The International Criminal Court has issued a warrant for the arrest of Russian President Vladimir Putin on suspicion of the "unlawful deportation" of children from Ukraine, which would constitute a war crime.
The court also issued an arrest warrant for Putin's commissioner for children's rights, Maria Lvova-Belova.
According to ICC judges, there are "reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children".
Hundreds of children are believed to have been forcibly removed from Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022, with Lvova-Belova accused of overseeing the operation.
'Deliberate Russian policy'
According to Amnesty International, which documented the transfers in a report in November, "in several cases, children fleeing without parents or other guardians towards Ukrainian-held territory were stopped at Russian military checkpoints, and transferred into the custody of Russian-controlled authorities in Donetsk.
"The process of obtaining Russian citizenship has been simplified for children who are alleged to be either orphans or without parental care, and for some people with disabilities. This was meant to facilitate the adoption of these children by Russian families, in violation of international law," the rights watchdog said.
"These actions indicate a deliberate Russian policy related to its deportation from Ukraine to Russia of civilians, including children."
In December 2022, the French association Pour l'Ukraine, pour leur liberté et la nôtre ("For Ukraine, for their freedom and ours"), asked the ICC to examine allegations of "genocide" in relation to the deportations.
Russia does not recognise the authority of the ICC, which is based in The Hague and has a remit to prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity around the world.
In a statement, the court's pre-trial judges said that they had decided to make the warrants public in the hope that it "may contribute to the prevention of the further commission of crimes".
The warrants were requested by the prosecution on 22 February, according to the ICC, just two days before the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.