Russia has hit back after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin, which accuses him of war crimes for his alleged involvement in child abductions from Ukraine.
The ICC said the president is allegedly responsible for the “unlawful deportation of children and unlawful transfer of children from the territory of Ukraine to the Russian Federation”.
It also issued a warrant for the arrest of Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, his commissioner for children’s rights, on similar allegations.
War crimes include torture, mutilation, corporal punishment, hostage taking and acts of terrorism. The category also covers violations of human dignity such as rape and forced prostitution, looting and execution without trial.
Crimes against humanity are acts committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, such as murder, deportation, torture and rape.
So what do we know about Ms Lvova-Belova and other fugitives who are facing ICC arrest warrants?
Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova
Lvova-Belova was appointed by Putin as his children’s rights commissioner in October 2021.
British and Ukrainian officials have accused Lvova-Belova of the forcible deportation and adoption of children from Ukraine during the Russian invasion which began in February 2022.
Lvova-Belova has been sanctioned by the US, Europe, the UK, Canada and Australia.
She claims to be the “saviour” of Ukrainian children caught up in Russia’s so-called “special military operation” but her passionate rhetoric allegedly conceals a sinister plan to deport Ukrainian kids from territories occupied by Russian invading forces.
A recent US report said Russia has held at least 6,000 Ukrainian children in sites in Russian-held Crimea and Russia whose primary purpose appears to be political re-education.
Last month on television, Lvova-Belova thanked Putin for being able to “adopt” a 15-year-old boy from Mariupol, the southeastern Ukrainian city that was destroyed and occupied by Russian forces.
Lvova-Belova was already the mother and guardian of 22 mostly adopted children, according to reports.
She is also a member of the governing body of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, the largest party in the Russian parliament.
Mikhail Mayramovich Mindzaev
The Russian allegedly committed war crimes during the August 2008 conflict between Georgia and Russia over South Ossetia, a breakaway region of Georgia that has very close ties with Moscow.
The war cost hundreds of lives on both sides and forcibly displaced tens of thousands of civilians.
Human Rights Watch found that after Georgian forces withdrew from South Ossetia on 10 August, the Russian-backed South Ossetian forces deliberately destroyed ethnic Georgian villages in South Ossetia that had been administered by the Georgian government.
It said the forces looted, beat, threatened, and unlawfully detained numerous ethnic Georgian civilians, and killed several, on the basis of the residents’ ethnicity and political affiliations.
The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Mindzaev in June 2022. It said the ex-Russian police officer was the minister of internal affairs of the de facto South Ossetian administration from 2005 until 2008.
He was charged with war crimes of unlawful confinement, torture and inhuman treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, hostage taking, and unlawful transfer of civilians.
These were allegedly committed between 8 and 27 August 2008 during the conflict. He is still at large.
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi
Saif al-Islam Gaddafi is a Libyan political figure and second son of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
In 2011, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Saif on two counts of crimes against humanity, which were murder and persecution, allegedly committed in Libya that year.
He was captured by a militia group in 2011 in Libya, as he tried to flee for Niger, but was released from prison in 2017 and is still at large.
In 2021, he registered to run for president, but the election authority rejected his bid.
An arrest warrant was issued in July 2005 for the Ugandan rebel who was allegedly commander-in-chief of militia group the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
His decades-old war kept much of north Uganda trapped in a nightmare of violence, hunger and fear of night-time raids by the LRA.
Child soldiers and their commanders, many barely in their teens, carried out attacks on unarmed villagers, allegedly under Kony’s orders.
Several attempts to capture him by UN and Ugandan forces over the years have failed and he remains on the run.
He is accused of 12 counts of crimes against humanity, which included murder, enslavement, sexual enslavement, rape, and inhumane acts of inflicting serious bodily injury and suffering.
The ICC also accused Kony of 21 counts of war crimes, including murder, cruel treatment of civilians, intentionally directing an attack against a civilian population, pillaging, inducing rape, and forced enlistment of children – these were allegedly committed after 1 July 2002.
Three women killed in brothel in Austria
Police have arrested a man after three women were killed in a brothel in the Austrian capital Vienna.
The women were found with “cuts and stab wounds”, police said.
Police found a fourth woman inside the brothel and she was being questioned by the police as a witness.
A 27-year-old man was arrested in the vicinity of the brothel while carrying a knife, which is suspected to be the weapon.
Police said the suspect is an asylum-seeker from Afghanistan and will be questioned by police later on Saturday.
A witness had discovered traces of blood outside the building, located near the Danube River, and alerted police on Friday evening.
The identities of the three victims remains unclear.
Brothels are legal in Austria.
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‘Significant progress’ in Paris hostage talks – Israeli media
There has been “significant progress” in hostage talks in Paris, according to Israeli media.
Negotiators have been ramping up efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza, in the hope of heading off an Israeli assault on the Gaza city of Rafah where more than one million displaced people are sheltering.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met Egyptian mediators in Cairo to discuss a truce this week on his first visit since December.
A Hamas official said yesterday that the militant group had wrapped up ceasefire talks in Cairo and were waiting to see what mediators bring back from weekend talks with Israel.
It comes after the Gaza’s health ministry said death toll from the nearly five months of war has risen to 29,606. The total number of wounded rose to nearly 70,000.
Speaking on Friday, Hamas political official Osama Hamdan said the militant group has “dealt positively with the proposals and initiatives of the mediators” but that Israel’s position “poses many obstacles to reaching an agreement”.
