Putin) or sitting down with him at the negotiating table."
Biden believes arrest warrant justified
US President Joe Biden described the arrest warrant against Putin as justified. "I think that makes a very strong point," Biden said after an event in Washington, according to reporters. Putin clearly committed war crimes, Biden said. However, the International Criminal Court is not recognized worldwide, "not even by us," added the President.
Federal Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann told the editorial network Germany (RND): "Anyone who, like Putin, instigated a bloody war should have to answer for it in court." The arrest warrant for war crimes that has now been issued is an "important signal of determination". Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas wrote on Twitter that the arrest warrant was a reminder that no one is immune, not even heads of state. "The Russian regime will be held accountable," Kallas said.
UN react cautiously
The United Nations, meanwhile, avoided a direct response to the arrest warrant against Putin. The spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, Stephane Dujarric, only emphasized on Friday that Putin was not persona non grata for the UN chief because of the decision: "The Secretary-General will always speak to anyone who needs to speak to." .
It is uncertain whether there will be a trial against Putin. The World Criminal Court in The Hague does not recognize any immunity and also wants to prosecute high state representatives. But the case of the former President of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir, shows how difficult this is. In 2009, the court issued an international arrest warrant against him on suspicion of genocide in the Darfur region. But al-Bashir was never transferred.
The international prosecution of political or military leaders is a matter of staying power. Charles Taylor, the former president of Liberia, was sentenced to 50 years in prison by a special court in The Hague in 2012 for war crimes.
Arrest warrant is above all a signal
And the UN war crimes tribunal on the former Yugoslavia sentenced former Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and ex-General Ratko Mladic to life imprisonment for genocide. They had been in hiding for years. Serbian ex-president Slobodan Milosevic stood before the UN judges, but died before a conviction.
A trial against Putin is not necessarily out of the question, even if it is unimaginable given today's political conditions. The issuance of the arrest warrant is above all a signal from the International Criminal Court that it is serious about prosecuting suspected war crimes in Ukraine.
Although Ukraine has not ratified the Rome Statute of the International Court of Justice, Kyiv recognizes the jurisdiction of judges for crimes against humanity and war crimes against Ukraine committed on Ukrainian territory since 2014. In 2015, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin issued a statement to this effect in The Hague. Shortly after the beginning of the Russian war of aggression, Chief Prosecutor Khan had already started investigations in Ukraine.