US President Joe Biden has welcomed the decision of the International Criminal Court to issue an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin over alleged war crimes in Ukraine.
Mr Biden said the Russian President had “clearly committed war crimes” and the warrant, although not recognised in the US, was “justified” and made “a very strong point”.
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the decision against “the head of a terrorist state” over the forcible deportation of Ukraine’s children into Russia, warning that the true number of deportees “may be much higher” than is currently known.
He added: “It would be impossible to commit such a criminal operation without the order of the top leader of the terrorist state.”
The remarks came after UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said it was essential that those at the top of the regime in Moscow were held to account for the atrocities which have taken place since the invasion a year ago.
The Hague-based ICC said it was issuing the warrant for the arrest of the Russian leader over the alleged abduction and deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia.
The charges were immediately dismissed by the Kremlin – which does not recognise the ICC – as “legally void”.
Putin last year signed a decree easing the process for Ukrainian children without parental care to receive Russian Federation citizenship.
Mr Putin and his presidential commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, have publicised efforts to “evacuate” orphans and fostered children from territories recently occupied by Russia to “safe places”. In May 2022, Ms Lvova-Belova announced 1,200 children from orphanages in Donetsk and Luhansk had arrived in the country. A video on her Telegram channel from September pictured her at a Moscow airport with 135 children from Mariupol. Other videos show teary-eyed Russian adoptive parents meeting Ukrainian adoptees. Ms Lvova-Belova herself adopted a 15-year-old Ukrainian boy, while this week at a Moscow rally, children from Mariupol appeared on stage alongside a Russian soldier.
Forcible transfer and deportation of civilians into an occupier’s territory is forbidden under the Fourth Geneva Convention. This act is also included in the 1948 Genocide Convention.
An investigation by i last year found dozens of sites in Russia where Ukrainian war survivors including women and children were taken, thousands of miles from their homes.
Mr Cleverly said in a statement posted on social media: “Those responsible for horrific war crimes in Ukraine must be brought to justice.
“We welcome the step taken by the independent ICC to hold those at the top of the Russian regime, including Vladimir Putin, to account.
“Work must continue to investigate the atrocities committed.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, a former director of public prosecutions, also backed the move.
“Today’s announcement sends an important message: there will be no hiding place for Putin and his cronies and the world is determined to make them pay for what they have done,” he said.
“These cases are just the tip of the iceberg. One day Putin will face justice: until then, the focus of all who believe in Ukraine’s liberty and freedom must continue to be on ensuring her victory.”
While there is no immediate prospect of Mr Putin facing arrest, legal experts have pointed to the examples of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic and Liberia’s president Charles Taylor as international leaders who wound up in the dock in The Hague.
Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary, told the BBC: “It is, I suspect, going to be a long journey but people said that about Yugoslavia and Rwanda and many of those people responsible for the carnage ended up in the dock of a court.
“In the short term it will be very hard for President Putin to move around the world because there are so many countries who are parties to the ICC who will be duty bound to arrest him.”