Citing War Crimes in Ukraine, International Criminal Court Issues Arrest Warrant for Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin pictured on March 15, 2023, in Moscow, Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pictured on March 15, 2023, in Moscow, Russia. (Contributor/Getty Images)

March 17, 2023

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant on Friday for Russian President Vladimir Putin citing his alleged involvement in war crimes during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Specifically, the court alleges the deportation and transfer of children from Ukraine to Russia constitute war crimes and that there are “reasonable grounds to believe” Putin “bears individual criminal responsibility.”

The court issued a warrant on the same grounds for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Putin’s commissioner for children’s rights.

The Russian government and Putin have previously denied any war crimes have occurred during the Ukraine conflict, and spokespeople for Russia told media outlets on Friday the Russian government does not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC. A report released last month by The Yale School of Public Health’s Humanitarian Research Lab with support from the U.S. State Department found that at least 6,000 children have been relocated by Russia’s federal government. The Ukrainian government’s estimates of children who were relocated are even higher, at around 16,000.

Though the chances of arrest are slim, the warrant means that if Putin travels to one of the 123 countries party to the court, ICC rules hold that country’s officials should arrest him. The ICC does not operate its own force to execute the warrant. Piotr Hofmański, president of ICC, said in a video statement on Friday, “The judges issued arrest warrants. The execution depends on international cooperation.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy praised the ICC’s issuance of the warrants on Friday as a “historic decision.”

“Today, we have a fundamental decision of international justice,” he said in a statement.

FRONTLINE and The Associated Press investigated evidence of potential war crimes in the war in Ukraine in the October 2022 documentary Putin’s Attack on Ukraine: Documenting War Crimes, tracing a pattern of atrocities committed by Russian troops.

The documentary also explored the challenges of trying to hold Putin and other Russian leaders to account. In the documentary, AP reporter Erika Kinetz asked ICC prosecutor Karim Khan, “Can you indict Putin?”

“[Prosecutors] should start with the evidence and decide what the evidence shows,” Khan said in the documentary at the time. “We have to start by the principle, and the principle is to get to the truth, get to the evidence, and the first to hear of that will be the judges of the ICC.”

FRONTLINE and The Associated Press worked in collaboration during the first year of Russia’s war on Ukraine to gather, verify and document evidence of potential war crimes for the War Crimes Watch Ukraine project. With sources including video and audio evidence, satellite imagery, official documents and eyewitness accounts, reporters documented 653 events that occurred between February 2022 to February 2023. The events included direct attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including hospitals, schools, residential areas and sites protected under international humanitarian law.

Watch the full documentary Putin’s Attack on Ukraine: Documenting War Crimes:


James O'Donnell

James O'Donnell, Tow Journalism Fellow, FRONTLINE/Newmark Journalism School Fellowships, FRONTLINE

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