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ICC issues arrest warrants for two Russian commanders over war crimes in Ukraine

Viktor Sokolov was one of the Russian military officers that an arrest warrant was issued for (REUTERS)
Viktor Sokolov was one of the Russian military officers that an arrest warrant was issued for (REUTERS)

The International Criminal Court has issued arrest warrants for two high-ranking Russian officers, accusing them of war crimes against Ukrainian civilians.

Russian lieutenant-general Sergei Ivanovich Kobylash and Russian Navy Admiral Viktor Kinolayevich Sokolov are wanted over attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure.

Kobylash was commander of the Long-Range Aviation of the Aerospace Force at the time of the alleged crimes while Sokolov was the commander of the Black Sea Fleet.

Judges said there are "reasonable grounds to believe" the two men are responsible for "missile strikes carried out by the forces under their command against the Ukrainian electric infrastructure" from October 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.

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.

The pair are wanted for the war crimes of directing attacks causing excessive harm to civilians and the crime against humanity of inhumane acts.

"I have repeatedly emphasised 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 Zelensky said the warrants should serve as a warning to other Russian top officials.

"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," Zelensky 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.

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

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 recognise its jurisdiction and refuses to hand over suspects charged by the court.