Ukraine War: International Criminal Court Judge Issues Arrest Warrant Against Russian President Vladimir Putin for War Crimes

Ukraine War: International Criminal Court Judge Issues Arrest Warrant Against Russian President Vladimir Putin for War Crimes

On March 17, 2023, the Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladmir Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, for their alleged involvement in committing war crimes in the context of the Ukraine War. [1] The ICC’s decision came in the backdrop of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, and subsequent decision of ICC’s prosecutor to proceed with a formal investigation into the allegations of international crimes committed in the Ukraine war. [2] The decision to indict President Putin is not the first time issuing an arrest warrant against a sitting head of State. Previously in 2009, the ICC had similarly issued an arrest warrant against then Sudanese President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir for alleged commission of crime against humanity and genocide in Darfur region of Sudan. [3]

Context- Ukraine War and International Crimes

On 24 February 2022, Russian President Putin launched a special military operation and started invading Ukraine in violation of international law.[4] Since then, multiple investigative and human rights reports have alleged that Russian armed forces are responsible for perpetrating crime against humanity and war crimes in Ukraine. [5] [6] Initially, the international community and legal scholars were pessimistic about the possibility of ICC’s intervention and justice efforts against Putin. As a result, many legal scholars had even suggested the idea of creating a hybrid tribunal to prosecute Putin for crime against aggression against Ukraine. [7]

During the course of the invasion, an unprecedented number of 43 countries had jointly referred the situation of Ukraine to the ICC, which had removed the procedural hurdles.  On March 17, 2023, the ICC pre-trial chamber issued an arrest warrant against Putin and Maria, based on the evidence submitted by the Office of Prosecutor (OPT). The charges leveled against them include the war crime of unlawful deportation of Ukrainian children from occupied territories of Ukraine to the Russian Federation (under articles 8(2)(a)(vii) and 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute). These war crime charges came after evidence suggesting that Russian-run sites had transferred and relocated thousands of Ukrainian children for the purpose of re-educating and making them ‘Pro-Russian’. [8]

Moreover, both of them are alleged to bear individual responsibility for having committed war crimes of deported Ukrainian children (i) acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others [Art 25 (3) (a)]; and (ii) under command responsibility [Art 28 (b)].The Russian government had harshly responded citing that arrest warrant and criminal prosecution is illegal, since Russia is not a signatory to Rome Statute of ICC; they also retaliated by opening a criminal case against ICC judges and prosecutors. [9]

The Question of Jurisdiction and Challenges in Enforcing Arrest Warrant Against Putin 

Neither Russia nor Ukraine is a State party to the Rome Statute. As a result, ICC generally does not have a jurisdiction over the crimes committed in both territories. But in September 2015, the Ukraine government lodged a declaration under Art 12(3) allowing ICC’s jurisdiction over crime committed in the Ukrainian territory or its nationals from 20 February 2014 onwards. As a result, the ICC has jurisdiction over international crimes committed in the territory of Ukraine, including war crimes of deporting children from occupied territories of Ukraine to the Russian Federation. 

The most compelling question or challenge before the ICC is enforcement of an arrest warrant against a sitting Russian President Putin. The ICC does not have an international police body to enforce warrant and arrest the suspects, the court mostly relies on good faith and cooperation of State parties. At present, there are 123 State parties to ICC, and each State Party has a legal obligation to cooperate and take immediate steps to arrest the suspect and enforce the warrant, if the accused is in their territory (Art 59 of Rome Statute). But, there are significant challenges to enforce arrest warrants, especially when the suspect is head of the State or possess State immunity. Though, ICC clearly prohibits exemption of enforcement on the basis of official capacity, nevertheless, there are examples like the failure of ICC State Parties to arrest then Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, while he was visiting their countries. The ICC’s in its decision in Jordan Referral re Al-Bashir Appeal, had categorically ruled that Jordan failure to arrest Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashor, is a clear breach of international obligation under Rome Statute; and also concluded that the question of State immunity does not arise in proceedings before the ICC (Art 27 of Rome Statute). [10]  In conclusion, there is no doubt that execution of an arrest warrant against President Putin is similarly going to face significant legal and practical challenges, and certainly going to test the State compliance of the ICC decision and orders.

Citation Sources and Further Readings 

[1] International Criminal Court (17th March 2023).  Situation in Ukraine: ICC judges issue arrest warrants against Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Retrieved 22 March 2023 from

[2] Jaime Lopez & Brady Worthington (10th March 2023). The ICC Investigates the Situation in Ukraine: Jurisdiction and Potential Implications, LawFare, Retrieved 22 March 2023 from 

[3] Pre-Trial Chamber of ICC (4th March 2009). Decision on the Prosecution’s Application for a Warrant of Arrest against Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir, ICRC, Retrieved 22 March 2023 from

[4] John B. Bellinger III (28th Feb 2022). How Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Violates International Law, Council on Foreign Relations, Retrieved 22 March 2023 from

[5] Yousur Al-Hlou, Masha Froliak, Dmitriy Khavin, Christoph Koettl, Haley Willis, Alexander Cardia, Natalie Reneau & Malachy Browne (22nd Dec 2022). Caught on Camera, Traced by Phone: The Russian Military Unit That Killed Dozens in Bucha, NEW YORK TIMES, Retrieved 22 March 2023 from

[6] Human Rights Watch (3rd April, 2022). Ukraine: Apparent War Crimes in Russia-Controlled Areas  Summary Executions, Other Grave Abuses by Russian Forces, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH, Retrieved 22 March 2023 from

[7] Oona A. Hathway (20th September 2022). The Case for Creating an International Tribunal to Prosecute the Crime of Aggression Against Ukraine, JUST SECURITY, Retrieved 22 March 2023 from

[8]Yale School of Public Health’s Humanitarian Research Lab (HRL) (14th Feb 2023). Russia’s Systematic Program for the Re-education and Adoption of Ukraine's Children, CONFLICT OBSERVATORY, Retrieved 22 March 2023 from

[9] Mark Trevelyan (20th March 2023). Russia defies Putin arrest warrant by opening its own case against ICC, REUTERS, Retrieved 22 March 2023 from

[10] In the Case of Prosecutor v. Omar Hasan Ahmad Al-Bashir [2019], ICC Appeal Chamber, ICC-02/05-01/09 OA2,  Retrieved 22 March 2023 from  ,