ICC Issues Arrest Warrant for Putin

The Russian leader's status as an international pariah is cemented.

Reuters (“ICC judges issue arrest warrant for Putin over war crimes in Ukraine“):

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant on Friday against Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of the war crime of illegal deportation of at least 100 children from Ukraine.

The bold legal move will obligate the court’s 123 member states to arrest Putin and transfer him to The Hague for trial if he sets foot on their territory.

Moscow has repeatedly denied accusations that its forces have committed atrocities during its one-year invasion of its neighbour and the Kremlin branded the court decision as “null and void”.

Neither Russia not Ukraine are members of the ICC, although Kyiv granted it jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed on its territory. The tribunal has no police force of its own and relies on member countries to detain and transfer suspects to The Hague for trial.

While it is unlikely that Putin will end up in court any time soon, the warrant means that he could be arrested and sent to The Hague if travelling to any ICC member states.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia found the very questions raised by the ICC “outrageous and unacceptable”.

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

Stephen Rapp, U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues under former president Barack Obama, said: “This makes Putin a pariah. If he travels he risks arrest. This never goes away. Russia cannot gain relief from sanctions without compliance with the warrants.”

Putin is the third serving president to be the target of an ICC arrest warrant, after Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.

WaPo (“ICC issues arrest warrant for Putin over war crimes in Ukraine”) adds:

Judges from the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued on Friday the court’s first arrest warrants related to the war in Ukraine, for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights.

The two bear individual responsibility for the war crimes of “unlawful deportation” and “unlawful transfer” of children from occupied areas of Ukraine after Russia invaded the country last year, the judges alleged.

Russia, like the United States, does not accept the ICC’s jurisdiction. But the warrants carry symbolic weight and could make it difficult for those named to travel to countries that cooperate with the court.

Putin issued a decree last May to make it easy for Russians to adopt Ukrainian children, and Ukrainian officials said in November that at least 10,000 Ukrainian children were reported to have been deported by Russia without their parents. Lvova-Belova, who reports to Putin directly and openly advocates stripping children of their Ukrainian identities, has been the official face of this effort.

Writing at Foreign Policy two weeks ago, Azeem Ibrahim, a director at the Newlines Institute for Strategy and Policy, argues “Russia’s Theft of Children in Ukraine Is Genocide.”

It is now increasingly clear that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a war of genocide. Mounted with genocidal intent, pursued with determined genocidal effort, the war is an assault not only on Ukrainians and Ukrainian nationhood, but the idea of Ukrainian-ness itself.

It has involved the wholesale killing and mass rape of Ukrainians. And, with increasing obviousness, the war has involved the mass theft of Ukrainian children by Russia—an act of forced population transfer that meets the definition of genocide according to the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Late last year, the Washington Post reported details of a Russian plan to ship Ukrainian children out of their home country, to give them new Russian families and Russian identities, and to in so doing destroy the Ukrainian nation one child at a time.

The numbers are vast and difficult to confirm. But the stories are now being widely reported across Ukrainian areas occupied at any time in the past year by Russia. Most horrifically of all, orphaned Ukrainian children whose parents were killed during the country’s invasion have been scooped up by Russian troops, sent to Russia, and told they are little Russians—and that they were never Ukrainian at all.

This is part of a larger cultural understanding of Russia’s genocidal war: The children can be taken and told they are Russian because, in the Russian official mind, Ukraine does not exist, never existed, and must therefore be stricken from history.

The NYT “The Daily” podcast had a lengthy treatment in its March 3 episode “Why Russia Is Taking Thousands of Ukrainian Children.” Both the audio and a written transcription are available at the link.

As I noted on Twitter, where I learned of the news, “This is simultaneously a bold move I never thought we’d see so long as Putin remained in power and further incentive for Putin to double down on his atrocities in Ukraine in order to ensure he remains in power.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Gustopher says:

    further incentive for Putin to double down on his atrocities in Ukraine in order to ensure he remains in power.

    There aren’t a lot of good retirement plans for former brutal dictators, so I don’t think this changes that calculation at all.

    I am also doubtful that it changes the calculations of the right wing in the US or Europe that are cozying up to him. Many of them simply have no sense of shame.

    (Who will be first at denouncing the “woke” ICC accusing Putin of “war crimes”, DeSantis or Trump? My money is on Trump, with a decent chance of saying that the US did similar things in Afghanistan, possibly adding that it was on his orders)

  2. Kathy says:


    My thinking is that dropping the charges against Mad Vlad could be an inducement for ending the war, as well as naming and handing over some actually guilty scapegoats.

  3. dazedandconfused says:

    It’s a bit awkward as the US doesn’t recognize the ICC. We view ourselves as above it.

  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    The feet kissing of Putin by Trump and DeSantis looks worse every news cycle.

