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Q&A: What the ICC arrest warrants mean for Russia’s Putin

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has called for the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin on suspicion of unlawful deportation of children and illegal transfer of people from the territory of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.

It also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Russia’s children’s rights commissioner, on similar charges.

Moscow has denied allegations that its troops committed atrocities during its year-long invasion of its neighbour.

In Moscow’s initial reaction to the news, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on her Telegram channel: “The decisions of the International Criminal Court have no meaning for our country, not even from a legal point of view.”

“Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and bears no obligations under it,” she wrote.

Russia signed the Rome Statute in 2000, but never ratified it to join the ICC, eventually withdrawing its signature in 2016.

In comments to Al Jazeera, the ICC said this is irrelevant.

Here’s a Q&A with ICC President Piotr Hofmanski, slightly edited for clarity:

Al Jazeera: Russia says it does not recognize the ICC. It signed the Rome Statute but never ratified it. What does this mean for Putin?

Hofmanski: This is completely irrelevant (the fact that Russia has not ratified the Rome Statute). According to the ICC Statute, which has 123 States Parties, two-thirds of the entire international community, the court has jurisdiction over crimes committed on the territory of a State Party or a State that has accepted its jurisdiction. Ukraine has accepted the ICC twice – in 2014 and then in 2015.

Forty-three states have referred the situation in Ukraine to court, meaning they have formally activated our jurisdiction. As of November 2013, the court has jurisdiction over crimes committed against anyone on the territory of Ukraine, regardless of the nationality of the alleged perpetrators.

Al Jazeera: If Putin travels outside Russia, can he be arrested?

Hofmanski: Yes, under the statute, all states parties have a legal obligation to fully cooperate with the court. (This includes) the obligation to arrest any person in respect of warrants of arrest issued.

Al Jazeera: There are two cases that you have filed, but there are many more allegations of atrocities. Should we expect more?

Hofmanski: The situation is still in the hands of the prosecutor. So far there have been two requests for arrest warrants and the answer will be given on the basis of these requests, but this obviously does not mean that the situation of the cases is over. The cases are expandable. New allegations can be formulated by the public prosecutor on the basis of collected evidence.

Al Jazeera: There was speculation among numerous experts and insistence on genocide and crimes against humanity. Can you clarify the choice of language here and the choice of charges?

Hofmanski: No, we are not talking about crimes against humanity. According to the decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber, the arrest warrants are for alleged war crimes such as the deportation of children from the territories occupied by Ukraine to the Russian Federation. These are both suspects.

Al Jazeera: China is trying to broker peace, and it seems to be making some progress. Is there a concern that these orders will actually prolong the war?

Hofmanski: This is a political consideration. We do our job. We are a court, and we act on the request of the public prosecutor, which is an independent agency, and we do what is expected of us.

Al Jazeera: There have been reports of children being taken from across the border in both Russia and Ukraine. Are you getting cooperation from different authorities to get all that together?

Hofmanski: This is my understanding. But I must tell you that the contents of the arrest warrants are classified, according to the decision of the chamber. I don’t know what the situation looks like. But the chamber specifically allowed us to share information about the existence of these arrest warrants, about the personal concerns of the alleged crimes – nothing more.

Al Jazeera: As the president of the ICC, aren’t you personally concerned about how this could play out in terms of the ongoing conflict?

Hofmanski: I repeat, we are a court. We are, of course, well aware that we are not acting in a political vacuum. But we cannot be thinking about political consequences. The statute very clearly spells out our mandate, and we simply act on the mandate to deliver on the promise of the Rome Statute, including the preamble.