Ukraine Situation Report: Arrest Warrant For Putin Issued Over War Crimes Allegations

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague on Friday issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin. The ICC accused Putin of war crimes for the illegal deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children to the Russian Federation. The ICC also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, accusing her of the same war crimes.

“Incidents identified by my office include the deportation of at least hundreds of children taken from orphanages and children’s care homes,” ICC prosecutor Karim Khan said in a statement Friday announcing the arrest warrants. “Many of these children, we allege, have since been given for adoption in the Russian Federation. The law was changed in the Russian Federation, through Presidential decrees issued by President Putin, to expedite the conferral of Russian citizenship, making it easier for them to be adopted by Russian families.”

The ICC “alleges that these acts, amongst others, demonstrate an intention to permanently remove these children from their own country. At the time of these deportations, the Ukrainian children were protected persons under the Fourth Geneva Convention.”

The issuing of arrest warrants against Putin and Lvova-Belova comes a month after the Conflict Observatory released a report accusing Russia’s federal government of “operating a systematic network of camps and other facilities that facilitate the re-education and adoption of children from Ukraine.”

These facilities in Russia and Russia-occupied Crimea “have held at least 6,000 children from Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022. The Yale School of Public Health’s Humanitarian Research Lab (HRL) has identified dozens of camps and facilities and many of the key figures coordinating these efforts.” 

Two days after that report was issued, Lvova-Belova, who is prominently featured in it, told Putin she “adopted” a teenager from Mariupol.

“Now I know what it means to be a mother of a child from Donbas. It’s hard, but we definitely love each other. I think we can handle anything,” Lvova-Belova said on Thursday, according to The Moscow Times, in response to a question Putin asked her during a meeting at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence near Moscow.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the allegations, saying that Russia doesn’t recognize the ICC and considers its decisions “legally void,” according to The Associated Press.

Russia considers the court’s move to issue an arrest warrant Friday against Russian President Vladimir Putin “outrageous and unacceptable,” Peskov added.

Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said “possible arrest ‘prescriptions’ coming from the International Court of Justice will be legally null and void for us.”

Ukrainian officials, meanwhile, were ecstatic.

“It would be impossible to carry out such a criminal operation without the order of the top leader of the terrorist state,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said on his Telegram channel Friday. “Separating children from their families, depriving them of any opportunity to contact their relatives, hiding children on Russian territory, scattering them in remote regions – all this is obviously Russian state policy, state decisions, state evil. Which begins precisely with the first official of this state.”

“I applaud the ICC decision to issue arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova over forcible transfer of Ukrainian children,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweeted Friday. “International criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes.”

“It’s the beginning of the [Russian Federation’s] end in its current form on the world stage,” Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to Zelensky tweeted Friday.

But despite the evidence, ICC officials say all they can do is issue warrants. It is up to the rest of the world to actually arrest Putin and Lvova-Belova, ICC President Judge Piotr Hofmański said Friday in a video statement. 

“The judges have reviewed the information and evidence submitted by the prosecutor and determined that there are credible allegations against these persons for the alleged crimes,” Hofmański said. “The ICC is doing its part of work as a court of law. The judges issue arrest warrants. The execution depends on international cooperation.”

There are 123 nations that have signed on to the Rome Statute of the ICC. Aside from Russia, neither the United States nor Ukraine is a signatory either. Theoretically, Putin and Love-Belova could be arrested should they enter any of the so-called “green” nations. Actually doing so is another matter.

So while Putin and Lvova-Belova are now wanted by The Hague, don’t expect to see them on trial anytime soon.

Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.

The Latest

Slovakia has joined Poland in making an official decision to provide Ukraine with Soviet-era MiG-29 Fulcrum fighter jets, the two NATO members becoming the first countries to commit to delivering tactical jets to Kyiv since Russia launched its full-scale invasion. You can read more about that in our coverage here.

Ahead of next week’s visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to Moscow for talks with Putin, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby downplayed any efforts by Beijing to broker a ceasefire in Ukraine.

“It would be irresponsible for me to try to speculate what exactly China’s motives are here going into this particular meeting,” Kirby told reporters Friday morning, including from The War Zone. “We just know that there’s a possibility they might raise this idea of a ceasefire and try to couch themselves as peacemakers and as the only ones calling for the fighting to stop.”

The White House, said Kirby, has “deep concerns about that, what it actually means in terms of benefiting Russia, at the expense of Ukraine. So that’s why we’re expressing these concerns even before the visit.”

It would be “a classic part of China to go into a meeting like this and come out of it saying, ‘we’re the ones calling for ending the fighting and nobody else is,’” said Kirby. “The reason why the rest of the world is not calling for that right now is because it would effectively ratify Russia’s geographic gains inside Ukraine, and it would put Mr. Zelensky at a distinct disadvantage. And, quite frankly, they’re still fighting for their sovereignty. We’re going to continue to help their military to do that.”

