ICC accuses two high-ranking Russians of war crimes in Ukraine

By Rob Picheta and Sugam Pokharel, CNN

CNN  —  The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants against two high-ranking Russian military figures, accusing them of war crimes against Ukrainian civilians.

Sergei Kobylash, a lieutenant-general in the Russian Armed Forces, and Viktor Sokolov, an admiral in the Russian Navy, were the pair listed in the warrant.

The ICC said they are responsible for war crimes of directing attacks at civilians, causing excessive harm to civilians and the crime against humanity of inhumane acts.

The court, based in The Hague, the Netherlands, pointed to strikes by Moscow against electric power plants and substations, which were carried out by the Russian armed forces in multiple locations during its war in Ukraine.

Its Tuesday ruling furthered the international community’s efforts to bring justice against top-ranking Russians for Moscow’s war in Ukraine, which crossed the two-year mark last month.

Last March, the ICC issued an arrest warrant against Russian President Vladimir Putin and top official Maria Lvova-Belova, for an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia.

The new warrants mark the first time military commanders have been charged.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky welcomed the move. “Every perpetrator of such crimes must know that they will be held accountable,” he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “International justice requires time, but it is unavoidable.”

But the Kremlin said Russia does not recognize the arrest warrants since it is not a signatory to the ICC’s Rome Statute.

“This is not the first such decision. We are also aware that there are various closed proceedings under way, conducted in secret. So we regard these decisions accordingly,” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday.

Sokolov has been Russia’s commander for its Crimea-based Black Sea fleet since August 2022.

Last year, Ukraine claimed to have killed him in an attack on the occupied peninsula, only for him to appear in an interview days later.

The international community has long accused Russia of committing war crimes in its attacks on Ukraine’s cities and towns, and on key civilian infrastructure.

In December, four Russian soldiers were revealed to have been charged with war crimes against an American who was living in Ukraine during the Russian invasion, according to a historic indictment unsealed in federal court in Virginia.

The case against the Russian soldiers marked the first time the US government has used a decades-old law aimed at prosecuting those who commit war crimes against American citizens.

Russia – like the US, Ukraine and China – is not a member of the ICC. As the court does not conduct trials in absentia, any Russian officials charged would either have to be handed over by Moscow or arrested outside of Russia.

The Kremlin has always dismissed accusations of war crimes.

Located in The Hague, Netherlands, and created by a treaty called the Rome Statute first brought before the United Nations, the ICC operates independently. Most countries on Earth – 123 of them – are parties to the treaty, but there are notable exceptions, including Russia.

The ICC is meant to be a court of “last resort” and is not meant to replace a country’s justice system. The court, which has 18 judges serving nine-year terms, tries four types of crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and war crimes.

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