Opinion: ICC’s arrest warrant for Putin is a stunning claim

Editor’s note: Frida Ghiti, (@fridaghitis) former producer and correspondent for CNN, is a columnist on world affairs. She is a weekly opinion contributor to CNN, a columnist for the Washington Post and a columnist for the World Politics Review. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his own. See more opinion on CNN.


When the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced on Friday that it had issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and another senior Russian official on charges related to an alleged plan to forcibly deport of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia, she also put Putin’s name on a short list alongside some of the most brutal leaders the world has seen since the end of World War II. With this, he branded him before the whole world – including the Russian people – as an international pariah, potentially guilty of historically flagrant crimes.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the ICC’s decision “scandalous and unacceptable”, dismissing the warrants as “null and void” for Russia. But there is no doubt that this is an astonishing historic reputational blow, not only for Putin, but also for modern Russia.

Only three sitting heads of state have been indicted by the ICC while in office. The other two were the late Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi and former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, both accused of horrific crimes against their own people.

Russia is not Libya or Sudan, two impoverished developing nations that have just emerged from colonial rule. Russia is one of the countries that helped defeat Hitler’s Germany in World War II. It is a once-proud nation that emerged from world war, and later communism, with vast natural resources, a highly educated population, and a drive to become a thriving democracy. He faced many challenges, but had a bright future.

Then came Putin, hand-picked by his predecessor Boris Yeltsin and then elected president more than 20 years ago, who dismantled democracy block by block, tightening his grip on power and crushing the country’s democratic aspirations even before launch its brutal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Putin is now an accused – not convicted – war criminal. By most accounts, he enjoys the support of most Russians. Maybe that will give some of them a reason to reconsider. But one day the Russian people will look beyond the propaganda they have been fed and they will understand the horror of what has been perpetrated in their name.

There is almost no chance that Putin will soon face an ICC tribunal in The Hague. As Peskov reiterated in his statement, Russia does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC, and as long as Putin is president, he is likely to remain free. But, unless he faces court and somehow manages to clear his name – a doubly unlikely outcome – he will forever bear the brand image of a criminal. accused of war.

Putin, along with Maria Lvova-Belova, his “commissioner for the rights of the child”, are now officially accused of violating the laws of war by forcibly abducting Ukrainian children and deporting them to Russia. In the words of the ICC, they are “allegedly responsible for the war crime of illegal deportation of population (of children) and illegal transfer of population (of children) from occupied areas of Ukraine”. The arrest warrant states that there are “reasonable grounds to believe that Mr. Putin bears individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes”.

For now, the ICC is narrowly focused on a single, but particularly gruesome and cruel, aspect of the Russian campaign in Ukraine. Russia reportedly removed children from Ukraine and placed them in relocation camps inside Russia and in Russian homes. Lvova-Belova has been instrumental in implementing the policy, which is not conducted in secret. In fact, she publicly thanked Putin for allowing him, personally, to adopt a child from Donbass, a Ukrainian region occupied by Russia.

The Russian government claims that this is practically a humanitarian initiative to save Ukrainian children in a war zone. The ICC says it’s a violation of the Geneva Conventions. ICC prosecutors, Ukrainian authorities and groups that focus on locating children say it is part of Putin’s concerted effort to erase Ukraine’s nationhood. US and European officials say the children are spending time in a network of dozens of camps where they undergo political re-education, an effort to turn them into Russian citizens.

Ukrainian parents are desperately trying to get their children back.

ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan said the acts alleged in the warrant “demonstrate an intent to permanently remove these children from their own country”.

These are just the first two arrest warrants relating to a single aspect of Russia’s assault on Ukraine. Khan’s office said it was looking for more suspects and would issue more arrest warrants if the evidence warranted it.

There are good reasons to expect more. Ukrainian officials and several organizations have painstakingly documented what they believe to be not only war crimes but also crimes against humanity, in the hope that there will eventually be a judgment.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the news. In his overnight update to the nation on Friday, he called the ICC’s decision a “historic decision that will lead to historic accountability.”

Zelensky says Ukraine has already recorded 16,000 individual cases of forced evictions of children,” but the total number, he noted, is likely much higher. “Such a criminal operation,” he said, “would have been impossible without the order of the highest leader of the terrorist state.”

By that, he meant Putin.

Putin’s ability to travel is now severely restricted, while more than 120 signatory countries of the Rome Statute creating the ICC are now required to arrest him if he sets foot on their territory. ICC Presiding Judge Piotr Hofmanski said countries are “obligated to execute arrest warrants issued by the court”.

Putin may think he can never be stopped; could never end up in The Hague. But a small gallery of 20th century warmonger thugs, monsters for many of their fellow citizens and neighbors, went from feeling perfectly safe in their palaces to facing a court in The Hague after losing power at home.

Whether Putin is handcuffed or not, his place in history is now assured in the darkest pages of massacres and mismanagement.


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