Putin now wanted by ICC, personal interaction 'unthinkable,' says minister

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Signs reading
Signs reading "PUTIN HANDS OFF UKRAINE!" stuck directly on the windows of the Russian Embassy in Tallinn the day Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. February 24, 2022. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

In light of the news that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for Russian regime leader Vladimir Putin and his children's rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova, it is "morally unthinkable" for Western leaders to interact personally with Putin, Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) said Friday.

"Today's decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) is a great step demonstrating that the international community is ready to bring perpetrators of grave crimes to justice," Reinsalu said in a statement issued Friday.

"Numerous serious crimes have been committed in areas that were and remain under Russian control — extrajudicial killings, arrests, kidnapping, torture and rape on a mass scale," he continued. "Thousands of Ukrainian children have been taken to Russia by force and adopted unlawfully."

Issuing this arrest warrant means that the ICC has issued an order to arrest Putin and Lvova-Belova and bring them to face trial in The Hague, the foreign minister explained, adding that it also means that if either Putin or Lvova-Belova arrive in a state party to the Rome Statute, that state is obligated to detain them and extradite them to the ICC.

"The soldiers who have mained or taken the lives of Ukrainians are not the only ones with blood on their hands — it is also the leadership of the Kremlin, headed by Putin," Reinsalu stressed. "In light of this news, it is morally unthinkable for Western leaders to interact personally with Putin, who is wanted by the ICC."

Pre-Trial Chamber II of the ICC on Friday issued warrants for the arrest of Vladimir Putin, president of the Russian Federation, and Maria Lvova-Belova, commissioner for children's rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, the ICC announced.

The chamber considered, based on applications submitted by ICC Prosecutor Karim A. A. Khan on February 22, that there are reasonable grounds to believe that each of the two suspects bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population as well as that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children.

The warrants are secret in order to protect victims and witnesses as well as to safeguard the investigation, but mindful that the conduct in question is allegedly ongoing and that public awareness of the warrants may contribute to the prevention of the further commission of crimes, the ICC chamber considered it in the interests of justice to publicly disclose the names of the suspects and the existence of the warrants together with the crimes for which the warrants were issued.

ICC prosecutor: Children aren't the spoils of war

"Incidents identified by my Office include the deportation of at least hundreds of children taken from orphanages and children's care homes," Khan said in a statement issued Friday regarding Putin and Lvova-Belova's warrants. "Many of these children, we allege, have since been given for adoption in the Russian Federation."

According to the ICC prosecutor, Russian legislation was changed via presidential decrees issued by Putin to expedite the conferral of Russian citizenship, making it easier for the deported Ukrainian children to be adopted by Russian families.

These acts, among others, demonstrate an intention to permanently remove these children from their own country, he stressed, noting that at the time of their deportation, the children were protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

"We must ensure that those responsible for alleged crimes are held accountable, and that children are returned to their families and communities," Khan said. "As I stated [on a recent visit to Ukraine], we cannot allow children to be treated as if they are the spoils of war."

The ICC prosecutor acknowledged that Friday's warrants were a first, concrete step with respect to the situation in Ukraine, but noted that his office was continuing to develop multiple, interconnected lines of investigation.

"As I stated when in Bucha last May, Ukraine is a crime scene that encompasses a complex and broad range of alleged international crimes," he emphasized. "We will not hesitate to submit further applications for warrants of arrest when the evidence requires us to do so."


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Editor: Aili Vahtla

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