ICC expected to launch war crimes cases against Russians over Ukraine

Arrest warrants could be issued against Russian officials for forcibly deporting children from Ukraine and targeting civilian infrastructure

By Reuters

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A wounded Ukrainian soldier reacts as he is treated by medics inside a frontline stabilisation ambulance in an undisclosed location near the frontline town of Kreminna. — Reuters
A wounded Ukrainian soldier reacts as he is treated by medics inside a frontline stabilisation ambulance in an undisclosed location near the frontline town of Kreminna. — Reuters

Published: Tue 14 Mar 2023, 12:22 AM

The International Criminal Court is expected to seek the arrest of Russian officials for forcibly deporting children from Ukraine and targeting civilian infrastructure, a source said on Monday, in what would be the first international war crimes cases arising from Moscow's invasion.

The source said the arrest warrants could include the crime of genocide, and were expected to arrive in the "short term" if the court prosecutor's request was approved by a pre-trial judge at the Hague-based court. It was unclear which Russian officials the prosecutor might seek warrants against.


The office of the prosecutor at the ICC declined to comment.

Russia's defence ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


Moscow would be certain to reject any arrest warrants against any of its officials. But an international war crimes prosecution could deepen Moscow's diplomatic isolation and make it difficult for those accused to travel abroad.

Konstantin Kosachyov, deputy speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament, said the ICC had no jurisdiction over the country since Moscow withdrew its backing in 2016. "The ICC is an instrument of neo-colonialism in the hands of the West," he said.

Russia denies deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, saying its attacks are all intended to reduce Kyiv's ability to fight. It has not concealed a programme under which it has brought thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia, but presents it as a humanitarian campaign to protect orphans and children abandoned in the conflict zone.

Kyiv says thousands of deported Ukrainian children are being adopted into Russian families, housed in Russian camps and orphanages, given Russian passports and brought up to reject Ukrainian nationality.

The UN genocide convention defines "forcibly transferring children of the group to another group" as one of five acts that can be prosecuted as genocide. Asked if the ICC charges against the Russian officials could include genocide, the source said: "It looks that way."

On the ground, both sides described relentless fighting in and around Bakhmut, a small ruined city in eastern Ukraine that has become the main focus of a Russian winter campaign.

Near Kreminna, north of Bakhmut, Ukrainian soldiers said they were repelling intensified attacks by increasingly professional soldiers, while heavy equipment was being brought closer to the frontline by the Russians.

In a forest some 8km from the front, cannons boomed, targeting enemy positions to the northeast. Explosions rumbled constantly in the distance, a sign of heavy fighting.

Reuters reporters saw a soldier being brought from the front with a badly wounded leg. He was stabilised in a van with a splint and painkillers before being taken to a medical centre further from the front.

"Two or three weeks ago the fighting was at its peak but it has calmed down a bit," said Mykhailo Anest, a 35-year-old medic. "There is a lot of artillery and mortar fire."

On a bad day he would see 20 wounded troops in a single day from his battalion, he told Reuters.

The months-long fight for Bakhmut has become Europe's bloodiest infantry battle since World War Two.

Russian forces led by the Wagner private army have captured the city's eastern part but so far failed to encircle it.

"All enemy attempts to capture the town are repelled by artillery, tanks, and other firepower," Ukraine's Colonel general Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of ground forces who has vowed not to withdraw, was quoted as saying by Ukraine's Media Military Centre.

Wagner founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Sunday the situation was "tough, very tough".

Moscow says taking it would be a major success, opening a path to capture the rest of the surrounding Donetsk region, a central war aim.

Kyiv says it has decided not to pull out because it is inflicting huge losses on the Russian assault force which will make it easier to stage a counterattack later this year.


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