(The Hague) The International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Friday it had issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for the war crime of “illegal deportation” of Ukrainian children during the Russian invasion.
The ICC, which sits in The Hague, has also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights, on similar charges.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the announcement.
“A historic decision, which marks the beginning of historic responsibility,” Zelensky said in a video posted on Telegram.
The Kremlin ruled that the decision had no legal value.
“Russia, like a number of states, does not recognize the jurisdiction of this court. Therefore, from the point of view of the law, the decisions of this court are null and void,” spokesman for the Russian president, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters.
For its part, Kyiv welcomed the issuance of the arrest warrants, which are “only the beginning”, according to the head of the presidential administration Andriï Iermak on Telegram.
More than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia since the invasion on Feb. 24, 2022, according to Kyiv, and many are believed to have been placed in institutions and foster homes.
ICC President Piotr Hofmanski said the issuance of the two arrest warrants was an “important moment in the justice process” for the court.
“Today the International Criminal Court issued two arrest warrants in the situation in Ukraine, against Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation, and Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Mr. Hofmanski said in a video statement on Twitter.
The warrants, issued following a request by ICC prosecutor Karim Khan, relate to ‘alleged war crimes of the deportation of children from occupied Ukrainian territories to the Russian Federation’ since the start of the invasion , he specified.
Mr. Hofmanski added that the execution of these mandates depended “on international cooperation”.
” Spoils of war ”
During a meeting with Mr Putin in mid-February, Maria Lvova-Belova said she had adopted a 15-year-old child from Mariupol.
“Now I know what it means to be a mother of a child from Donbass – it’s hard work but we love each other, that’s for sure,” she told the Russian president.
“We evacuated children’s homes to safe areas, organized rehabilitation and prosthetics for them and provided them with targeted humanitarian aid,” she added.
Quoted by the Russian news agency Ria Novosti, she assured Friday that she would continue her work despite the decision of the ICC.
Meanwhile, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has compared the arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin to toilet paper.
Be that as it may, the issuance of an arrest warrant for a sitting Head of State, member of the UN Security Council, is an unprecedented step for the ICC, created in 2002 to judge the worst crimes committed in the world.
Its prosecutor Karim Khan has been investigating for more than a year into possible war crimes or crimes against humanity committed during the Russian offensive.
He said earlier this month after a visit to Ukraine that the alleged child abductions were “the subject of a priority investigation”.
“Children cannot be treated as spoils of war,” he said.
Mr. Hofmanski said occupying powers were prohibited from transferring civilians, under the Geneva Convention.
The transfer by Russia of Ukrainian children in areas under its control in Ukraine as well as on its own territory constitutes a “war crime”, a group of UN investigators also said on Thursday.
The content of the arrest warrants is kept secret “in order to protect the victims”, specified Mr. Hofmanski.
“Nevertheless, the judges of the chamber dealing with this case decided to make the existence of the warrants public in the interests of justice and to prevent the commission of future crimes,” he explained.
The ICC said in a statement that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin bears individual criminal responsibility” for the named crimes.
Mr. Putin is allegedly responsible both directly for committing the acts and for “the failure to exercise appropriate control over civilian and military subordinates”, it is written.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine are members of the ICC, but Kyiv has accepted the court’s jurisdiction and is working with Mr Khan’s office.
Russia denies allegations of war crimes by its troops and experts say it is unlikely to hand over any suspects.
Kyiv gets MiG-29 fighters
Kyiv obtained in two days 17 MiG-29 fighters of Soviet design, which will replace the planes lost since the beginning of the war, but should not fundamentally modify the balance of power on the ground.
On Thursday, Warsaw announced the delivery “in the coming days” of four aircraft to Ukraine. On Friday, Slovakia followed suit with 13 others.
So far, the West has remained reluctant to deliver combat aircraft for fear of an escalation with Moscow. But the taboos have been gradually falling for a year, as in January when Kyiv’s allies validated the dispatch of heavy tanks.
Ukraine thus recovers planes of old design that the Ukrainians can take off immediately.
“It’s a concern for consistency: level with the most urgent to ensure the air defense of the territory, with devices that the Ukrainians already know”, summarizes an officer of a European air force. “It’s an out-of-the-box solution. »
On modern aircraft, the theoretical training time is 6 months for an experienced pilot, possibly reducing to 3 months. This gain in time is however accompanied by operational limits.
“He is a hunter who has short legs, with a limited range”, summarizes to AFP Pierre Razoux, academic director of the Mediterranean Foundation for Strategic Studies (FMES). “If he is heavily armed, he would have to be stationed in central Ukraine to be able to strike in the Donbass, therefore in a fairly vulnerable environment. »
As always in this war, the numbers are questionable. The Oryx website claims, based on visual evidence, that Kyiv has lost its 61 fighters, including its 18 MiG-29s, over the past year. But some have been repaired. The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) for its part evokes about twenty MiG-29 in activity.
The Ukrainian air force is “surprisingly active at this stage of the conflict,” said Nick Brown of the British private intelligence firm Janes. The devices delivered “will allow timely replacement of those lost on the battlefield and ease the pressure on the maintenance of existing devices”.
Pierre Razoux notes for his part that “the logic will be rather to engage them in protection, where there is a need for interception capacity: above Kyiv, Odessa, Kherson or even Kharkiv”.
But Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky still has to convince Westerners to deliver modern aircraft: American F15, F16, F18, F35, French Rafale, European Eurofighter, capable of intervening in support of ground offensives, with deep strikes of the enemy.
The Chinese J16 and J20 are inaccessible, given the links between China and Russia.
The spokesman for the Ukrainian Air Force, Yuriy Ignat, did not fail to recall his shopping list: “We need F-16s. But the MiGs will help strengthen our capabilities.”
Washington has, however, defused all hope in this direction: the delivery of American planes “is not on the table”, recalled John Kirby, spokesman for the White House. Madrid confirmed a similar position on Friday.
The Netherlands does not, however, rule out selling a few F-16s. And after refusing to deliver Eurofighter Typhoons or F-35s in January, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak then promised to train Ukrainian fighter pilots “to NATO standards”.
But if he asked the army to study possible aircraft deliveries, he only mentioned a “long-term” option.
Nick Brown argues that Slovak and Polish fighters are equipped with NATO-standard electronic systems and that the Ukrainian air force already uses American AGM-88 HARM air-to-surface missiles.
“But in the end, these donations are added to the existing one without changing the capacity balance of power”, he assures. “Ukraine’s ability to deploy its air power and make a real impact on the battlefield remains constrained. »
Moscow, for its part, minimizes the event, considering that these hunters cannot “affect the outcome” of the conflict. “Of course, this equipment will be destroyed,” added Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.