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ICC issues arrest warrant for Putin and Russian official tied to alleged deportation of Ukrainian children
From CNN's Hira Humayun
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova, a member of Putin's government, it announced in a news release Friday.
Lvova-Belova is the official at the center of the alleged scheme to forcibly deport thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia.
The ICC said both Putin and Lvova-Belova are “allegedly 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."
Some key background: According to the US and several European governments, Putin's administration has carried out a scheme to forcibly deport thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia, often to a network of dozens of camps, where the minors undergo political reeducation.
“Lvova-Belova’s efforts specifically include the forced adoption of Ukrainian children into Russian families, the so-called ‘patriotic education’ of Ukrainian children, legislative changes to expedite the provision of Russian Federation citizenship to Ukrainian children, and the deliberate removal of Ukrainian children by Russia’s forces,” the US Treasury said in September.
Her government title is commissioner for children’s rights in the Office of the Russian President.
The ICC statement Friday said there are "reasonable grounds to believe that Mr Putin bears individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes," both for having committed the acts directly or through others in his command, and for "his failure to exercise control properly over civilian and military subordinates."
Russia has characterized reports of forcible relocation as “absurd” and said it does its “best” to keep minors with their families.
The ICC announcement comes just days after several US news outlets reported the court was planning to open two war crimes cases tied to the invasion of Ukraine and issue arrest warrants against “several people." According to the New York Times, the ICC was set to first open a case on Russia’s alleged abduction of Ukrainian children. Then a second case would focus on Moscow “unrelentingly” targeting civilian infrastructure, including water supplies and gas tanks.
The cases would represent the first international charges to be brought since the start of Russia’s war and come after months of work by special ICC investigation teams, according to the NYT.
CNN's Mick Krever, Zahid Mahmood and Sugam Pokharel contributed to this report.
Russian forces "partially exhausted" in Bakhmut, Ukrainian soldier says
From CNN's Olga Voitovych in Kyiv
Russian forces have been “partially exhausted” in some parts of Bakhmut, Yurii Syrotiuk, a Ukrainian soldier, told the country’s national broadcaster Friday.
“Last week, the enemy was furiously attacking, and the attacks were of a maximum nature. The enemy was in a hurry, threatening, telling that Bakhmut was surrounded, and sent its soldiers to be killed, in particular, on our part of the front,” Syrotiuk explained. “Accordingly, the fighting was as intense as possible, it exhausted the enemy, and indeed, as of yesterday and today night, the intensity of artillery fire has decreased.”
“This means that we have partially exhausted the enemy, 'bled' it out, and are trying to push them back in our section,” he added.
Ukrainian counter offensives had forced Russia to adopt a more defensive stance, Syrotiuk said, adding that Russian forces had "to move to partially defensive actions, to use barrage fire and cluster munitions. Because to conduct offensive fire at this pace means not only a lot of artillery, but also heavy losses in manpower.”
Despite this assessment, Syrotiuk said the situation in and around Bakhmut remained very active.
“Compared to last week, we can say that the intensity has decreased. But what do we mean by a decrease in the intensity of fire? Here, where I am standing, an enemy mine flies over me about every minute,” he explained. “So we are talking in comparison to last week. Otherwise, the intensity is extremely high. The firefight lasts around the clock."
White House says it has "deep concerns" about Chinese attempts at brokering peace in Ukraine
From CNN's Kevin Liptak
The White House is seeking to preempt attempts by China to frame next week’s meeting between Presidents Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin as a peacemaking mission, suggesting any framework offered by Beijing would be "be one sided and reflect only the Russian perspective.”
John Kirby, a spokesperson for the National Security Council, said a proposal from China could include some type of ceasefire, which he said would merely be a way for Russia to regroup before launching a reprisal. “A ceasefire now is effectively the ratification of Russian conquest,” he said.
“Russia would be free to use a ceasefire to only further entrench their positions in Ukraine to rebuild, refit and refresh their forces so that they can restart attacks on Ukraine at a time of their choosing,” Kirby added.