He said the Israelis had refused the main demands put forward by Hamas to “stop the aggression, to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, to return displaced people to the north (of Gaza), and to make a real reciprocal deal” on exchanging the Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
Mr Hamdan said his group is sticking to these demands.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the militant group’s demands “delusional”.
Israel wants open-ended control over security and civilian affairs in Gaza, according to a long-awaited post-war plan drawn up by Mr Netanyahu.
UK and other NATO allies urged to consider conscription as Ukraine war enters third year
Any move to introduce conscription by Britain and other NATO allies would make a difference to Europe’s defences against Russia, Latvia’s foreign minister has said.
Krisjanis Karins said the larger the country, the bigger the difference.
Asked whether he was advocating such a step, the top diplomat told Sky News that he is “happily sharing” with colleagues the experience of his own nation, which reinstated mandatory military service last year in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
“We think it’s a very good idea for us,” the foreign minister said, speaking on the sidelines of a recent security conference in Germany.
“I think other NATO allies could consider it as well.”
Follow latest: Sunak and Starmer pledge support ‘for as long as it takes’
Latvia, one of the three Baltic states who are members of the NATO alliance, scrapped conscription almost two decades ago.
But it decided to reintroduce the draft as part of a plan effectively to double the size of its armed forces – professionals and reserves – to 61,000 by 2032.
“The point of the draft is to beef up capable, equipped and trained reservists,” Mr Karins, a previous Latvian prime minister, said.
“It’s not replacing the professional army. It’s augmenting the professional army.”
Asked whether he thought it would make a difference if the UK started conscription, the foreign minister said: “I think it would make a difference if any European country [did] – and of course, the larger countries, it would make a bigger difference.”
As for whether this was an idea he was pushing, he said with a smile: “It’s the experience that we have that I’m happily sharing with all of my friends and colleagues.”
But UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, who also spoke to Sky News at the Munich Security Conference last week, sounded less than keen about even training citizens voluntarily – an idea the head of the British Army appears to support – let alone mandatory military service.
“We have a professional army of professional armed forces. It’s really important that they are trained to the highest possible standards,” Mr Shapps said in an interview.
“Everyone knows that in a wartime – First World War, Second World War – scenario, of course, countries have to make other arrangements.
“That’s not the position we’re in now. We have absolutely no plans to do that now. And so that’s not something which is on the agenda currently.”
Yet a Latvian general explained how conscription is about much more than simply generating fresh boots on the ground – it is also about growing a sense of national service and a desire for each citizen to do their bit to help protect the country.
“Everyone has the right to serve – an obligation to serve – the nation,” said Major General Andis Dilans, the Chief of the Joint Staff of the National Armed Forces, Latvia’s second most senior commander.
“This is really the cornerstone of democracy,” he said in an interview in the Latvian capital Riga.
“Therefore, we looked at this not just as a war-fighting force of the conscription, but looking at the connection between the public and the military in case of crisis, in case of war.”
Sky News was invited to visit a training base in southeast Latvia, close to its border with Belarus, a close Russian ally, where a mix of conscripts and other recruits were going through a three-week basic training course with the National Guard.
The National Guard is a branch of the armed forces that is made up of volunteers. At a time of war, they would offer support to the professional military.
“Bam! Bam! Bam!” the recruits shouted, rifles raised, mimicking the sound of gunshots, as they practised a response to an ambush on a muddy shooting range surrounded by forest.
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One group of soldiers provided cover, as a second group moved forward, stopped and then took their turn to provide cover as their colleagues advanced.
Edging close to the site where their pretend enemy had launched the ambush, the troops lobbed an imaginary grenade and hit the ground to brace for what would – if done for real – be a deadly impact, before scrambling forward to press on with their counterattack.
Eduard, 18, was one of seven conscripts among the group of about 20 on the range. All seven were voluntary conscripts, rather than being ordered to serve.
“I think that every man in the world needs to at least try military life,” said Eduard.
Conscripts can choose to go through a solid 11 months of training or stretch it out during five years, in between their civilian lives.
Eduard said he had decided to do the latter so he could continue his studies as well.
As for what he would do if Russia attacked, the young man said: “I will defend my country.”
Maxim, 21, a second conscript, was also enthusiastic about his limited time in uniform.
“I’d recommend that everyone samples the emotions and experiences of military life, then – if they like it – maybe they will seek to join the armed forces full time,” he said.
A total of 39 trainees were going through the basic training course at the Meza Mackevici base of 3rd Latgalian Brigade, National Armed Forces
Split into smaller units of nine to 12 people, they train, eat and sleep together.
Each day starts at 6am and ends at 11pm.
The trainees sleep on bunkbeds in makeshift dormitories that line a one-storey hangar. A canteen is in a second hanger, serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Each morning, they sing the national anthem on a parade ground before three tall flag poles displaying the colours of Latvia, NATO and Ukraine – the war in that country, a constant reminder of why all three Baltic states are doing so much more to mobilise their people.
One instructor, a professional soldier who was sipping soup from a bowl during his lunchbreak, offered his perspective on conscription.
“I think that the most important thing is to awaken the desire to protect and defend your country,” said Staff Sergeant Gunars Brencis, 36.
“[It is] to awaken the patriots in them so that they have the courage to stand up against the enemy if needed.”
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