ICC points arrest warrants for two senior Russian officers

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague said on Tuesday it is seeking the arrest of former Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and current military Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov. 

The charges pertain to alleged crimes committed during Russia’s war in Ukraine

Attacks on energy infrastructure at heart of the warrants

The court said in a press release on Tuesday that there were “reasonable grounds to believe that the two suspects bear responsibility for missile strikes carried out by the Russian armed forces against the Ukrainian electric infrastructure from at least 10 October 2022 until at least 9 March 2023.” 

Ukraine looks to secure infrastructure from winter strikes

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The Russian officials are accused of responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity for directing attacks against civilians and civilian objects in Ukraine. 

Until Shoigu’s relatively recent dismissal and reassignment to the country’s security council, the two men were arguably President Vladimir Putin’s most senior defense officials. Andrey Belousov has since taken over as defense minister.

Russia dismisses charges as ‘void’ and part of ‘West’s hybrid war’ 

The Russian Security Council dismissed the arrest warrants as pointless in its initial response on Tuesday, describing them as “a shaking of the air,” an idiom for an action with no real impact. 

“This is a shaking of the air, as the ICC’s jurisdiction does not extend to Russia, and was adopted as part of the West’s hybrid war against our country,” the press service of the Russian Security Council said, as relayed by the Interfax news agency. 

It described the decision as “null and void.” 

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said earlier this year, commenting on other ICC warrants against a pair of military officials, that Russia did not recognize ICC decisions, as Moscow was “not party ot the statute.” 

Who are Shoigu and Gerasmiov? 

Shoigu, 69, served as defense minister for more than a decade under Putin, starting in 2012, prior to his unexpected dismissal in May. 

He’s known to be close to Putin, the pair were famously pictured bare chested hiking and fishing together on holiday in Shoigu’s native Siberia. 

His position was weakened by the arrest of one of his deputies this April amid a major corruption scandal. 

Gerasimov, 68, was also appointed to his post in 2012. He’s the overall commander of the Russian war effort in Ukraine. 

Gerasimov has stayed in his post but is also deemed vulnerable, with his deputy at the General Staff among those detained and under investigation in the corruption probe. 

In terms of Russia’s military structure, his post is outranked only by two politicians: Putin himself, who is commander-in-chief, and the defense minister.

Both of them faced considerable criticism from the deceased leader of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, in the months before Prigozhin and Wagner’s brief “rebellion,” his subsequent departure for Belarus, and death in a plane crash barely two months later.

Failed Wagner coup one year on

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Eight Russians now facing ICC charges over Ukraine

Putin himself also faces an ICC arrest warrant, connected to the alleged forced relocation of Ukrainian children to Russia and Russian families. That was issued in March 2023. In total, the ICC has sought the arrest of eight Russian officials since its invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

Russia is not a full signatory to the ICC and generally does not extradite its citizens. It’s not clear whether they will ever face trial, therefore. The tribunal has no police force of its own and relies on member states to make arrests on its behalf. 

Ukraine is also not a member, but has granted the ICC authority to investigate and prosecute crimes committed on its territory from the 2014 annexation of Crimea onwards, explaining how the indictments are possible.

If nothing else, the warrants are liable to limit the travel options for the affected officials, assuming they do not want to risk arrest.

msh/rmt (AP, dpa, Reuters)