The International Criminal Court on Friday issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin on the grounds he has overseen the war crime of forcible deportation of Ukrainian children during Moscow's invasion of Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy welcomed the ICC's action as "historic." The Kremlin reacted strongly, with Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov calling it "outrageous" and "unacceptable," according to Interfax news agency.

While there is little chance Russia will agree to a handover of Putin under the current regime, his ability to travel would be largely restricted as he could face arrest if he visits any ICC member state, including Japan.

Russian President Vladimir Putin chairs a Security Council meeting via a videoconference in Moscow on March 17, 2023. (Kremlin Pool Photo/AP/Kyodo)

It is the first time the court in the Hague has issued an arrest warrant for a sitting head of state of a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council. Neither Russia nor Ukraine is a party to the court but Kyiv allows ICC jurisdiction over war crimes.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said there are "reasonable grounds" to believe Putin bears criminal responsibility for "the unlawful deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children" from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia.

"Incidents identified by my office include the deportation of at least hundreds of children taken from orphanages and children's care homes," he said in a statement. "Many of these children, we allege, have since been given for adoption in the Russian Federation."

The court also issued an arrest warrant for Maria Lvova-Belova, Russian presidential commissioner for children's rights, on the same charges.

Khan said the arrest warrants against the two are only "a first, concrete step with respect to the situation in Ukraine," noting that the Eastern European country has become "a crime scene that encompasses a complex and broad range of alleged international crimes."

"We will not hesitate to submit further applications for warrants of arrest when the evidence requires us to do so," he said.

U.S. President Joe Biden called Putin a "war criminal" following Russia's invasion of Ukraine that began in February last year, and after reports surfaced of killings of many civilians in the Ukrainian town of Bucha that was occupied by Russian troops.

Following the ICC's move to issue arrest warrants, Biden told reporters on Friday that Putin "clearly committed war crimes."

A U.S.-backed report released in February this year said at least 6,000 Ukrainian children have been held in camps and other facilities in Russia and Russian-occupied Crimea since the start of the war last year.

The report by the Conflict Observatory provides evidence of the Russian government's systematic efforts to sever communication links between the deported children and their relatives in Ukraine, prevent the children's return to Ukraine, and "re-educate" them to become pro-Russia, according to the U.S. State Department.

The United States, meanwhile, is not a party to the ICC.

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