Saturday, 18 March 2023 01:48

What to know after Day 387 of Russia-Ukraine war

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International court issues warrant for Putin's arrest

International Criminal Court (ICC) on Friday issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, alleging Moscow's forcible deportation of Ukrainian children is a war crime, as the Kremlin reacted with outrage.

Russia has not concealed a programme under which it has brought thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia but presents it as a humanitarian campaign to protect orphans and children abandoned in the conflict zone.

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said the move would lead to "historic accountability", adding that the deportations constituted a policy of "state evil which starts precisely with the top official of this state."

The announcement provoked a furious response from Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia found the very questions raised by the ICC "outrageous and unacceptable", and that any decisions of the court were "null and void" with respect to Russia. Russia, like the United States and China, is not a member of the ICC.

"Yankees, hands off Putin!" wrote parliament Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, a close ally of the president, on Telegram.

"We regard any attacks on the president of the Russian Federation as aggression against our country," he said.

The United States said there was "no doubt" Russia was committing war crimes in Ukraine. The court also issued a warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia's commissioner for children's rights, on the same charges.

Putin, only the third serving president to have been issued an arrest warrant by the ICC, is unlikely to end up in court any time soon. But the warrant means that he could be arrested and sent to The Hague if he travels to any ICC member states.

"This makes Putin a pariah. If he travels he risks arrest. This never goes away. Russia cannot gain relief from sanctions without compliance with the warrants," said Stephen Rapp, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes.

Residents of the Russian capital expressed disbelief at the news. "Putin! Nobody will arrest him," a man who gave his name only as Daniil, 20, told Reuters.

Maxim said, "We will protect him - the people of Russia."

** Putin honors pilots who downed U.S. Drone as 'heroes'

The pilots of two Russian combat jets involved in bringing down an American MQ-9 drone over the Black Sea on Tuesday have been honored by their country.

The United States said that two Russian Su-27s dumped fuel over the drone in a "reckless and unprofessional manner," before one of the planes made physical contact with it, after which the drone became "unflyable and uncontrollable so we brought it down."

In a statement announcing awards, the Russian Ministry of Defense said the pilots had "prevented the violation" of a military exclusion zone established by Moscow, though they also insisted they "did not come into contact" with the U.S. drones or deploy their weapons.

The Russian statement said the awards had been presented by Sergei Shoigu, the country's minister of defense and a key ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. It said the U.S. drone violated the borders of an area established by Moscow "for the purposes of conducting a special military operation," the official Russian description for the invasion of Ukraine.

It continued: "In order to identify the intruder, fighters from the air defense forces on duty were lifted into the air. [The] MQ-9 went into uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surface. Russian fighters did not use airborne weapons, did not come into contact with an unmanned aerial vehicle and returned safely to their home base."

Anatoly Antonov, Russia's ambassador to the U.S., told Newsweek that it was "a shame" that America had lost its drone.

He added: "I repeat, for those who have not gathered themselves to look at the situation objectively: Our fighters did not come into contact with the American UAV. Russia did everything possible to prevent this kind of incident—it informed the international community in good time about the boundaries of the temporary airspace regime established for the special military operation."

On Thursday, the U.S. European Command released footage that appears to show a Russian Su-27 dropping liquid over the American drone, after which the camera cuts out, immediately before the collision reportedly took place.

In an accompanying statement it said: "Two Russian Su-27 aircraft conducted an unsafe and unprofessional intercept with a U.S. Air Force intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance unmanned MQ-9 aircraft operating within international airspace over the Black Sea on March 14, 2023.

"Russian Su-27s dumped fuel upon and struck the propeller of the MQ-9, causing U.S. forces to have to bring the MQ-9 down in international waters."

Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia's Security Council, told state media that Russian authorities hope to be able to recover the drone.


Kremlin dismisses ‘outrageous’ ICC claims

Moscow is under no obligation to acknowledge the arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin announced by the International Criminal Court on Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said.

“We consider the very premise outrageous and unacceptable,” Peskov told reporters when asked about the warrant for purported war crimes. “Russia, like many other states, does not recognize the jurisdiction of this court. Accordingly, the Russian Federation considers any of its pronouncements null and void from the legal standpoint.”

The ICC on Friday issued warrants for the arrest of Putin and Russia’s Children’s Ombudsman Maria Lvova-Belova, accusing them of unlawful transfer of children from Ukraine to Russia. They claim Putin and Lvova-Belova bear both individual and command responsibility for the alleged war crime.

The Russian authorities have evacuated thousands of residents from Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporozhye and Kherson – four regions that overwhelmingly voted to join Russia last September – to the interior, due to the deliberate shelling of civilians by Ukrainian forces, often using NATO-supplied weapons.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine have ratified the Rome Statute that established the ICC. The US, which underwrote the tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda on which the ICC was based, adopted a law authorizing a military invasion of the Netherlands if any American is ever detained by the court. 

** Not so fast: Russian forces block Ukrainian army from leaving Artyomovsk

Russian forces are steadily advancing in Artyomovsk (known as Bakhmut in Ukraine) having thwarted the attempted withdrawal of several Ukrainian army units, acting head of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) Denis Pushilin said on Friday.

"We saw that several Ukrainian army units tried to get out of there, but they were thwarted by our forces," he said in an interview with Russia’s Channel One. "The situation is steadily developing toward the liberation of this settlement."

Artyomovsk is located in the Kiev-controlled part of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). Fierce fighting for control of the city is underway. According to the latest data, Russian forces have blocked or taken control of all paved roads to the city while the nascent spring mud season is complicating logistics efforts to supply the Ukrainian army with fresh ammunition and personnel.