Russia has announced that it plans to hold an informal meeting of the United Nations Security Council in early April to discuss what it calls “the real situation” of Ukrainian children taken to Russia. The announcement comes after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes related to the alleged abduction of Ukrainian children. However, Moscow says that it had planned the council meeting long before the ICC’s announcement. Russia holds the rotating presidency of the council in April.
The ICC said that it was seeking Putin’s arrest because he “is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of [children] and that of unlawful transfer of [children] from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation”. The announcement of the warrants for Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, the commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, was welcomed by Ukraine as a first step towards accountability for crimes following the February 2022 invasion. However, Moscow dismissed the action as “legally void” and “outrageous”.
On Monday, Russia’s top investigative body opened a criminal case against the ICC’s prosecutor and judges, saying there were no grounds for criminal liability on Putin’s part, and heads of state enjoyed absolute immunity under a 1973 UN convention. A report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine on Thursday said there was evidence of the illegal transfer of hundreds of Ukrainian children to Russia. The commission said both parents and children faced many obstacles in establishing contact, with the burden falling primarily on the children. It concluded that the forced deportations “violate international humanitarian law and amount to a war crime”.
The Ukrainian government has said that 16,221 children have been taken to Russia since the war began. ICC prosecutor Karim Khan was quoted by the Courthouse News Service as telling Russia during a conference of justice ministers from more than 30 countries in London on Monday: “Return the children, repatriate the children.” Russia’s United Nations Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called the issue “totally overblown” and said that Moscow wants to explain at the Security Council meeting, which is expected to take place around April 6, that the children were taken to Russia “simply because we wanted to spare them of the danger that military activities may bring”. Nebenzia was asked whether Russia planned on returning the children. “When conditions are safe, of course. Why not?” the Russian envoy replied.