The International Criminal Court issues arrest warrants for Russians Shoigu and Gerasimov

The International Criminal Court issues arrest warrants for Russians Shoigu and Gerasimov
The International Criminal Court issues arrest warrants for Russians Shoigu and Gerasimov

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for Sergei Shoigu, former Russian defense minister, and Russian General Valery Gerasimov, in connection with alleged crimes committed during Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This brings to eight the total number of arrest warrants for high-level Russian suspects since the deployment of Russian troops in Ukraine in February 2022. Among those targeted is Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is accused of deporting Ukrainian children to Russia.

While the move was welcomed by Kiev, Moscow dismissed it as having no legal significance. The ICC said Shoigu and Gerasimov are suspected of war crimes and crimes against humanity for their involvement in directing attacks against civilians and civilian targets in Ukraine. The court found «substantial reason to believe» that the two suspects were responsible for missile attacks conducted by the Russian military on Ukrainian electricity infrastructure between October 10, 2022 and at least March 9, 2023.

Russia, not a member of the International Criminal Court, has repeatedly said that Ukraine’s energy infrastructure is a legitimate military target and denies intentionally targeting civilians or civilian infrastructure. Although Ukraine is not a member of the ICC, since November 2013 it has granted the court jurisdiction to prosecute crimes committed on its territory.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy applauded the issuance of arrest warrants, stressing the importance of holding those involved accountable for their actions. However, because the ICC relies on member states to make arrests and has no police force of its own, it is unclear whether any of the Russian suspects will face trial.

Sergei Shoigu, Putin’s close friend and ally, played a significant role in the war and was recently removed from his post as Defense Minister. He was named secretary of Russia’s powerful Security Council, marking one of the most significant changes Putin has made to his military command since the invasion.

Due to Russia’s policy of not extraditing its own citizens and the lack of provisions allowing for trials in absentia at the International Criminal Court, the prospects of bringing Russian suspects to trial are uncertain.

During the specified period, Russia is suspected of launching attacks on numerous power plants and substations across Ukraine. The ICC judges concluded that these attacks were primarily aimed at civilian targets and, where the installations could be considered military objectives, the resulting civilian harm was deemed excessive in relation to any military advantage gained, thus constituting war crimes.

Specific details of the allegations were not disclosed to protect witnesses and preserve the integrity of the investigation.

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan revealed that he had requested the warrants in February, and this case is linked to warrants issued in March for senior Russian commanders Sergei Kobylash and Viktor Sokolov, who are also accused of attacking the power grid.

The ICC investigation in Ukraine includes multiple interconnected lines of inquiry and continues to examine crimes committed against prisoners of war and detained civilians.

The ICC has recently come under scrutiny after seeking arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and three senior Hamas officials. Some of the ICC’s allies in the Ukraine investigation, including Germany, Britain and the United States, have questioned the decision to pursue the warrants in that case. However, most ICC member states, including all European Union countries, have affirmed their respect for the court’s independence. While the United States disputes the ICC’s jurisdiction over the Israel-Hamas conflict, it continues to support the ICC’s investigations in Ukraine.