Joe Biden welcomes Vladimir Putin arrest warrant over Ukraine war crimes

World leaders have praised the decision to issue Vladimir Putin with an arrest warrant, as Vincent McAviney reports

Words by Lottie Kilraine, ITV News Multimedia Producer

US President Joe Biden has joined Britain in welcoming the International Criminal Court's (ICC) decision to issue an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes in Ukraine.

President Biden said Mr Putin had "clearly committed war crimes" and the warrant, although not recognised in the US, was "justified" and made "a very strong point".

His 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 began one-year-ago.

On Friday, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for President Putin for war crimes in connection with his alleged involvement in abductions of children from Ukraine.

In a statement, the court said President Putin "is 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".

It also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, the Commissioner for Children's Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation on similar allegations.

The arrest warrants come as Russia's Defense Ministry announced that the fighter pilots involved in an incident with a US drone that resulted in its crash will be given state awards.

Friday's announcement appeared to signal Moscow's intention to adopt a more aggressive stance towards future American surveillance flights.

What has President Putin been accused of?

The ICC said that its pre-trial chamber found there were "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".

ICC president Piotr Hofmanski spoke about the arrest warrants in a video statement released by the court.

As the court has no police force of its own to enforce warrants, Mr Hofmanski said it will be up to the international community to enforce them.

"The ICC is doing its part of work as a court of law," he said.

"The judges issued arrest warrants. The execution depends on international cooperation."

On Thursday, a UN-backed inquiry cited Russian attacks against civilians in Ukraine, including systematic torture and killing in occupied regions, among potential issues that amount to war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity.

The sweeping investigation also found crimes committed against Ukrainians on Russian territory.

This included deporting Ukrainian children who were prevented from reuniting with their families, a "filtration" system aimed at singling out Ukrainians for detention, and torture and inhumane detention conditions.

But on Friday, the ICC centred Putin in the child abduction allegations.

How has Russia reacted?

Putin is yet to directly respond to the arrest warrants, but Moscow denies allegations of war crimes.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov insisted that Russia doesn't recognise the ICC as an official court of law and considers its decisions "legally void".

He added that Russia considers the court's move "outrageous and unacceptable".

Russia, China, the United States, and Ukraine have formally ratified the ICC's founding treaty.

This means that none of the four countries formally recognises the court's jurisdiction or is bound by its orders.

However, Ukraine has consented to allowing some ICC probes of crimes on its territory and the US has cooperated with ICC investigations.

Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Chair of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, reacted to the announcement on Twitter with a toilet paper emoji.

Medvedev, who was Russia's President between 2008 and 2012, tweeted: "The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin.

"No need to explain WHERE this paper should be used."

But Ukrainian officials were jubilant. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said the "wheels of Justice are turning".

Mr Kuleba added that "international criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes".

In the UK, Mr Cleverly said he welcomed the announcement by the ICC.

The foreign secretary tweeted: "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."

Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary, said: "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."

Meanwhile, Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer hailed the ICC's decision to issue an arrest warrant.

He said: "I welcome the International Criminal Court's decision to open war crime cases against Vladimir Putin and other senior Russian figures for their barbaric actions in Ukraine.

"Today's announcement sends an important message: there will no hiding place for Putin and his cronies and the world is determined to make them pay for what they have done.

"I have seen first-hand the destruction and devastation waged on the brave people of Ukraine. 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," he added.

Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer hailed the ICC's decision to issue an arrest warrant. Credit: PA

What does this actually mean for President Putin?

The chances of a trial remains extremely unlikely, as Moscow does not recognise the ICC as a legal power.

However the warrant could affect Putin's ability to travel internationally in future.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov refused to comment when asked if Putin would avoid making trips to countries where he could be arrested on the ICC's warrant.

However, while Russia has rejected the allegations and warrants of the court as null and void, others said the ICC action will have an important impact.

"The ICC has made Putin a wanted man and taken its first step to end the impunity that has emboldened perpetrators in Russia’s war against Ukraine for far too long," said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch.

"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."

Professor David Crane indicted Liberian President Charles Taylor 20-years-ago for crimes in Sierra Leone.

He said dictators and tyrants around the world "are now on notice that those who commit international crimes will be held accountable to include heads of state".

President Taylor was eventually detained and put on trial at a special court in the Netherlands.

He was convicted and sentenced to 50 years' imprisonment.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Credit: AP

Could the arrest warrant affect Chinese President Xi's visit to Russia?

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s plans to meet with Putin in Moscow next week highlighted China's aspirations for a greater role on the world stage.

The visit to Russia will be President Xi's first foreign trip since being elected to an unprecedented third term as China's president.

In announcing the Xi visit, China's foreign ministry said Beijing's ties with Moscow are a significant world force.

The ministry has called the visit "a journey of friendship, further deepening mutual trust and understanding between China and Russia, and consolidating the political foundation and public opinion foundation of friendship between the two peoples for generations".

In the immediate term, the ICC's warrant for Putin is unlikely to have a major impact on the meeting or China's position toward Russia.

However, the stain of the arrest warrant could well work against China and Russia in the court of public opinion and Putin's international status may take a hit unless the charges are dropped.

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