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Joe Biden says Vladimir Putin has “clearly committed war crimes”, after the Russian leader was made the subject of an arrest warrant by The International Criminal Court (ICC).

The US president also described the ICC’s decision to issue the warrant as “justified”.

It comes after the intergovernmental group – based at The Hague – accused Putin of being responsible for the abduction of children from Ukraine.

An arrest warrant was also issued for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Russia‘s commissioner for children, on similar allegations of war crimes.

The warrants mean if either stepped foot in one of the ICC’s 123 member states that authorities in those countries would be obliged to arrest and transfer them to The Hague.

The Kremlin said Russia, which does not recognise the ICC, found the questions raised by the court as “outrageous and unacceptable”.

But Mr Biden, speaking at a press conference on Friday, said: “He’s [Putin] clearly committed war crimes.

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“I think it’s justified [the warrant]. But the question is – it’s not recognised internationally by us either. But I think it makes a very strong point.”

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What Putin arrest warrant means

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Updates in detail as judges issue warrant for Putin; new jets pledge

Though both Russia and the US were once signatories to the Rome Statute – the treaty that established the ICC – the US has never ratified the agreement, while Russia withdrew after the court’s criticism of its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

Alongside the ICC arrest warrant, the US has separately concluded that Russian forces have committed war crimes in Ukraine.

“There is no doubt that Russia is committing war crimes and atrocities (in) Ukraine, and we have been clear that those responsible must be held accountable,” a State Department spokesperson said.

Russia said the ICC’s warrants were “null and void” as it does not recognise the court.

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‘Russia does not steal children’

Meanwhile, Ms Lvova-Belova said her arrest warrant validated her work “helping the children of our country”.

The allegations come as Russia prepares to celebrate the ninth anniversary of its 2014 annexation of Crimea, which Putin is expected to mark with a “patriotic” rally at Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium this weekend.

What are the allegations?

In a statement, the court alleges the Russian president is “responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population [children] and that of unlawful transfer of population [children] from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation”.

The ICC said its pre-trial chamber found there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that the two suspects are responsible for the alleged war crimes and that Putin “bears individual criminal responsibility”.

Russia has brought thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia but has presented the programme as a humanitarian campaign to protect abandoned children and orphans in conflict zones.

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Putin arrest warrant a ‘historic moment’

Read our report from December:
CCTV shows chilling moment Russian FSB agents and soldiers scour Ukrainian orphanage for children

However, Sky News’ international affairs editor Dominic Waghorn said the chances of Putin going on trial are low.

Assessing the warrants, Waghorn said there is “a long list of people” who have been indicted but never had their day in court.

“Unless the war goes very badly for him – he’s toppled from power and he’s handed over – it’s unlikely he’s going to face trial,” Waghorn said.

How many children have been taken from Ukraine?

The exact number of children taken from Ukraine is unclear, with different organisations offering different estimates.

Waghorn said: “One respected human rights group in America estimates 6,000 children have been deported to Russia, the Ukrainians reckon it’s more like 16,000, and the Russians themselves have said since 2014, 700,000 children have been taken from Ukraine.”

Andriy Yermak, chief of the Ukrainian presidential staff, said Ukraine had cooperated closely with the ICC and was currently investigating over 16,000 cases of forced child deportation to Russia.

Arrest warrant makes diplomatic solution more problematic


Dominic Waghorn - Diplomatic editor

Dominic Waghorn

International Affairs Editor

@DominicWaghorn

Sky News was the first to reveal video evidence of Russian soldiers searching a place of sanctuary in Ukraine looking for children.

In December we broadcast chilling CCTV footage from an orphanage in Kherson where 15 children were taken at gunpoint by the Russian military and aired claims far younger children suffered the same fate in another orphanage nearby.

One independent study claims 6,000 children have been taken by the Russians, the Ukrainians say the true figure is more than twice that amount.

Throughout this war there have been repeated reports of children being abducted, kidnapped or simply persuaded to go with the Russians and never to return.

We have seen some children resurface in events in Russia some of them presided over by President Putin himself, paraded by the Russians claiming to have saved them from the war and the Ukrainian government that Moscow claims to be run by Nazis.

Those allegations are now the substance of International Criminal Court arrest warrants that go to the very top of the Russian government along with President Putin’s children’s rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova.

