Then what does Putin's arrest warrant change?

2023 / 04 / 10

Nino Macharashvili, International Black Sea University


The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague found the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin and the Commissioner for Children's Rights of the Russian Federation Maria Lvova-Belova guilty of war crimes committed in Ukraine, and issued an arrest warrant on March 17, 2023. They are charged with forcibly removing people (children) from the Ukrainian regions that were under occupation and transporting them to the Russian Federation. More than 16,000 children have been removed from their homes by the Russian military since the start of the war, according to data from the Ukrainian government. The Kremlin's policy aims to keep them in Russia indefinitely. "Children can't be treated as the spoils of war, they can't be deported", said ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan in a conversation with the BBC.

Arrest warrants for Putin and Lvova-Belova have already been issued, which means that from now on, any signatory state of The Hague Court (of which there are 123) must arrest and hand over the accused persons to the International Criminal Court if they come onto their sovereign territory.

The Kremlin labeled the ICC’s decision as "outrageous," claiming that as Russia is not a signatory country of the Rome Statute, it is under no obligation. Moreover, in their opinion, the decision of the ICC has no legal force for Russia.

Russia, indeed, is not a signatory of the ICC, and it does not have responsibility before the Hague Court. Further, Putin enjoys absolute power in Russia, so there is no prospect of him being handed over to the Court at this stage. While, unlike other courts, the ICC does not hear cases in absentia, which means that Putin's physical presence at The Hague tribunal is necessary, we can say that the Russian president is not in danger of being arrested any time soon.

This is the primary question that emerges in the context of the unfolding events. I'll discuss my thoughts on the potential benefits of the arrest warrant issued by the ICC in this blog.


The ICC has publicly released a statement on the issuance of the arrest warrants, the names of the accused persons, the content of the crime and the types of liability expected. Arrest warrants are usually confidential so as to protect witnesses and victims, as well as to ensure the integrity of the investigation. The granting of an exception by the Chamber of the Hague Court is explained by the fact that the criminal activities have not stopped: The deportation of Ukrainian children and their removal to Russia is ongoing. The measures that Ukraine has so far undertaken to prevent the crime (putting guilty soldiers on trial) are insufficient. The public announcement of an arrest warrant may have a preventive effect, reducing and/or at least temporarily stopping the ongoing crimes.

Restriction of Movement

There are 123 countries in the world where Putin cannot feel safe. The signatory countries of the Rome Statute are obliged to arrest him and hand him over to The Hague should he enter their territory.

Several problematic issues arise here:

  1. The ICC has no leverage to compel member states to fulfill their obligations. States are left with the opportunity to decide for themselves what to do if Putin or Lvova-Belova enter their territory. In practice, there are cases when countries have refused to arrest accused persons and hand them over to the court. For example, the former president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, despite having an arrest warrant issued against him, was not arrested while in Jordan. The Hague Court could only express concern about this fact and remind Jordan of its obligations.
  2. Some nations, including the United States, have openly disclosed their positions on Putin's arrest warrant, even though they have not ratified the Rome Statute. Similar circumstances exist in India (which has not yet made clear its position). In September, there will be an important gathering in which, according to the Kremlin, Putin will take part. India is not obliged to detain the Russian President and deliver him to The Hague Tribunal when he turns up.
  3. Due to the international sanctions, Putin's movement has been severely restricted already. Since the start of the war, he has visited only eight countries, seven of which are his so-called "near abroad" - post-Soviet countries, and the eighth - Iran. Iran is not a threat to Putin because the two countries find themselves "in the same boat". Iran has been supplying Russia with drones and other military equipment to fight in Ukraine.


Soon after Putin's arrest warrant was issued, states began taking positions on what they would do if the accused appeared on their territories. The officials of Germany, Austria, Ireland and Croatia say they are ready to arrest and hand over the Russian president to the ICC. Hungary, however, cites national law and refuses to cooperate with The Hague Court.

It is also interesting that in Armenia, a week after the announcement of Putin's arrest warrant, the Constitutional Court of Armenia “gave the green light” to ratify the Rome Statute. Parliament has the decisive word. Yerevan is not in a rush and is refraining from making public statements on the matter. If the Rome Statute is ratified, Armenia will be obliged to arrest and hand over the Russian president to the court. No-one knows what will happen. Armenia's options are diverse: Postponement of ratification, ratification and refusal to detain, ratification and Putin not entering Armenia, or ratification and Putin testing the effectiveness of the order by entering Armenia.

Georgia also responded to the arrest order issued for Putin. The head of the "Georgian Dream" faction, Mamuka Mdinaradze, asserts that Georgia was one of 38 nations that appealed to The Hague Court, which led to its ruling (referring to the March 2, 2022 appeal to The Hague Court on the initiation of the investigation of Russian war crimes). He claims that Georgia is one of the select few nations "whose legal systems have been completely modified to facilitate cooperation with The Hague." Is the Georgian government prepared to carry out its duties and detain and deliver the Russian President to The Hague Court if he shows up on its soil? The dominant party does not yet have a definitive response to this question.

Reputational damage

The Kremlin has consistently denied that they have committed war crimes. The issuance of arrest warrants for Putin and Lvova-Belova means that such a powerful, influential, pan-European organization as the International Criminal Court no longer believes in them. All this, of course, creates "reputational inconvenience."

In summary, we can conclude that the probability of Putin being arrested is quite low at this stage (though it should be noted that, at the time, it seemed improbable that former president of Serbia Slobodan Milosevic would be brought before The Hague Tribunal, yet it did happen). The arrest warrants for Putin and Lvova-Belova today are nothing more than the first step in a long process of holding Russia and its leaders accountable. With the issued warrant, it is possible to reduce/stop the deportation of Ukrainian children from their homeland, limit Putin's freedom of movement, reveal the real attitudes of other states, and cast a shadow on the Kremlin's reputation. The issuance of Putin's arrest warrant by the ICC also carries a special symbolic meaning. The international community's reaction to Russia's criminal actions is a ray of hope for the Ukrainian people. As Volodymyr Zelensky noted, this is a "historical decision that must be followed by historical responsibility."


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