  5. JohnMc says:

    I keep an eye on the excesses of Russian state TV via Julia Davis’ twitter. They openly discuss being prosecuted in the Hague if they lose this war. And then turn around and advocate mass killing of Ukrainians and the burning of Berlin.

    And they LOVE them some Trump (“our Trump”) and replay Tucker.

  6. Slugger says:

    Is there a bounty? There should be a bounty. Maybe we can start a Go Fund Me for a bounty.
    Vlad Vladimirovich, how high a bounty will result in a ten percent chance of someone going for it?

  7. JohnSF says:

    Frankly, who cares what the US opinion of the ICC is?
    The rest of the world has agency independent of your good selves.

    The tankies and campists will revel in whataboutery.
    But then they would anyway. Meh.

    One thing a lot of people miss: they expect Ukraine to come to a “reasonable peace”.
    Ukrainians, judging by my contacts, generally aren’t so delusional as to expect Russia to hand over Putin et al to the ICC.
    But they will absolutely insist on the return of the abducted children.
    Given the record of Russian stubbornness in refusing any culpability for anything, anywhere, ever, that’s going to be massive obstacle to a treaty settlement.

    Also, in the absence of ICC penalties, a lot of Ukrainians favour the “Israel option” of dealing with war criminals. The SBU and SZRU are already showing, to those who pay attention, a very marked level of ruthlessness.

  8. dazedandconfused says:


    It may not be an obstacle. The Russians might well hand them back without a serious argument. It’s in general unclear to me what this is about. Seen reports there are anywhere from 100 to 16,000 kids, and evacuating civis from war areas is usually done by shipping them to one’s own side, not sending them through the lines to the other.

  9. JohnSF says:


    Russians might well hand them back without a serious argument.

    I hope you are right.
    I suspect you are wrong.

    You might note this is specifically what the ICC indictment refers to:
    ...deportation of at least hundreds of children … given for adoption in the Russian Federation

    This is NOT just evacuating civilians. If that were the case the children would be held in safe areas, and arrangements made with third parties for safe return.
    It is, quite blatantly, abduction.
    The ICC would not have moved on this otherwise.

    And make no mistake: Ukraine will not tolerate or abide this.
    There will be no peace without the return of the children.
    And if the a third party, be it US, China, France, Germany, the Pope, or Elon Musk Lord of Mars, tries to insist that Ukraine make peace without their return, the Ukrainians will tell said party to f@ck off.

    And some estimates put the numbers as high as 300,000.

  10. Kevin says:

    A minor issue, maybe, but one thing I don’t understand about this is that Russians, culturally, don’t adopt. Russian children who are, for whatever reason, in their orphanages have horrible lives. I don’t understand how they’ll be able to justify to their populace (and I know they just probably won’t bother trying) why they’re taking better care of foreign children than they take care of their own

    And let’s please remember that there are still hundreds of migrant children who were separated from their parents during the Trump presidency that haven’t been reunited. It’s a shame we will bear for a long, long time.

  11. steve says:

    Finished reading Bloodlines not long ago. I had read a fair bit of WW2 history including the period between ww1 and WW2 but since family served in the pacific had done most reading in that area. If you look at the period from about 1931 until WW2 starts, that is when Stalin initiated what was a mass starvation campaign that most heavily affected Ukraine. Along with that they also sent a lot of people to the Gulag and killed a lot fo people. They were doing a lot fo purifying along with trying to convert to an industrial economy.

    Part of that was a mass exportation of Ukraine kids (Some Belarus and western Russian also) to the Russia cities and the rest of Russia. As far as we can tell they really did integrate mis tof these kids into Russian families. This is just the Russians repeating what they did in the past and one of the reasons that Ukraine feel especially strongly about this.


  12. dazedandconfused says:


    You are probably right, but I doubt Putin would allow the issue to screw up a desired truce, should that desire come, and I think it will at some point.

    Could be some folks appalled at the condition of war orphans who seek to take them out of the war zone. There were thousands of orphans in Iraq, a little too brown for those sentiments to have developed in the US/EU, but even if there had been the laws presented serious barriers and from both sides. This was a terrible thing for a lot of those kids. A crying shame.

    Fortunately there is a lot of places for Ukrainian war orphans. Poland is housing quite a few of them. https://www.eurochild.org/resource/ukrainian-children-from-orphanages-another-test-for-child-protection-systems-in-poland/

    So I can’t jump to conclusions on the motivation of this Maria Lvova-Belova gal. Seems entirely possible she simply felt compelled to get those kids out of the war zone.

  13. JohnMc says:

    Certainly makes negotiating with present Russian leadership problematical. Ukr milbloggers are saying that this a war to destroy Putin now. Dunno how Kremlin is reacting.

    A more interesting development than I tho’t at first!