arrest warrant may signal the beginning of the end for Vladimir Putin

Vladimir Putin is a man who kills children. He is someone who kidnaps them from home and family. That is the contention of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC): its judges have examined his evidence and found every reason to believe it, issuing two indictments against Putin.

A family walks past a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, displayed in the window of a children’s library in St. Petersburg.Credit:AP

There will be more to come, but the murder and the abduction of innocent children crosses a red line. Although he will not stand in the dock at The Hague any time soon, he is now confirmed as an international pariah, with predecessors like Pinochet, Milosevic, Gaddafi and Al Bashir – all of whose indictments were a prelude to their fall from power.

None had nuclear bombs to ward off arrest, but they will not protect Putin against an army coup (if, for example, sanctions become too hard to bear) or against the frailties of age, when we may see him hobble into court like an old Nazi. What makes this indictment significant is that international criminal law has advanced since the ICC was established, far enough to see through the Russian claim that this court has no jurisdiction to try him.

It is true that for technical legal reasons it cannot put him on trial for the crime of aggression (i.e. violently invading a UN member state) of which he is guilty beyond any reasonable doubt. But he bears what is termed “command responsibility” for war crimes such as killing civilians or deporting children which are committed on Ukrainian territory by troops under his ultimate authority.

He may not have personally ordered the bombings that have killed 16,000 civilians (up to 1000 of those children) but the command responsibility doctrine (developed in the war crimes proceedings against Japanese General Yamashita in 1946) fixes him with liability if he turns a blind eye, and refuses even to investigate. His insouciance about the lethal crimes of his soldiers requires his arrest and punishment.

A protest outside the European Commission in Brussels in February highlighted the reported abduction of thousands of Ukrainian children by Russia.

A protest outside the European Commission in Brussels in February highlighted the reported abduction of thousands of Ukrainian children by Russia.Credit:AP

The next step, assuming that Putin will not attend court, is for the prosecutor, Karim Khan, to unveil the evidence that persuaded the judges to indict him. His guilt may be inferred from pictures already in the public domain – the charred remains of homes and hospitals after being hit by missiles intended to cause casualties.

On the charge of illegal deportation of children, the great irony is that Russia determined to convince its naive public that this was a genuine humanitarian effort, and many pictures were broadcast of Putin congratulating his “children’s rights commissioner” on transporting Ukrainian “orphans”. The truth is that these children had been abducted for “re-education” in Russia, contrary to the Geneva Convention, and both Putin and his commissioner are now indicted for the crime.

Putin’s travel options will be constricted. The ICC has 123 member states, which will have a duty to refuse him entry or to hand him over to the ICC if he is found within their borders. It will be open to states to take action against those who represent this international criminal, such as diplomats who parrot his lies.

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