China has sought to present itself as a neutral peace broker for the war in Ukraine, including releasing a paper calling for a political settlement, but US officials have viewed such proposals with deep skepticism. “We do not believe that this is a step towards a just and endurable peace,” Kirby said.
Meanwhile, the US remains concerned that China may be considering providing Russia with lethal military assistance, but hasn't "seen any indication, any confirmation" that such a decision has been made, Kirby said.
The US has been encouraging Xi to hold a phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to hear the "Ukrainian side as well," and President Joe Biden also remains open to a phone call with Xi, but there is currently no active planning to set up such a conversation, Kirby said.
Turkey agrees to start process for Finland's NATO membership, Erdogan says
From CNN's Amy Cassidy and Yusuf Gezer
Turkey has decided to start the process of ratifying Finland's accession to NATO, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a news conference in Ankara Friday.
"We have decided to start the parliamentary ratification process of Finland's NATO Accession Protocol," Erdogan said.
Finland — along with Sweden — both announced their intention to join NATO in May, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused a sudden shift in attitudes toward joining the bloc.
Erdogan said he believes NATO "will become even stronger through Finland's membership" and "will play a more efficient role in preserving global security and stability."
"With the completion of the ratification process, our relationships with Finland will be fortified on the grounds of NATO Alliance," he said.
Ukraine says Russia has built up defenses in Crimea
From CNN's Tim Lister and Olga Voitovych
Ukrainian intelligence says Russia has created a powerful defensive grouping in the annexed territory of Crimea.
Vadym Skibitskyi, deputy head of Defense Intelligence of Ukraine's Ministry of Defense, said the "Russians have created a defense group on the temporarily occupied Crimean peninsula and are preparing for defensive actions."
"The infrastructure on the temporarily occupied peninsula is maintained in combat readiness. A powerful land and aviation component is deployed in Crimea. For example, there are about 90 combat aircrafts and 60 combat helicopters," Skibitskyi said.
"A defense group has been created, which is taking measures to equip fortifications and the defense line," he told Ukrainian television.
Remember: Ukraine has frequently said that it intends to reclaim all Russian-occupied territory, including Crimea, which was annexed by Russia after a so-called referendum in 2014 that was slammed by Ukraine and most of the world as illegitimate. Troops, dubbed “little green men,” had poured over the border from Russia into the peninsula ahead of the annexation.
Meanwhile, satellite imagery has shown the creation of extensive trench systems in the region.
"They are preparing for defensive actions on the territory of the peninsula," said Skibitskyi, and "have chosen the most dangerous areas where a sea landing operation may be conducted, and now they are preparing defensive lines there."
Russian defense minister presents awards to pilots involved in drone incident
From CNN's Tim Lister and Anna Chernova
Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu has presented state awards to the pilots of the combat aircraft involved in the incident Tuesday over the Black Sea that led to the downing of a US military drone into the water.
The Russian Defense Ministry said that the pilots of the Su-27 aircraft had "prevented the violation by the American MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle of the borders of the area of the temporary regime for the use of airspace, established for the purpose of conducting a special military operation," Russia's term for its full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
The ministry said that "in order to identify the intruder, fighters from the air defense forces on duty were dispatched."
"As a result of sharp maneuvering ... the MQ-9 unmanned aerial vehicle went into uncontrolled flight with a loss of altitude and collided with the water surface," the ministry said on Telegram. "The Russian fighters did not use airborne weapons, did not come into contact with the unmanned aerial vehicle and returned safely to their base airfield."
Footage released by the US military on Thursday shows the Russian fighter jets rapidly approaching the drone, pouring fuel on it, and appearing to damage the drone’s propeller. The US was forced to take the drone down over the Black Sea after the impact made it effectively inoperable, officials said.