She has been seen on Russian state TV weeping, she says with joy, having adopted Ukrainian orphans that she claims to have saved.

She has been unashamed in boasting about what is happening to Ukraine’s children. She claims to believe she is rescuing them.

Outside of Russia she is seen as running a system whereby Ukrainian children are effectively being trafficked into Russia.

The development is very significant. It makes far more problematic hopes that a diplomatic solution can be negotiated to this conflict.

It also puts pressure on countries who have been ambivalent about Russia’s invasion abstaining in UN votes condemning it and colluding in Moscow’s efforts to avoid sanctions.

Ukraine has managed to secure the return of 308 children so far.

ICC investigation of war crimes

In a press conference, the president of the ICC Piotr Hofmanski said the warrants were “an important moment in the process of justice”.

He also said that the judges dealing with the case “determined there are credible allegations against these persons for the alleged crime”.

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ICC prosecutor Karim Khan had opened an investigation a year ago into possible war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Ukraine.

Mr Khan highlighted during previous trips that he was also examining the targeting of civilian infrastructure and alleged crimes against children, who have special protection under the Geneva Convention.

Ukraine is not a member of the court but has granted the ICC jurisdiction over its territory.

Ukrainian and international response

In his nightly address to the nation, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called it a “historic decision, from which historic responsibility will begin”.

“The head of a terrorist state and another Russian official have officially become suspects in a war crime,” he said.

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Zelenskyy reacts to Putin arrest warrant

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly welcomed the ICC warrant, which he said would “hold those at the top of the Russian regime, including Vladimir Putin, to account”.

“Work must continue to investigate the atrocities committed,” he wrote on Twitter.

White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said: “There is no doubt that Russia is committing war crimes and atrocities in Ukraine, and we have been clear that those responsible must be held accountable.”

Josep Borrell, the EU’s representative for foreign affairs and security policy, said the warrants are “just the start of holding Russia accountable for crimes and atrocities in Ukraine”.

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Crucial $60.8bn Ukraine aid package approved by US House of Representatives after months of deadlock

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Crucial .8bn Ukraine aid package approved by US House of Representatives after months of deadlock

The US House of Representatives has approved sending $60.8bn (£49bn) in foreign aid to Ukraine.

Democrats and Republicans joined together after months of deadlock over renewed American support to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion.

Representatives could be seen waving small Ukrainian flags as it became clear the package was going to pass.

Representatives wave Ukrainian flags
Image:
Representatives wave Ukrainian flags

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted to say he was “grateful” for the decision, which he said “keeps history on the right track”.

He said: “Democracy and freedom will always have global significance and will never fail as long as America helps to protect it.

“The vital US aid bill passed today by the House will keep the war from expanding, save thousands and thousands of lives, and help both of our nations to become stronger.”

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‘Grateful’ Zelenskyy reacts to US aid

Representatives also approved bills to send foreign aid to Israel and provide humanitarian relief to Palestinians in Gaza, give security assistance to Taiwan and allies in the Indo-Pacific, and a measure containing several foreign policy proposals including a threat to ban Chinese-owned social media app TikTok.

The package will now go to the US Senate, where it is likely to be passed on Tuesday. President Joe Biden has then promised to sign it immediately.

“I urge the Senate to quickly send this package to my desk so that I can sign it into law and we can quickly send weapons and equipment to Ukraine to meet their urgent battlefield needs,” Mr Biden said.

What aid package means for Ukraine after profound impact of delay

The impact of this American blockage has been profound.

I have had multiple conversations with diplomats and military officials in Washington DC and all have said the same thing: the situation for Ukraine is depressing, Russia has the upper hand and prospects for Kyiv, without more weapons, are bleak.

The Ukrainians have been running low on all weapons types, even small arms – bullets for their soldiers’ rifles.

Before the House of Representatives approved the $60.8bn aid package on Saturday, it had been more than 480 days since Congress last passed a bill allowing for American weapons to be sent to Ukraine.

There was a White House budgetary fudge earlier this year which freed up some more cash from an existing bill and allowed for some more weapons to be sent. But it wasn’t enough.

Read more of Mark Stone’s analysis here.

Bill will ‘further ruin’ Ukraine, Russia warns

Moscow said the passage of the bill would “further ruin” Ukraine and result in more deaths.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the TASS news agency a provision allowing Washington to confiscate seized Russian assets and transfer them to Ukraine for reconstruction would tarnish the image of the US.

