ICC issues arrest warrants for Russia’s top security leaders

Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu, right, gestures as he speaks to Russian Chief of General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov prior to a meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin with the top military brass in Moscow, Russia, on 19 December 2023. (Photo: AP) (AP)
Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu, right, gestures as he speaks to Russian Chief of General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov prior to a meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin with the top military brass in Moscow, Russia, on 19 December 2023. (Photo: AP) (AP)

Summary

The International Criminal Court issued the warrants for war crimes committed during Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Russia’s former defense minister and its army chief for war crimes committed during Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, ramping up its moves against Russia following charges against President Vladimir Putin and other officials.

The ICC charged Sergei Shoigu, who was defense minister until last month, and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, who is in charge of the war in Ukraine, with directing attacks at Ukraine’s power grid, causing excessive harm to civilians and civilian objects.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that the suspects intentionally caused great suffering or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health, thus bearing criminal responsibility for the crime against humanity of other inhumane acts," the court’s judges said in a statement Tuesday.

Last year, the ICC issued warrants against Putin and a senior Kremlin official, Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, on accusations of mass deportation of children to Russia from occupied areas of Ukraine. That was followed this March by warrants for two Russian commanders the court said were accused of targeting Ukraine’s power grid.

Based in The Hague, the ICC is an independent tribunal established by treaty in 2002 to hold military and civilian leaders accountable for breaches of humanitarian law when a nation’s own legal system can’t or won’t do so.

It is separate from the International Court of Justice, an arm of the United Nations that hears disputes between nations. In addition to Ukraine, both courts have cases involving the Hamas-Israel war.

Violations of the ICC’s founding treaty, the Rome Statute, can carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

It is unlikely either Shoigu or Gerasimov will be arrested anytime soon. Russia, like the U.S., Israel, China and India, hasn’t ratified the Rome Statute. However, both men could be subject to arrest if they travel to countries that are signatories to the ICC.

On Tuesday, Russia’s Security Council called the charges “null and void" and said they were part of “West’s hybrid war against our country," according to state news agency TASS.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the ICC’s move and said that “this decision is a clear indication that justice for Russian crimes against Ukrainians is inevitable."

“It clearly demonstrates that no military rank or cabinet door can shield Russian criminals from accountability," he said in a post on X. “We look forward to more arrest warrants in order to deprive Russia of its sense of impunity."

The court said there were reasonable grounds to believe that Shoigu and Gerasimov were responsible for missile strikes carried out by the Russian armed forces against the Ukrainian electric infrastructure in the period of October 2022 until at least March 2023.

“During this time-frame, a large number of strikes against numerous electric power plants and sub-stations were carried out by the Russian armed forces in multiple locations in Ukraine," the court said.

The campaign to knock out Ukraine’s power grid at issue began on Oct. 10, 2022, with a missile barrage targeting cities across the country. The missiles struck a host of civilian sites, including two public parks in Kyiv, killing more than a dozen people in the capital alone.

Over the next five months, Moscow launched more than 1,000 missiles and 1,000 attack drones into Ukraine, with most of them targeting urban areas and infrastructure, according to Ukraine’s air force. Prolonged blackouts hit many Ukrainian cities, leaving millions of people without electricity. In many buildings, power outages also knocked out the heat.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at the time that the attacks were designed to slow the delivery of munitions.

The ICC has asserted jurisdiction in the Ukraine conflict at Kyiv’s request. The ICC has no police force, but member states are obligated to honor its warrants.

Putin replaced Shoigu as defense minister in a reshuffle in May after he started his fifth term as president. Shoigu, a longtime ally to Putin, was replaced by economist Andrei Belousov. Gerasimov remains in his job.

Write to Georgi Kantchev at georgi.kantchev@wsj.com

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