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International Criminal Court issues arrest warrants for Russian military commanders

by Elsa Court and The Kyiv Independent news desk March 5, 2024 3:30 PM 3 min read
Flag with the logo of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on March 29, 2022, in The Hague, Netherlands. (Photo: Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)
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The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for two Russian military commanders for carrying out strikes on Ukrainian electricity infrastructure during the winter of 2022 to 2023, the court announced on March 5.

Lieutenant General Sergei Kobylash and Admiral Viktor Sokolov "are each allegedly responsible" for a number of war crimes, including "directing attacks at civilian objects," the court said.

Kobylash is suspected due to his role as Commander of the Long-Range Aviation of the Aerospace Force, while Sokolov is suspected due to his position as Commander of the Black Sea Fleet, according to the court, which is based in The Hague.

"There are reasonable grounds to believe that the two suspects bear responsibility for missile strikes carried out by the forces under their command against the Ukrainian electric infrastructure from at least 10 October 2022 until at least 9 March 2023," the court said.

Russia launched 84 missiles and 24 kamikaze drones at Ukraine on Oct. 10, 2022, the first of a long series of devastating attacks targeting the country’s critical infrastructure through the winter.

"The expected incidental civilian harm and damage" caused by the strikes "would have been clearly excessive to the anticipated military advantage," the court said.

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"There are reasonable grounds to believe that the suspects also bear responsibility for the crime against humanity" of "intentionally causing great suffering."

By the end of the winter, the strikes had caused $10 billion in damages across Ukraine and left 12 million people with no or limited access to power, according to the United Nations Development Program.

Energy workers battled to repair the infrastructure as quickly as possible, with 22 out of 36 of Ukraine's power generation plants damaged or destroyed.

"These are obvious crimes — Russia's war crimes and crimes against humanity. And there is a significant movement (to prosecute those crimes) in the International Criminal Court," commented President Volodymyr Zelensky in his evening video address.

"When international justice starts working, it cannot be stopped. Justice for Ukraine, for Ukrainians, and for the international community in general will definitely be restored."

Admiral Sokolov had reportedly been killed in a Ukrainian missile strike on the Black Sea Fleet's headquarters in Sevastopol in September 2023, according to Ukraine's Special Operations Forces.

Russia's Defense Ministry then published a video that purported to show a meeting between military leadership with Admiral Sokolov. The White House refused to comment on whether Sokolov was confirmed to be alive.

The announcement of the arrest warrants of the two commanders comes almost a year after the ICC 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.

Russian Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Maria Zakharova dismissed the issuing of the warrants in March 2023, declaring that the "decisions of the International Criminal Court have no meaning for our country, including from a legal standpoint."

Russia withdrew from the ICC in 2016 following its criticism of Russia's illegal annexation of Crimea.

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