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FLASH ALERT: ICC ISSUES ARREST WARRANTS FOR PUTIN AND LVOVA--BELOVA, HIGH RISK OF INCREASED TENSIONS

Gabriel Helupka, Sophia Ritscher, Agathe Labadi, Arnold R. Koka, Virginia Martos Blanco, Kahlil Alavi, Dan Flanagan, Elvire Vérant, Emanuela Bulferetti, Megan McCluskey

Evan Beachler, Cameron Munoz, Editors; Jennifer Loy, Chief Editor

March 18, 2023


International Criminal Court[1]


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) is issuing a FLASH ALERT for citizens of Ukraine, International Criminal Court (ICC) signatories, and European nations following an arrest warrant issued by the ICC for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Mrs. Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights. The warrant alleges their personal responsibility for war crimes in Ukraine, which include unlawful transportation and deportation of populations, including children, from occupied Ukrainian territories to Russia. The alleged war crimes were committed beginning on February 24, 2022, at the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The ICC has been investigating alleged war crimes for over a year since Ukraine granted the ICC jurisdiction over its territory to investigate.[2]


CTG is on HIGH alert for the safety of Ukraine and the unpredictable course of events and implications that could result from issuing these arrest warrants. The ICC has no legal authority to enforce these warrants and has to rely on the international community to make the arrest. Several countries, including Russia, Ukraine, the United States, and China, are not signatories to the Rome Statute, which establishes the court's legal authority. They do not recognize the jurisdiction and authority of the ICC. There is no indication that the ICC will prioritize the case against Russia, which is highly regarded as a symbolic act. These warrants will VERY LIKELY result in asymmetric Russian retaliatory strikes against Ukraine and will VERY LIKELY negatively impact the prospect of peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. Russia will VERY LIKELY use the ICC’s decision to fuel pro-Russian and anti-Western information operations toward Western audiences.


On March 17, 2023, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for President Putin and Lvova-Belova, Russia’s Presidential Commissioner for Children’s Rights. The warrant alleges their responsibility for the war crime of the illegal deportation and unlawful transfer of populations, including children, from Ukraine to Russia since the invasion’s launch on February 24, 2022. The ICC has investigated possible war crimes in Ukraine since March 2022. The ICC prosecutor, Karim Khan, investigated alleged crimes against Russia’s targeting of children and civilian infrastructure over four trips to Ukraine.[3] The arrest warrants come amid the United Nations (UN) Commission of Inquiry on Ukraine releasing a report on March 16, 2023, on the illegal transfer of Ukrainian children to Russia, concluding that it violates international humanitarian law and constitutes a war crime.[4] President Putin is the third incumbent world leader and the first permanent UN Security Council (UNSC) member to be issued an ICC arrest warrant.[5]


Russia has denounced the ICC’s decision. Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said the warrants “have no meaning for our country, including from a legal point of view.” Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia found it “outrageous and unacceptable.” Zakharova and Peskov both reiterated that Russia is not a party to the Rome Statute and does not recognize the jurisdiction or authority of the ICC. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky praised the ICC decision, saying, "This is a historic decision which will lead to historic accountability.” Russian opposition leaders and several European countries, such as Poland and the Czech Republic, also hailed the decision as symbolic and a first step toward accountability.[6]


Russia's repeated denial of committing war crimes in Ukraine and its stance toward the ICC's authority will almost certainly contribute to disinformation efforts, which very likely aim to strengthen Russian citizens' support for Putin. Russian media disinformation narratives are likely to boost a portrayal that Putin is accused by an organization with no legal authority, likely increasing Russian sentiments that Putin is a victim of Western government propaganda. Increasing domestic support is very unlikely to diminish, allowing Putin to expand his war efforts in Ukraine without experiencing significant political opposition.


The warrant will very likely restrict President Putin’s and Commissioner Lvova-Belova's international travels as they face the risk of arrest. International travel restrictions will likely limit Russia’s participation in the G20 and similar intergovernmental gatherings in countries that are party to the Rome Statute. While arrest is highly improbable, NATO will very likely continue to monitor Putin’s and Lvova-Belova's travel agendas, and there is a roughly even chance that they will make an arrest attempt during visits to third-party countries.

