International court seeks the arrest of 2 Russian officers over attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure

FILE - An exterior view of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants Tuesday, March 5, 2024, for two high-ranking Russian military officers on charges linked to attacks on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine that judges said happened “pursuant to a state policy.” It's only the second time the global court has publicly announced arrest warrants linked to Russia's war in Ukraine. In March 2023, the court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes, accusing him of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

FILE – An exterior view of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants Tuesday, March 5, 2024, for two high-ranking Russian military officers on charges linked to attacks on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine that judges said happened “pursuant to a state policy.” It’s only the second time the global court has publicly announced arrest warrants linked to Russia’s war in Ukraine. In March 2023, the court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes, accusing him of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants Tuesday for two high-ranking Russian military officers on charges linked to attacks on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine that judges said happened “pursuant to a state policy.”

It’s only the second time the global court has publicly announced arrest warrants linked to Russia’s war in Ukraine. In March 2023, the court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin for war crimes, accusing him of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine.

On Tuesday, the court announced warrants for Russian Lt. Gen. Sergei Ivanovich Kobylash, who was commander of the Long-Range Aviation of the Aerospace Force at the times of the alleged crimes. Also wanted is Russian Navy Adm. Viktor Kinolayevich Sokolov, who was the commander of the Black Sea Fleet.

They are wanted for the war crime of directing attacks at civilian objects, causing excessive incidental harm to civilians or damage to civilian objects, and the crime against humanity of inhumane acts.

“I have repeatedly emphasized that those responsible for actions that impact innocent civilians or protected objects must know that this conduct is bound by a set of rules reflected in international humanitarian law,” ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said in a statement. “All wars have rules. Those rules bind all without exception.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said the warrants should serve as a warning to other Russian top brass.

“Every Russian commander who orders strikes against Ukrainian civilians and critical infrastructure must know that justice will be served. Every perpetrator of such crimes must know that they will be held accountable,” Zelenskyy wrote on X, formerly Twitter.

Ukrainian Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin welcomed the warrants, saying they were supported by evidence provided by Ukrainian agencies. He called them “another milestone in ensuring justice for all victims and survivors of this war.”

Kostin also applauded the crime against humanity charge, the first by the ICC in its Ukraine investigation. He said the crimes were “committed on a massive scale” far from the front lines and with no military justification.

The court said that judges who reviewed the evidence presented by prosecutors said that there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that the two men are responsible for “missile strikes carried out by the forces under their command against the Ukrainian electric infrastructure” from Oct. 10, 2022 until at least March 9, 2023.

“During this time frame, there was an alleged campaign of strikes against numerous electric power plants and sub-stations, which were carried out by the Russian armed forces in multiple locations in Ukraine,” the court said.

Russian forces have repeatedly targeted Ukrainian infrastructure since launching its invasion more than two years ago.

The court said the campaign “qualifies as a course of conduct involving the multiple commission of acts against a civilian population, pursuant to a state policy.”

The judges found “reasonable grounds to believe that the alleged strikes were directed against civilian objects, and for those installations that may have qualified as military objectives at the relevant time, the expected incidental civilian harm and damage would have been clearly excessive to the anticipated military advantage.”

Kobylash is head of the Russian air force’s Long-range Aviation Command, which reportedly includes both Tu-95 prop-driven bombers and Tu-160 supersonic bombers.

Russian war bloggers reported that Sokolov was dismissed from his post last month, although there has been no official confirmation yet. The reports of Sokolov’s dismissal followed the loss of a Russian amphibious assault ship and a missile corvette, which were sunk by Ukrainian sea drones last month.

There is little prospect that either of the suspects will be turned over to face trial in The Hague. Russia isn’t a member of the global court, doesn’t recognize its jurisdiction and refuses to hand over suspects charged by the court.

The court didn’t release details of the warrants, “in order to protect witnesses and to safeguard the investigations.”

But it said it publicized the warrants while “mindful that conduct similar to that addressed in the present situation, which amounts to violations of international humanitarian law, is alleged to be ongoing” and saying that publication “may contribute to the prevention of the further commission of crimes.”

When it issued the arrest warrant for Putin last year, the court also issued another for Maria Lvova-Belova, the commissioner for Children’s Rights in the Office of the President of the Russian Federation on the same charges of involvement in child abductions.

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