Defiant Putin Makes Surprise Visit to Ukrainian Territory ‘As Befits a Thief’ (and Indicted War Criminal)

( – A day after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for his arrest on suspicion of war crimes, Russian President Vladimir Putin traveled at the weekend to one of Russian-occupied areas of Ukraine where the cited offenses – specifically, the deportation of Ukrainian children – allegedly took place.

Putin’s nighttime trip to Mariupol marked his first visit to Ukrainian territory captured by his forces since the invasion began in February last year. He traveled there by helicopter after visiting nearby Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula which Russia annexed in 2014, following a referendum rejected by most of the international community.

The port city of Mariupol was devastated during fierce fighting and a Russian siege that ended with its fall at the end of April last year. Two months later a Ukrainian official told the U.N. that an estimated 47,000 civilians from the Mariupol area had been forcibly transferred to Russia, or to other Russian-occupied areas in eastern Ukraine.

Many of those Ukrainians were children.

ICC judges on Friday issued arrest warrants for Putin and the Russian government’s children’s rights commissioner, Maria Lvova-Belova, accused of deporting children from occupied parts of Ukraine to Russia – a war crime under the Geneva Convention.


Putin’s visit to Mariupol in the Donetsk region, one of the areas where the alleged offenses took place, was seen as a show of defiance in the face of the arrest warrant. Earlier Moscow rejected the ICC move, calling it meaningless and noting that Russia has not ratified the treaty that created the court.

While Ukraine has not ratified the Rome Statute either, Kyiv has formally accepted the jurisdiction of the ICC – in 2014, and again in 2015. As such, according to ICC President Piotr Hofmanski, offenses committed on Ukrainian territory are within the jurisdiction of the court.

Commenting on Putin’s visit to Mariupol, advisor to the Ukrainian presidency Mykhailo Podolyak tweeted, “The criminal always returns to the crime scene.”

“As the civilized world announces the arrest of the ‘war director’ (V.V. Putin) in case of crossing its borders, the murderer of thousands of Mariupol families came to admire the ruins of the city & graves. Cynicism & lack of remorse.”

Ukraine’s defense ministry noted Putin had visited under cover of night, “as befits a thief.”

“First, it is safer. Also, darkness allows him to highlight what he wants to show, and keeps the city his army completely destroyed and its few surviving inhabitants away from prying eyes.”

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said his office has identified cases involving “the deportation of at least hundreds of children taken from orphanages and children’s care homes” in Russian-occupied Ukraine.

“Many of these children, we allege, have since been given for adoption in the Russian Federation. The law was changed in the Russian Federation, through presidential decrees issued by President Putin, to expedite the conferral of Russian citizenship, making it easier for them to be adopted by Russian families.”

A Yale University study published earlier this year found Russia has transferred at least 6,000 and probably many more Ukrainian children to more than 40 identified facilities in Crimea and Russia, for pro-Russian political reeducation and in some case adoption by Russian nationals.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken last month issued a formal determination that Russian troops and officials have committed “crimes against humanity” in Ukraine, citing among other things the deportation of “hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian civilians to Russia, including children who have been forcibly separated from their families.”

‘The execution depends on international cooperation’

Hofmanski, the ICC president, said Friday that while the court’s judges have issued the arrest warrants, “the execution depends on international cooperation.”

In theory, all 123 countries that have ratified the Rome Statute are obliged to cooperate with warrants issued by the court, arresting subjects that enter their territory and surrendering them to The Hague.

That obligation was put to the test after the ICC in 2009 and 2010 indicted then-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide.

Over the following decade, Bashir traveled to at least 10 countries, including parties to the Rome Statute, without being arrested – before being toppled in a 2019 coup.

Putin is considerably more influential on the global stage than Bashir was, and the likelihood of his being arrested appears slim. The warrant may see him avoid some ICC member-states – although they would mostly be countries where he would not be welcome anyway, because of the Ukraine invasion.

German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann said on Sunday that Putin would be arrested if he set foot on German soil.

Other Western governments, including France, Britain, Canada, and the European Union, expressed support for the ICC decision without explicitly saying they would arrest Putin should he visit. (The U.S. is not a party to the ICC statute.)

A challenge lies ahead for South Africa, scheduled to host Putin at a summit of the BRICS club of leading emerging economies (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) in August.

“We note the report on the warrant of arrest that the ICC has issued,” Reuters quoted a spokesman for the South African presidency, Vincent Magwenya, as saying.

“We are, as the government, cognizant of our legal obligation. However, between now and the summit we will remain engaged with various relevant stakeholders.”

Although a Rome Statute party, South Africa allowed Bashir to visit in 2015 to attend an African Union summit. A legal furor ensued, and Pretoria said it would withdraw from the ICC – until a South African court declared the planned withdrawal to be unconstitutional.

India, is which not a party to the Rome Statute, is scheduled to host a G20 summit in New Delhi in the fall. Putin skipped last year’s G20 summit, sending Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Bali in his place.


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