Kirby said that the U.S. believes that while China has not taken lethal aid to Russia off the table, “we also haven’t seen any indication or any confirmation that they’ve made a decision to move in that direction or have actually provided anything. We don’t believe – we have said this privately to the Chinese as well as publicly – our view that this is in China’s best interest.”

Kirby also downplayed implications that China is already lethally arming Russia raised in a story Thursday by Politico.

The publication reported that Chinese companies, “including one connected to the government in Beijing, have sent Russian entities 1,000 assault rifles and other equipment that could be used for military purposes, including drone parts and body armor,” according to trade and customs data it obtained.

“My understand is that we’re talking about pre-existing long-standing business transactions here between Chinese companies and Russia and we don’t have anything specific that indicates that those rifles are intended for use on the battlefield,” said Kirby.

Kuleba took a similar stance on China’s not yet providing lethal aid to Russia for its fight in Ukraine.

“I don’t think China has reached the moment now… when it’s ready to arm Russia,” he told the BBC.

More than a year into Russia’s full-scale invasion, Israel for the first time has approved defense export licenses for possible military equipment sales to Ukraine, Axios reported.

Export licenses “for the possible sale of anti-drone jamming systems that could help Ukraine counter Iranian drones used by Russia during the war,” Axios reported, citing “three Israeli and Ukrainian officials.”

Despite frequent global criticism and repeated pleas from Ukraine, Israel to date has only provided humanitarian aid.

Israeli officials told the Walla news agency that the approval of the export licenses was not a shift in policy because the systems are defensive in nature and do not use any live fire that can kill Russian soldiers.

“Israel is assisting Ukraine in the defense and civilian fields. Every request is being reviewed according to the defense export policy to Ukraine. We won’t elaborate on that for national security and foreign policy considerations,” the Defense Ministry told Walla, according to the Times of Israel.

A senior Israeli official told Axios one of the reasons Israel approved the licenses was to possibly see how the defense systems perform against Iranian drones. As we have written many times, Iranian drones have been used frequently against Ukrainian targets, especially critical civilian power infrastructure.

Those strikes are apparently continuing. Video emerged on social media of an apparent Iranian-made Shahed-136 drone strike on a Ukrainian target in Dnipro.

Days after the encounter between a U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper and two Russian Su-27 Flanker fighter jets over the Black Sea that resulted in the drone being lost, the Flanker pilots have been awarded.

“Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation General of the Army Sergei Shoigu presents state awards to Su-27 pilots who prevented an American MQ-9 drone from violating the boundaries of the temporary airspace regime established for the special military operation,” the Russian Defense Ministry posted on its Telegram channels, repeating their narrative of the event that U.S. officials claim is false. “The boundaries of the area were communicated to all users of international airspace, and published in accordance with international standards.”

You can read more about the March 14 encounter, and watch video released by the Pentagon, here.

Belgium will send Ukraine 240 military trucks – the majority of that nation’s fleet – to Ukraine, the De Standaard news agency reported.

The list includes “Volvo Cargo, Volvo Shelter, Volvo Fassi and Volvo Manumat” models, De Standaard reported. “These are freight models, models with a tarpaulin or crane, and even some breakdown trucks.”

In total, the Belgium military has 400 trucks. But “instead of simply phasing out the trucks – the new land vehicles will be delivered from this year – the majority will now be sent to Ukraine.” 

A Ukrainian drone appears to have destroyed a Russian Murom-M autonomous long-range visual surveillance system. Though the device was installed on the roof of a residential high-rise, this video shows that the munition used appears to have caused no damage to the structure.

As it has since 2014, when Russia first invaded Ukraine, counter-battery fire remains an important battlefield function. The Ukraine Weapons Tracker OSINT group shared a video of one such operation, in which a Russian BM-21 Grad 122mm multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) was destroyed by Ukrainian counter-battery fire.

And as Russia’s all-out war drags on, ammunition shortages are plaguing both sides. In this case, Foreign Policy Research Institute Senior Fellow Rob Lee shared Russian griping about the lack of long-range Kornet anti-tank guided missiles forcing them to use shorter-range variants. That puts them in closer range of Ukrainian fire.

That’s it for now. We’ll update this story when there’s more news to report.

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Howard Altman

Senior Staff Writer

Howard is a Senior Staff Writer for The War Zone, and a former Senior Managing Editor for Military Times. Prior to this, he covered military affairs for the Tampa Bay Times as a Senior Writer. Howard’s work has appeared in various publications including Yahoo News, RealClearDefense, and Air Force Times.