Russia issues retaliatory arrest warrant for International Criminal Court prosecutor

The Kremlin has opened a criminal case against the prosecutor and several judges on the International Criminal Court in an apparent act of retribution for the court issuing an arrest warrant against President Vladimir Putin.

The Russian Investigative Committee said in a Telegram post Saturday that British prosecutor Karim Ahmad Khan had brought “a knowingly innocent person to criminal liability, combined with the unlawful accusation of a person of committing a grave or especially grave crime.”

The statement said Khan, together with judges Tomoko Akane, Rosario Salvatore Aitala and Sergio Gerardo Ugalde Godinez, had “issued unlawful decisions” in arresting President Vladimir Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, his presidential commissioner for children’s rights.  

“The criminal prosecution is obviously illegal, since there are no grounds for criminal liability,” the statement said, adding that Khan had sought to complicate international relations. 

The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Putin and Lvova-Belova in March for their allegedly overseeing the unlawful abduction and deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia. 

Pretrial judges had assessed that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that Putin bears individual criminal responsibility” for the deportations, the court said in a statement at the time. 

Ukraine is not a member of the court, but it has granted it jurisdiction over its territory. After the warrant for Putin was issued, the court said Khan had visited the country four times since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, when he opened his investigation into attacks against critical civilian infrastructure and residential buildings, and the alleged deportations.

The U.S. does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction, and Moscow formally withdrew its signature from its founding statute in November 2016, a day after the court published a report classifying its annexation of Crimea as an occupation. 

Issuing the arrest warrant for Putin was a largely symbolic move designed to compel countries that recognize the court’s jurisdiction to surrender the Russian president to the court if he entered their territory.

In actuality, however, it remains unlikely that Putin will be arrested given the international principles of immunity from arrest that exist for presiding heads of state.

It is also unlikely that Khan will be arrested.

From the early days of the Ukraine invasion last February, Kyiv has accused Moscow of forcibly transferring children and adults into Russian territory.

Russian officials have consistently denied the accusations, calling them a “fantasy” aimed at discrediting Moscow. The Russian Embassy in the United States said in February that the country had taken in children who were forced to flee the fighting.

The United Nations has also led inquiries into Russian attacks against civilians in Ukraine, including systematic torture and killing in occupied regions, and cited these as among potential issues that amount to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.

The Russian Investigative Committee’s announcement came the day after the country’s Foreign Ministry banned 500 Americans from Russia, including former President Barack Obama.

It came in response to the latest round of 300 U.S. sanctions against individuals, entities, vessels and aircraft to “extensively [restrict] categories of goods key to the battlefield.”

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