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Major Russian strike on Ukraine kills eight

‘Ukraine can and will win’

UK Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said the funding was “a vital step forward”.

“If Putin ever doubted the West’s resolve to back Ukraine, this shows our collective will is undimmed,” he tweeted.

“With support, Ukraine can and will win.”

But Donald Trump ally Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican representative who has opposed helping Ukraine in its war against Russia, said “people have been too obsessed with voting for foreign wars and the war industry”.

Speaking after the vote passed, she said: “This is the sellout of America today. When we had members of Congress in there waving the Ukrainian flag on the United States House of Representatives floor, while we’re doing nothing to secure our border, I think every American is going to be furious.”

Mr Biden first requested the funding in October, as Ukraine’s military supplies began to dwindle.

In February, Mr Zelenskyy urged Congress to pass the funding, saying if it did not “it will leave me wondering what world we are living in”.

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TikTok could be banned in US after House of Representatives passes bill

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TikTok could be banned in US after House of Representatives passes bill

TikTok could be banned in the US if the social media app’s Chinese owner doesn’t sell its stake after the House of Representatives voted in support of the measure.

The TikTok legislation has been included in a US foreign policy package, which has already seen representatives approve sending $60.8bn (£49bn) in foreign aid to Ukraine, security assistance for Taiwan and allies in the Indo-Pacific, and will likely see the approval of foreign aid funding for Ukraine and Israel.

Once approved, the package will then go to the US Senate, where it is likely to be passed on Tuesday. President Joe Biden has said he would sign the TikTok legislation once it reaches his desk.

If the bill becomes law, the owner of the popular video-sharing app will have nine months to find a buyer, with a possible three-month extension while a sale is in progress, or face a ban.

A previous bill passed by the House last month would have given owner ByteDance only six months to sell.

The company will likely try to challenge the law in court, arguing it would deprive the app’s millions of users of their First Amendment rights, which protect freedom of speech.

Such court challenges could significantly delay the timeline set out by Congress or block the law from coming into effect.

TikTok’s chief executive has appealed to US users directly to campaign to stop the bill.

“We will not stop fighting and advocating for you,” Shou Zi Chew said in a video posted on the platform last month that was directed at the app’s users.

“We will continue to do all we can, including exercising our legal rights, to protect this amazing platform that we have built with you.”

The FBI has warned TikTok owner ByteDance could share user data, such as browsing history, location and biometric identifiers, with China’s authoritarian government.

TikTok has said it has never done that and would not do so if asked.

Read more on Sky News:
Home Office to pay TikTok influencers urging migrants not to cross Channel
How ‘TikTok idiots’ are disrupting police investigations

In 2022, Mr Biden banned the use of TikTok by the federal government’s nearly four million employees on devices owned by its agencies, with limited exceptions for law enforcement, national security and security research purposes.

The approved bill including the TikTok legislation would also allow the US to seize frozen Russian central bank assets to help rebuild Ukraine and impose sanctions on Iran, Russia and China, as well as criminal organisations that traffic the drug fentanyl.

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Crucial $60.8bn Ukraine aid package approved by US House of Representatives after months of deadlock

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Iran grounds flights across country after reports of explosions

The US House of Representatives has approved sending $60.8bn (£49bn) in foreign aid to Ukraine.

Democrats and Republicans joined together after months of deadlock over renewed American support to help Ukraine fend off Russia’s invasion.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy tweeted to say he was “grateful” for the decision, which he said “keeps history on the right track”.

He said: “Democracy and freedom will always have global significance and will never fail as long as America helps to protect it.

“The vital US aid bill passed today by the House will keep the war from expanding, save thousands and thousands of lives, and help both of our nations to become stronger.”

US President Joe Biden first requested the funding in October, as Ukraine’s military supplies began to dwindle.

In February, Mr Zelenskyy urged Congress to pass the funding, saying if it did not “it will leave me wondering what world we are living in”.

Representatives also approved a bill providing security assistance to Taiwan and other allies in the Indo-Pacfic, as well as a bill containing several foreign policy proposals including a threat to ban Chinese-owned social media app TikTok.

It will vote on one further bill to send money to Israel.

Once approved, the package will go to the US Senate, where it is likely to be passed on Tuesday. Mr Biden has then promised to sign it immediately.

This breaking news story is being updated and more details will be published shortly.

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