The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, a member of Putin’s government, it announced in a news release Friday.
Lvova-Belova is the official at the center of the alleged scheme to forcibly deport thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia.
The ICC said both Putin and Lvova-Belova are “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.”
Some key background: According to the US and several European governments, Putin’s administration has carried out a scheme to forcibly deport thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia, often to a network of dozens of camps, where the minors undergo political reeducation.
“Lvova-Belova’s efforts specifically include the forced adoption of Ukrainian children into Russian families, the so-called ‘patriotic education’ of Ukrainian children, legislative changes to expedite the provision of Russian Federation citizenship to Ukrainian children, and the deliberate removal of Ukrainian children by Russia’s forces,” the US Treasury said in September.
Her government title is commissioner for children’s rights in the Office of the Russian President.
The ICC statement Friday said there are “reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Putin bears individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes,” both for having committed the acts directly or through others in his command, and for “his failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates.”
Russia has characterized reports of forcible relocation as “absurd” and said it does its “best” to keep minors with their families.
The ICC announcement comes just days after several US news outlets reported the court was planning to open two war crimes cases tied to the invasion of Ukraine and issue arrest warrants against “several people.” According to the New York Times, the ICC was set to first open a case on Russia’s alleged abduction of Ukrainian children. Then a second case would focus on Moscow “unrelentingly” targeting civilian infrastructure, including water supplies and gas tanks.
The cases would represent the first international charges to be brought since the start of Russia’s war and come after months of work by special ICC investigation teams, according to the NYT.
CNN’s Mick Krever, Zahid Mahmood and Sugam Pokharel contributed to this report.