ICC Issues Arrest Warrants for Former Russian Defence Minister and General Staff Chief

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also been issued with arrest warrants by the International Criminal Court for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia. (AP)

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for former Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov. They are accused of international crimes, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The court’s decision, announced on Tuesday, cites their alleged responsibility for directing attacks on civilian objects and causing excessive incidental harm to civilians or damage to civilian objects.

The allegations against Shoigu and Gerasimov include two war crimes: targeting civilian infrastructure and causing disproportionate harm to civilians. Additionally, they are accused of crimes against humanity. Following the ICC’s announcement, Russian state news agency TASS quoted the Security Council of Russia, led by Shoigu, dismissing the court’s decision as “null and void,” arguing that the ICC’s jurisdiction does not extend to Russia and framing the decision as part of the West’s hybrid war against the country.

Ukrainian officials welcomed the ICC’s decision. President Volodymyr Zelensky stated that the ruling demonstrates no military rank or position can protect Russian criminals from accountability. Ukraine’s human rights ombudsman, Dmytro Lubinets, and Andriy Yermak, head of Ukraine’s presidential office, also expressed their support, emphasizing the importance of holding individuals responsible for their actions.

The arrest warrants place Shoigu and Gerasimov on the ICC’s wanted list. However, the likelihood of them standing trial remains uncertain, as the court does not conduct trials in absentia, and it is improbable that Moscow would hand them over. The ICC has previously issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.

The ICC, located in The Hague, Netherlands, operates independently and was established by the Rome Statute. Although 124 countries are parties to the treaty, significant exceptions include the United States, Russia, and Ukraine. Signatory countries are obligated to arrest and hand over individuals facing ICC arrest warrants.

In a separate case, the European Court of Human Rights found Russia guilty of systemic human rights violations in occupied Crimea since February 2014. This ruling, a significant victory for Kyiv, could pave the way for more cases against Moscow. The court ruled that Russia violated numerous articles of the European Convention on Human Rights, including the rights to life, liberty, security, a fair trial, and the prohibition of inhuman treatment. Russia was also found guilty of violating protocols related to property protection, the right to education, and freedom of movement.

Shoigu, a close ally of Putin, served as Russia’s defense minister for 12 years before being replaced by economist Andrey Belousov last month. He led the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022, which initially caught Kyiv by surprise but was eventually pushed back, revealing the weaknesses in Moscow’s military. Despite this, Shoigu remains a popular figure in Russia, known for his previous role as minister of emergency situations.

Gerasimov has been the head of Russia’s armed forces for over a decade and was a key figure in planning the invasion of Ukraine. He was formally appointed as the overall commander of the campaign in January 2023.

The ICC stated that the alleged crimes by Shoigu and Gerasimov relate to numerous strikes against electric power plants and substations across Ukraine between October 2022 and March 2023. The judges concluded that these strikes targeted civilian objects, constituting a war crime under international humanitarian laws. While some targets could have had military relevance, the judges determined that the harm to civilians was excessive compared to the military advantage.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan highlighted that the Russian campaign involved multiple acts against civilian populations, suggesting that these actions might amount to crimes against humanity, reserved for the most severe offenses committed as part of a systematic attack on civilians.