International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan said Putin was now liable to arrest if he set foot in one of the court’s more than 120 member states.
Russia is not a part of the ICC, so it was unclear if or how Putin could ever end up in the dock. India is also not a member of the ICC. Putin is expected to travel to New Delhi later this year for the G20 world leaders’ summit.
The Hague-based ICC said it had also issued a warrant against Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights, over similar allegations.
Meanwhile, war-torn Ukraine welcomed the ICC’s announcement, with President Volodymyr Zelensky hailing the “historic decision”.
Here’s everything you need to know about the case:
What is the ICC?
The International Criminal Court was established in 2002 to prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression when member states are unwilling or unable to do so themselves.
The court is based in The Hague, the Netherlands and conducts high-profile investigations of key suspects.
It can prosecute crimes committed by nationals of the Member States or on the territory of the Member States by other subjects. It has 123 member countries.
What crimes is Putin accused of?
Both Putin and Lvova-Belova are accused of being responsible for the war crime of illegal deportation of people, especially children, and their illegal transfer from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.
Citing a report by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry, the BBC said in a report that some of these children were forced to take up Russian citizenship and placed in foster families as a result of which they ended up “staying permanently” in Russia .
Se further said the moves were meant to be temporary, but both parents and children faced “a number of hurdles in establishing contact”. 16,221 children were forcibly taken to Russia, according to UN investigators.
The International Criminal Court said it sees reasonable grounds for holding that Putin bears “individual responsibility for crimes by committing them directly, jointly with others and/or through others”.
He also said that Putin did not exercise adequate control over the civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts or permitted their commission and who were under his effective authority and control.
The arrest warrant obliges member states to arrest Putin or Lvova-Belova should they travel to their country. The ICC, however, does not have its own police force or other way to make arrests.
Can Putin be tried?
The arrest warrants in theory mark the first step towards an eventual trial, even if under current conditions the capture and prosecution of the Russian president is almost inconceivable.
The Russian president enjoys unchallenged power at home, so there is no prospect of the Kremlin handing him over to the International Criminal Court. As long as he is in Russia, Putin is in no danger of being arrested.
Even if an arrest does occur, previous ICC cases have shown that it is difficult to convict senior officials. In more than 20 years, the court has handed down only five convictions for fundamental crimes and none for a senior official.
But ICC investigations into international figures are not the only option. War crimes can also be prosecuted in Ukrainian courts and a growing number of countries are conducting their own investigations.
There are also plans to create a new court to prosecute the Russian invasion as a crime of aggression. The ICC cannot file such a charge due to legal constraints.
What is Russia’s reaction?
Russia, which denies it has committed atrocities since it invaded Ukraine, rejected the ICC’s move as “null and void”.
“The decisions of the International Criminal Court have no meaning for our country, even from a legal point of view,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on her Telegram channel.
“Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC and has no obligations under it,” he wrote.
What is the position of the ICC?
ICC President Piotr Hofmanski said it was “completely irrelevant” that Russia has not ratified the Rome Statute.
“According to the statute of the International Criminal Court, which has 123 States parties, two thirds of the entire international community, the court has jurisdiction over crimes committed in the territory of a State party or a State that has accepted its jurisdiction,” he said . “Ukraine accepted the ICC twice: in 2014 and then in 2015.”
Hofmanski said 43 states had referred “the situation in Ukraine to the court, which means they have formally activated our jurisdiction.”
“The court has jurisdiction over crimes committed on anyone on the territory of Ukraine since November 2013, regardless of the nationality of the alleged perpetrators,” Hofmanski said.
What is Ukraine’s reaction to the warning?
Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin hailed the announcement by the International Criminal Court.
“The world has received a signal that the Russian regime is criminal and that its leadership and its henchmen will be held accountable,” he said. “This is a historic decision for Ukraine and for the entire system of international law.”
What war crimes are allegedly committed by Russia?
The UN investigators team said that in addition to rape and torture, the Russians are also responsible for attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure.
He also points to mass burial sites – in Bucha and Izium (in Kharkiv) – accusing Russia of more serious “crimes against humanity”.
There are also allegations by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy that the Russians have committed 400 war crimes in the Kherson region alone.
(With contributions from agencies)
Clock The International Criminal Court issues an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin