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The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian official allegedly overseeing the forced deportations of Ukrainian children to Russia.
"Vladimir Putin, born on Oct. 7, 1952, President of the Russian Federation, is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation," the International Criminal Court statement reads.
In its statement, the ICC writes that it believes Putin “bears individual criminal responsibility” as the leader of Russia for the crimes committed against Ukrainian children.
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova dismissed the news, declaring that “decisions of the International Criminal Court have no meaning for our country, including from a legal standpoint,” Russian independent media Meduza reported.
Russia withdrew from the ICC in 2016 following its criticism of Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea.
On Feb. 16, Putin praised Lvova-Belova for her work overseeing the deportation of Ukrainian children, portraying it as a “humanitarian effort” to “protect Russian citizens.”
According to the ICC, there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that Putin is directly responsible for overseeing the deportations and that he failed to exercise control over the Russian military personnel and civilians who implemented the crime throughout occupied Ukrainian territory since the start of the full-scale invasion.
President Volodymyr Zelensky met with ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan in Kyiv on Feb. 28 and underscored the critical importance of bringing those responsible for war crimes in Ukraine to justice. He stressed the need to return kidnapped Ukrainian children to Ukraine, saying that he would be “very grateful” to the ICC for ideas on facilitating it as quickly as possible.
According to the U.S. ambassador to OSCE Michael Carpenter, Russia, has deported almost 2,000 children from Ukraine since Jan. 1. More than 16,000 children were forcibly removed from Ukraine since the start of the full-scale invasion, the National Information Bureau wrote.
A United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine published a report on March 16 that found Russia's relocation of Ukrainian children likely constitutes a war crime.
Head of President’s Office Andriy Yermak responded to the news by writing, “it’s only the beginning.”
Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba also weighed in, writing that "the wheels of justice are turning."
"I applaud the ICC decision to issue arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova over forcible transfer of Ukrainian children. International criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes," Kuleba wrote.
Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin called it a "historic decision" not only for Ukraine but for the entire system of international law.
"World leaders will think three times before shaking (Putin's) hand or sitting down at the negotiating table with him. The world received a signal that the Russian regime is criminal and its leadership and henchmen will be held accountable," Kostin said.