Follow Us:



Much ado about nothing

The US, also not a party to the Rome Statute, applauded the ICC announcement. A State Department spokesperson stated that the ICC decision was reached independently, hinting at no US involvement. At the same time, the US believes that the case would impact Putin’s diplomatic visits.

Harsha Kakar |


The International Criminal Court (ICC) based in The Hague has issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the country’s Commissioner for Children’s Rights. Charges include suspected involvement in the ‘unlawful deportation and transfer of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.’ The ICC statement read, “There are reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Putin bears individual criminal responsibility for having committed the acts (child abductions) directly, jointly with others and/or through others (and) for his failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates who committed the acts.”

The ICC has no powers to enforce arrests on warrants that it issues. It banks on member states to detain and hand over those it declares as criminals. The Russian foreign ministry spokesperson responded to the warrant stating, “The decisions of the ICC have no meaning for our country, including from a legal point of view. Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute of the ICC and bears no obligations under it.” Former Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, in a tweet, compared the warrant to toilet paper. He tweeted, “No need to explain WHERE this paper should be used.”

The ICC President, Piotr Hofmanski, countered Russian rejections by claiming that the court has authority over crimes committed in territories of states which accept its jurisdiction. Ukraine, though not a member of the statute of the ICC, has granted it jurisdiction over its territory. In 2014 Ukraine sent a letter acceding to ICC’s jurisdiction. President Zelenskyy welcomed the ICC warrant by stating, “This is a historic decision which will lead to historic accountability.”

The US, also not a party to the Rome Statute, applauded the ICC announcement. A State Department spokesperson stated that the ICC decision was reached independently, hinting at no US involvement. At the same time, the US believes that the case would impact Putin’s diplomatic visits. The US has officially not shared evidence it claims to have collected on Russian crimes in Ukraine, as it fears it could open doors for the ICC to prosecute US citizens in the future. President Biden commented, “I think it’s justified. I think it makes a very strong point. Putin clearly committed war crimes.”

This is the same US leadership which threatened the ICC against accusing any American soldier of war crimes in Afghanistan though abundant evidence existed. In September 2018, the US National Security Advisor John Bolton termed the ICC as ‘unaccountable’ and ‘outrightly dangerous’ to the US, Israel and other allies. He added, “If the court comes after us, we will not sit quiet. We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the US financial system, and we will prosecute them in the US criminal system.” Mike Pompeo termed it as a ‘Kangaroo court.’ The ICC never issued any warrants.

European nations also welcomed the ICC’s action against Putin. However, none raised a finger when the US threatened the ICC over accusing its troops for violations in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. No wonder Russia adopted a similar approach.

US spokespersons mention that any relief from western sanctions can only be considered once Russia complies with the ICC warrants, an act which Russia would never undertake. It does appear that the ICC was nudged to issue its warrant as it ensures sanctions on Russia cannot be lifted even if a peace agreement is reached between Moscow and Kiev

Heads of state to have been indicted by the ICC for war crimes include former Liberian President Charles Taylor, Omar al-Bashir, of Sudan and Slobodan Milosevic, from Siberia, all from insignificant nations. Yet, none was arrested and tried while in the chair. Gadhafi was indicted but could never be arrested as he was killed in a US-led operation, while Bashir was arrested, tried and sentenced for other crimes in Sudan. The other two were arrested and deported to the ICC only after being overthrown. Never has a head of state of a permanent member of the UN Security Council been accused by the ICC, Russia being the first.

In recent times there have been multiple visits by Antonio Guterres, the UN Secretary General to Moscow seeking an end to the conflict. These are likely to continue, implying that the UN is officially engaging with a global criminal. Similar announcements will be made when other heads of state interact with Putin, Xi Jinping being the first in line. Diplomatic communications and heads of state visits will possibly continue, making a mockery of the ICC’s directions.

Currently the US, Israel, Russia, India, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China are not members of the statute of the ICC. States which matter are missing, while those with little influence are there. ICC regulations mention that in case Putin visits a state which is a member of the statute, he is to be arrested and sent to the ICC. The forthcoming visits of Putin include two to India, for the SCO and G 20. India does not recognize the ICC, hence will not adhere to its demands. No state, whether a member of the Rome statute or not, is likely to arrest and deport Putin, none arrested even Bashir, only making a mockery of the warrant.

Will the warrant have any impact on the ongoing Russo-Ukraine conflict other than providing a few minutes of publicity? Unlikely. On the contrary, it would unite Russians into backing Putin in the war as the ICC will be viewed as a western tool to add pressure on their country. It could prolong the conflict adding to the suffering of Ukrainians who continue to fight a proxy war for the west. It would also embolden Putin to extend his grip on power removing any opposition thereby ensuring that no one contemplates humiliating him by handing him over to the ICC.

The ICC will wait, hoping that Putin is sent for trial if deposed in Russia, which is unlikely. No nation would contemplate arresting a head of state, even if indicted, as it would set a wrong precedent. The diplomatic hype over the warrant will end in a few days and it would be business as usual.

(The writer is a retired Major-General of the Indian Army.)