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China Says Putin Has ‘Immunity’ From War Crimes Prosecution

China threw its considerable political weight behind Vladimir Putin on Monday by challenging the International Criminal Court’s right to prosecute the Russian president.

Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, told a press conference in Beijing that the ICC should “take an objective and just position” and “respect the jurisdictional immunity of a head of state under international law.” The court should “avoid politicization and double standards,” he said.

“China’s position has always been that dialogue and negotiation provides the fundamental way out for the Ukraine crisis,” said Wang, whose comments came shortly before Chinese President Xi Jinping landed in Moscow on a three-day state visit.

In a rare public announcement on Friday, The Hague court issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest for what it determined was the 70-year-old Russian leader’s “individual criminal responsibility” in the unlawful transfer of children from Ukraine to Russia—a war crime.

Both Ukrainian and Russian officials have publicly acknowledged the deportation of children to Russia from Ukraine’s occupied territories, an independent commission under the UN Human Rights Council said in a report last week, although it was unable to confirm a precise figure for the number of children involved .

Kyiv says at least 16,221 children have been forcibly transferred to Russia since Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began in February 2022. Moscow denies the practice amounts to any criminal wrongdoing.

Putin is the first head of state of a permanent member of the UN Security Council to be issued with an arrest warrant. The ICC also is seeking the arrest of Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights.

Neither China nor Russia are signatories to the Rome Statute, the UN treaty under which the ICC was established. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Moscow does not recognize the court and therefore considers its decisions “legally void.”

Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s former president and now No. 2 on its security council, has threatened the court with a missile strike in a fiery Telegram post.

The ICC’s warrant will have limited practical implications for Putin unless he travels to states party to the Rome Statute. Among them is South Africa, which is expected to invite Russia’s president to this year’s BRICS summit in August.

The South African foreign ministry did not respond to emailed questions about its legal obligations.

At risk of arrest or not, the ICC’s decision could hang over Putin for the remainder of his presidency and perhaps for life. Those showing excessive political support for him at this time also might find themselves subject to further condemnation.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called the decision to issue an arrest warrant a “historic decision, from which historic responsibility will begin.” Kyiv has urged Xi to press Putin to end his yearlong war.

The Chinese leader’s decision to visit Moscow at such a sensitive time speaks to his conviction in a long-term strategic alignment with Russia against the West, analysts said Newsweek on Monday. The Kremlin said the Ukraine conflict will be on the agenda of his talks with Putin.

NATO’s continued preoccupation with the war in Ukraine will ultimately benefit China by drawing resources away from Asia, said Nadège Rolland, a distinguished fellow in China studies at the National Bureau of Asian Research.

Xi is unlikely to be troubled by Putin’s alleged war criminal status, Rolland told Newsweek.

“Does anyone seriously believe that the leader of a country suspected by several foreign governments of conducting a genocide and crimes against humanity would feel embarrassed to be seen in the company of an indicted war criminal?” she said.

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China threw its considerable political weight behind Vladimir Putin on Monday by challenging the International Criminal Court’s right to prosecute the Russian president.

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