The ICC warrants will likely influence future peace talks, as President Putin will very likely not consider negotiations until the annulment of his warrant. The warrants will very likely boost Ukrainian morale, likely increasing its willingness to fight increased Russian aggression. Russia will very likely engage in retaliatory combat, likely changing its tactics and relying on more destructive weapons.


Russia will almost certainly deploy its cyber arsenal, likely using asymmetrical warfare to respond directly to the arrest warrant’s release. It is very likely that Russia views the warrant as a provocation and will likely retaliate by framing the act as part of a broader, Western-led misinformation campaign. This retaliation could very likely reduce the effectiveness of international institutions, like the ICC or UN, as Russian propaganda spreads online, with the West likely viewed as collective aggressors seeking to damage Putin’s reputation. Russia will likely attempt to attack the ICC’s critical communications and database infrastructure as retaliation for issuing the arrest warrant. This attack effort has a roughly even chance of disrupting ICC work in the short term.


Countries with closer diplomatic and economic ties to Russia will very likely face Western criticism for continuing their relations with Russia. There is a roughly even chance that Western countries will reassess their current relationships with countries that do not condemn Putin’s actions, like Hungary or China. China's President Xi Jinping is very likely to persist in refusing to condemn Russia’s actions, which will very likely strengthen the Russo-Chinese relationship. There is a roughly even chance that China will provide military assistance to aid Russia’s war efforts.


CTG recommends that the Ukrainian Armed Forces remain on high alert in anticipation of a likely Russian response to the arrest warrants. CTG advises that the ICC strengthen its personnel’s due diligence, background verification process, and cyber defense capabilities to oppose Russian cyber-attacks aiming to disrupt the court. Bolstering procedures for internal counterintelligence investigations will very likely help to prevent Russian espionage operations on the court's future investigations and proceedings against high-level Russian officials. CTG recommends that the ICC and NATO monitor Russian legal activities and diplomatic decisions as Russia may withdraw from policies and treaties. Russia will likely escalate the violence against Ukraine to project strength. CTG’s EUCOM, Counter Threat Strategic Communications (CTSC), and Behavior/Leadership (B/L) teams will continue to monitor the situation for any new development and ongoing or future threats. CTG recommends increased communication and cooperation between Ukraine and its allies to ensure the safety of Ukrainian civilians.


CTG assesses that the current threat climate is HIGH due to the threat posed by a retaliatory response by Russian military forces in Ukraine. Disinformation campaigns about this event will likely try to influence public opinion. Evidence of Putin’s and Lvova-Belova’s alleged war crimes is unlikely to reach the Russian population because of censorship and government propaganda. President Putin will very likely demand the annulment of the arrest warrant as a prerequisite for peace negotiations with Ukraine. This is likely as the warrant diminishes Putin’s political and moral credibility, likely pushing potential allies away and limiting Russia’s role on the world stage. The threats are pressing and concerning given their unprecedented nature. A permanent member of the UNSC has never been issued an ICC arrest warrant before, raising already tense relations between Russia and the West.


Analysis indicates that there is a HIGH PROBABILITY of increased escalation in Ukraine. Russia will VERY LIKELY engage in retaliatory acts on the battlefield and the asymmetric cyber domain. The unprecedented nature of this development makes it LIKELY that Russia will attempt to bolster domestic support for Putin through disinformation and strengthen its alliance with China. The arrest warrant will ALMOST CERTAINLY weaken Russia’s international credibility, LIKELY increasing scrutinization of countries that engage in talks to strengthen relations with Russia.

 

[2] International court issues war crimes warrant for Putin, AP News, March 2023, https://apnews.com/article/icc-putin-war-crimes-ukraine-9857eb68d827340394960eccf0589253

[3] Ibid

[4] Deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia is war crime - UN, BBC, March 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-64985009

[5] International court issues war crimes warrant for Putin, AP News, March 2023, https://apnews.com/article/icc-putin-war-crimes-ukraine-9857eb68d827340394960eccf0589253

[6] Reactions to ICC's arrest warrant for Putin citing Ukraine war crimes, Reuters, March 2023, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/reactions-iccs-arrest-warrant-putin-over-ukraine-war-crimes-2023-03-17/

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