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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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How will the recognition of Vladimir Putin as a war criminal affect the behavior of European politicians

Photo: War criminal V. Putin's speech to the participants of
Munich Security Conference 2007

On March 17, 2023, the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the Russian Commissioner for Children's Rights. The President of the Russian Federation and the Russian President's Commissioner for Children's Rights allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

This decision has a number of consequences for the head of the Kremlin. First, the delegitimization of Putin's regime is taking place. The President of the Russian Federation was officially suspected of committing war crimes. This, in turn, should affect his position in the international arena. First of all, Putin's reputation will affect his contacts with liberal democracies. The leaders of Germany and France have been pushing Ukraine to negotiate with the Russian Federation for years. After the full-scale invasion and crimes committed by the Russian occupation forces, Olaf Scholz and Emmanuel Macron kept hope for future peace with Russia. Now, calls for negotiations with the war criminal may hit the image of the leaders of democratic countries, and therefore, the option of returning to relations with European states may be closed for Putin. The second consequence follows from the first one – the decision of the ICC is a signal to the Russian elites. Russia has no future with Vladimir Putin and if Russia wants to return to the community of civilized states, the war criminal Vladimir Putin must be extradited to face punishment. The third consequence is the continuation of the process of bringing to justice persons involved in war crimes committed in Ukraine. Ukrainian diplomacy is doing large-scale work with the aim of bringing Russian servicemen and the Russian leadership to justice. One of the latest initiatives in this direction was the Bucha Summit, an event aimed at reminding the world of Russian crimes and sending a signal that all those involved in the murders of Ukrainians will be punished. Likewise, the ICC warrant is a reminder to Vladimir Putin that his decision to launch a full-scale invasion against Ukraine will not be forgotten and he will no longer be able to avoid responsibility for his crime.

Now Vladimir Putin should be arrested upon arrival in one of the 123 countries of the world that have ratified the Rome Statute. Obviously, not all countries will dare to take such a step. After the statement of the ICC representatives, even Russia's partner countries, such as South Africa and Brazil, did not give a clear answer as to whether they would arrest Vladimir Putin in the event of his arrival. They probably won't do it, especially if the topic of the Russian president's responsibility will not be further actively covered in the information space. However, the leaders of these countries will now be less willing to consider the possibility of meeting with the war criminal Putin.

China, on the contrary, may even positively consider the decision of the ICC. First, the PRC is not a signatory of the Rome Statute, and this did not affect China's attitude toward the Russian president. Secondly, the CCP leadership can once again claim double standards on the part of Western structures and play on anti-American sentiments. Third, and most importantly, a weakened, isolated and more controlled Vladimir Putin is beneficial to Xi Jinping. Officially, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China stated that when issuing warrants for the arrest of heads of state, the ICC must adhere to an objective and impartial position, respect the immunity of heads of state from jurisdiction under international law, prudently perform its functions, properly interpret and apply international - legal norms, avoid politicization and double standards. Thus, the PRC has traditionally condemned the "West" and supported the war criminal Vladimir Putin.

The United States of America did not express an unambiguous position. Joe Biden emphasized that the ICC warrant for Putin's arrest makes a strong point and is a justified step, which does not confirm the intention to arrest Putin. Anthony Blinken answered a journalist's question that in his opinion, everyone who is a member of the International Criminal Court and has certain obligations should fulfill their obligations, while reminding that the USA is not a member of the ICC.[1] At the same time, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators are urging Biden to support the ICC's investigation into Russia's war crimes in Ukraine. That means, in the United States there are political groups inclined to a tougher approach to the Russian president. The Biden administration, however, is taking a more cautious approach.

European countries took a more decisive position. In addition to the traditionally determined pro-Ukrainian Eastern European states, Germany expressed its intention to detain the president of the Russian Federation in the event of his arrival. The Federal Minister of Justice of Germany, Marko Buschmann, confirmed that Germany will execute an arrest warrant for Russian dictator.

A significant point is that the conclusion of the International Criminal Court indicated that Putin is suspected of committing a war crime in the form of illegal deportation of the population (children) and illegal transfer of the population (children) from the occupied territories of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.[2] Such actions violate the provisions of the 1948 Convention on Prevention and Punishment of the crime of Genocide. At the same time, on March 16, 2023, the UN Independent International Commission to Investigate Violations in Ukraine published a report that indicated numerous war crimes committed by the Russians, but not genocide. The commission indicated that they found no evidence of genocide.

Thus, the International Criminal Court is starting a case against Putin because of actions that the so-called UN independent commission has not seen. This is a demonstrative example of the ineffectiveness and corruption of major international organizations, as well as the incompetence of many employees of these structures. The commission's conclusion demonstrates the moral decline of Western institutions. Such a situation is certainly unfavorable for Ukraine. Where the non-governmental sector could contribute to ensuring human rights, there are currently attempts to take a stand of an artificial "neutrality" and equate the victim with the aggressor. "Whataboutism" has become extremely popular, when representatives of international organizations accuse Ukraine's partners of supporting the country and try to change the focus of their attention to other international problems. A vivid example was the situation with Amnesty International, which repeatedly accused Ukrainian defenders of self-defense and Ukraine's international partners for "double standards" due to allegedly insufficient attention to the problems of the Middle East, Africa and Asia. In such conditions, one of the tasks of Ukrainian diplomacy became dispelling the negative narratives of international organizations that position themselves as "human rights defenders", as well as countering their attempts to divert the attention of the international community from Ukraine.

In general, according to the Office of the Prosecutor General, the deportation of more than 16,000 Ukrainian children from the Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv and Kherson regions was recorded. At the same time, it is noted that the real figure may be much higher.[3] This is one of the terrible crimes committed by the Russian occupiers during the full-scale invasion. The decision of the ICC demonstrates the irreversibility of the punishment for Vladimir Putin, sends a signal to the Russian elites about the impossibility of restoring ties under the conditions of Putin's rule, and increases the isolation of the Russian dictator. This is another step towards the restoration of justice, which is one of the conditions for ending the war and achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the country. At the same time, the ICJ's decision is only an intermediate stage. Firstly, bringing Putin to The Hague without regime change in Russia is extremely unlikely. Secondly, the issue of the return of Ukrainian children remains unresolved. Child abduction is an attempt to steal the future from the state, so joint efforts of the government, non-governmental sector and international partners are needed to return these children. People are the greatest value that Ukraine has and we must fight for them.

1.  Блінкен сказав, чи заарештують Путіна в США, 22.03.2023,
2. Situation in Ukraine: ICC judges issue arrest warrants against Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Press Release: 17 March 2023,
3.  Судді Міжнародного кримінального суду (МКС) видали ордери на арешт президента росії Володимира Путіна та російської дитячої омбудсменки Марії Львової-Бєлової, 17.03.2023, URL: