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The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin, accusing the Russian president of being responsible for the illegal deportation of children from Ukraine, which constitutes a war crime.

The ICC said in a statement that a warrant had also been issued for 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 statement said, 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.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children,” the ICC said in a statement on March 17.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy hailed the move, calling it “a historic decision from which historical 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 on 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.

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.

WATCH: On March 17, the president of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Judge Piotr Hofmanski, announced that The Hague-based court has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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.

“And accordingly, any decisions of this kind are null and void for the Russian Federation from the point of view of law,” Peskov said.

Maria Lvova-Belova

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the warrant “meaningless” as Russia ” does not cooperate with this body, and possible ‘recipes’ for arrest coming from the International Court of Justice will be legally null and void for us,” she said.

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Neither Russia nor Ukraine are members 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 123-member ICC also doesn’t have a police force of its own to carry out warrants, instead needing member countries to do the job of detaining suspects to The Hague for trial.

While the warrant is likely to diminish Putin’s stature in international circles, it is unclear how the warrant against him would be executed since it could only be enforced if he is traveling in an ICC member nation, something he is unlikely to do.

“This is an important moment in the process of justice before the ICC…. As the judges issued arrest warrants, the execution depends on international cooperation,” said ICC President Judge Piotr Hofmanski.

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Andriy Kostin hailed the ICC move as “historic.”

“From now on, the Russian president has the official status of a suspect in the commission of an international crime,” he said in a statement. “This is a historic decision for Ukraine and the entire system of international law.”

Despite mounting evidence to the contrary, Russia has repeatedly denied accusations of atrocities and human rights violations being committed since it launched its full-scale invasion of its neighbor in February 2022.

Lvova-Belova, the presidential commissioner for children’s rights, is considered to work directly under Putin and, according to U.S. officials, has overseen the deportation of “thousands” of Ukrainian children to Russia.

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. The mother eventually got her children out via Belarus and Poland, while the husband chose to remain in Russia. (Originally published September 1, 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,” the U.S. Treasury said on September 15 when it added her to its sanctions list.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) 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.” HRW 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.”

“The warrants send a clear message that giving orders to commit or tolerating serious crimes against civilians may lead to a prison cell in The Hague. The court’s warrants are a wakeup call to others committing abuses or covering them up that their day in court may be coming, regardless of their rank or position,” Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement.

The ICC said that while warrants are usually considered secret to protect victims and witnesses while safeguarding investigations, the fact that the crimes are ongoing prompted it to release the news as “the warrants may contribute to the prevention of the further commission of crimes.”

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service
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