Putin and Xi will discuss Ukraine and agree to deepen relations during talks next week, Putin adviser says
From CNN’s Uliana Pavlova and Lindsay Isaac
Russia and China are planning to strengthen relations and agree to a plan for developing further economic cooperation — with military cooperation also on the table — when the leaders of the two countries meet next week in Moscow.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping will sign documents attesting to the closer ties and also plan to discuss the war in Ukraine, according to Putin’s adviser on international relations, Yuri Ushakov.
In an interview with Russian state media TASS, Ushakov said “Moscow highly appreciates the balanced position of the Chinese leadership.”
Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu, as well as the head of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, Dmitry Shugaev, will take part in the discussions around “military-technical cooperation,” Ushakov said.
“Russia and China are satisfied with the highest level of relations that continue to develop, Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow will give them a new impetus,” he added.
The leaders will each publish articles in Russian and Chinese media respectively to “express their assessments of relations” between the nations following the talks. Xi’s visit is expected to be straightforward with “no additional protocol,” according to TASS.
US officials will watch Xi-Putin meeting closely as China weighs sending weapons to Russia
From CNN's Kevin Liptak
American officials say they will be watching intently for signs that China is moving forward with providing weapons to Russia during next week’s summit between Chinese President Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The summit itself did not come as a surprise to the White House since there have been reports such a meeting could occur for weeks. Still, there remain deep concerns the “no limits” partnership Xi and Putin have cemented during previous meetings could deepen during face-to-face talks.
So far, officials have said there hasn’t been any indication that Beijing has made a final decision to assist Moscow’s war efforts with lethal aid. But they have been considering it, according to American officials, who have been monitoring intelligence on a day-to-day basis for indications that Xi is going forward.
Next week’s meeting could provide a venue for such an announcement.
The concern among US officials is not that Chinese weapons would help Russia land a decisive win in Ukraine. Instead, the worry is that lethal aid from Beijing could prolong the conflict, which US officials believe favors Putin.
A drawn-out war could also benefit China if American resources and attention are consumed in Ukraine, instead of in Asia, where Beijing has become increasingly assertive militarily.
Meanwhile, US officials say they are working to get Xi on the telephone with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky, believing that hearing directly from him could prove useful.
"We think that it's important that China has the perspective of Ukraine," Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder told CNN. "Clearly, Russia's motivations are nefarious. They illegally invaded and have occupied Ukraine. We hope that President Xi and the Chinese government would be able to have the benefit of understanding what exactly the impact of their support to Russia is having.”
CNN's Natasha Bertrand contributed reporting to this post.
UN report says Russia's atrocities in Ukraine may be war crimes and crimes against humanity
From CNN's Tim Lister
The independent UN human rights commission released a report on Thursday that concluded Russia committed abuses and atrocities that likely amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
While the bulk of the evidence gathered concerned the conduct of Russian forces, the commission said it had also documented "a small number of violations committed by Ukrainian armed forces, including likely indiscriminate attacks and two incidents that qualify as war crimes."
The report's findings include:
- Russian authorities have committed unlawful transfers and deportations of civilians, including children, and of other protected persons within Ukraine or to the Russian Federation, respectively.
- Russian authorities violated their obligation under international humanitarian law to facilitate in every possibly way the reunion of families dispersed as a result of the armed conflict.
- Russian authorities have committed torture and cruel or inhuman treatment.
- Some members of Russian armed forces committed the war crime of rape and sexual violence — which can amount to torture — in areas they controlled.
- The commission has generally found that Russian armed forces launched or likely launched "indiscriminate" attacks that used weapons that struck both military and civilian objects without distinction. "The multiple examples of such attacks and the failure to take feasible precautions show a pattern of disregard on the part of Russian armed forces for the requirement to minimize civilian harm," the report said.
- Patterns of willful killings, unlawful confinement, torture, rape, and unlawful transfers of detainees in Russian-controlled Ukrainian areas.
The commission said that in the course of gathering evidence it visited 56 cities, towns and settlements and conducted several hundred interviews in person and remotely. It also "inspected sites of destruction, graves, places of detention and torture, as well as weapon remnants; and consulted documents, photographs, satellite imagery and videos."