U.S. President Joe Biden has said the International Criminal Court (ICC) decision to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes is “justified.”
“He’s clearly committed war crimes,” Biden told reporters on March 17, referring to Putin.
His comments in Washington came after the ICC said it had issued a warrant against Putin, accusing the Russian leader of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine. The move by the ICC was hailed by Kyiv and rejected by Moscow.
The court also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Lvova-Belova, a Russian children’s rights official who allegedly directs the removal of Ukrainian children to Russia.
The two are suspected of “having committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others” the ICC said in a statement, adding that Putin had failed “to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts, or allowed for their commission, and who were under his effective authority and control, pursuant to superior responsibility.”
The immediate impact of the ICC action is unclear. Moscow does not recognize the court and does not extradite its nationals. However, Putin may be more cautious about traveling to a nation bound to arrest him.
While Washington does not recognize the court either, Biden said it “makes a very strong point” to call out Putin’s actions in ordering the invasion.
Earlier, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said the ICC’s decision was the start of “holding Russia accountable for its crimes and atrocities in Ukraine.”
“This is an important decision of international justice and for the people of Ukraine,” he said.
ICC President Piotr Hofmanski said in a video statement that while the ICC’s judges have issued the warrants, it will be up to the international community to enforce them. The 123-member ICC doesn’t have a police force of its own to carry out arrests.
WATCH: A family from Mariupol spoke to RFE/RL about their experiences of going through a Russian filtration camp and then being taken to Moscow.
With the warrant, Putin becomes the third serving head of state to be targeted in an arrest warrant from the ICC, the world’s permanent war crimes tribunal, along with Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir and Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia found the questions raised by the ICC “outrageous and unacceptable” and noted that Russia, like many other countries, does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC.
“Accordingly, any decisions of this kind are null and void for the Russian Federation from the point of view of law,” Peskov said.
Peskov refused to comment when asked if Putin would avoid making trips to countries where he could be arrested on the ICC’s warrant.
Neither Russia nor Ukraine is a member of the ICC. Kyiv has, however, granted the Hague-based court jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed on its territory since Moscow launched its invasion last year. The United States and China also are not members of the ICC.
Lvova-Belova reacted sarcastically to the ICC announcement. “It is great that the international community has appreciated the work to help the children of our country, that we do not leave them in war zones, that we take them out, we create good conditions for them, that we surround them with loving, caring people,” she said.
The U.S. Treasury outlined her role when adding her to its sanctions lists on September 15, 2022.
“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,” it said at the time.
WATCH: On March 17, the president of the ICC announced that The Hague-based court has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of responsibility for war crimes allegedly committed during Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Dmytro Lubinets, the Ukrainian Parliament’s human rights commissioner, has said that based on data from the country’s National Information Bureau, 16,226 children have been deported. Ukraine has managed to bring back 308 children.
Human Rights Watch, which has documented the transfers of Ukrainian civilians and called them “a serious violation of the laws of war that constitute war crimes and potential crimes against humanity,” said the warrant against Putin is the “first step to end the impunity that has emboldened perpetrators in Russia’s war against Ukraine for far too long.”
In Ukraine, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy called it a “historic decision from which historic responsibility will begin.”
The deportation of Ukrainian children “means the illegal transfer of thousands of our children to the territory of a terrorist state,” Zelenskiy said, adding that this could not have taken place without an order from Putin.
“Separating children from their families, depriving them of any opportunity to contact their relatives, hiding children in the territory of Russia, scattering them in remote regions — all this is an obvious state policy of Russia, state decisions, and state evil, which begins precisely with the first official of this state,” Zelenskiy said in his nightly address to the nation.
In a post on Twitter, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the “wheels of justice are turning,” and added that “international criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes.”
Ukrainian Ambassador to the UN Serhiy Kyslytsya recalled that on the night of Russia’s invasion, “I said at the Security Council meeting that there is no purgatory for war criminals, they go straight to hell. Today, I would like to say that those of them who will remain alive after the military defeat of Russia will have to make a stop in The Hague on their way to hell.”