Yesterday, the International Criminal Court in The Hague issued an arrest warrant related to war crimes for Russian President Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and one of his top officials. The despot deserves it more than he.
This is a major event because of the players and the crimes in question, but fundamentally nothing out of the ordinary happens here. A person has committed a series of crimes and the authorities want to arrest her so she can answer for what she has done and face the consequences. The main difference is the scale, and that scale makes the need for accountability more acute, not less.
Ultimately, everyone understands that the chances of Putin ever seeing the inside of an ICC courtroom are zero. The court lacks its own enforcement mechanisms, and even if it did have a police force, the Russian president is safely ensconced in the Kremlin and its fortified dachas. When he does venture out, international governments would have to weigh the potentially extreme reaction against the costs of trying to arrest him.
Still, it’s important to formally establish that his war crimes allegations have been investigated and enough evidence gathered for an arrest, particularly as they relate to more than the obvious fact that Putin violated international law by invading Ukraine. Specifically, the warrants against him and his Commissioner for Children’s Rights, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, relate to the forced deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia, a fact pattern that seems awfully close to one of the definitions of genocide.
Along with United Nations investigations into crimes such as the deliberate targeting of Ukrainian civilians, these records will establish for posterity how the would-be tsar not only caused thousands of deaths and a litany of destruction in the service of his territorial ambitions, but also he did while intentionally violating the rules of war in order to cause maximum devastation. Whether Putin himself will ever face justice or not, the investigations have set him up for a harsh trial in the court of history.