The International Criminal Court in The Hague has issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday for his alleged responsibility for war crimes committed in Ukraine since February 24, 2022, specifically the illegal deportation of children and the forced displacement of people, including minors, from the occupied areas of this country to the Russian Federation. The judges have also published an international arrest warrant against Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights, for her alleged responsibility in the same acts.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin has individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes,” the Court announced in a statement, either for having committed those acts “directly, together with others or through others,” due to his inability to “adequately control his civilian and military subordinates” who have committed or permitted these acts, people who were under his “authority and control” and over whom he has “superior responsibility.” Lvova-Belova, for her part, is accused of committing or ordering these acts.

In a video message, the presiding judge of the ICC, the Polish Piotr Józef Hofmański, explained that, despite the interest in protecting the ongoing investigation and in view of the conviction that these conducts “allegedly continue to occur, the Second Preliminary Chamber of the Court has considered that “it is in the interest of justice” to authorize the publication of these orders since their publicity can contribute to the prevention of new crimes.In recent days, there had been speculation about the possibility of the ICC also opening a case against the Russian authorities for the attacks against war infrastructures but for the moment The Hague has only taken the step in relation to the kidnapping of children, facts for which the European Union has sanctioned several Russian politicians and which it is investigating together with Poland.The Court, in a decision that also takes the war to the judicial field, attributes these acts directly to Putin.

Different investigations have found evidence of the illegal transfer of Ukrainian children, both young and adolescents, some from orphanages, to be handed over to Russian families or placed in “re-education” camps. Instead, the Kremlin presents these programs as a humanitarian mission to help war-affected children, and new legislation was passed last year to facilitate the adoption and granting of citizenship to Ukrainian children. The NGO Human Rights Watch estimates that 32,000 of the 105,000 Ukrainian children who were in residential institutions before the war, nearly half of them disabled, were in now-occupied areas. “Ukrainian activists and lawyers indicate that at least several thousand of these children have ended up forcibly deported to Russia or other occupied territories,” they say.

The Hague does not recognize immunity for heads of state in cases of alleged war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide, but the possibilities to try any Russian citizen at the ICC are nevertheless very limited. Moscow does not recognize its jurisdiction and has a practice of not extraditing its nationals, regardless of their charges. Putin would have to travel to a country that is a signatory to the institution to potentially be arrested. And the Court, for its part, does not judge cases in absentia. The international order however further restricts President Putin’s ability to travel abroad.

The Ukrainian Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, immediately applauded The Hague’s decision from his Twitter account. “The wheels of Justice are turning (…), international criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes.” Ukraine is not a member of the Court but has been given jurisdiction over its territory and its prosecutor, Karim Khan, has visited it several times since the investigation was opened about a year ago. Yesterday, a United Nations-backed investigation included Russia’s systematic acts of torture and murder in the occupied regions as possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, in addition to the forced deportation of Ukrainian children and detention in inhumane conditions.