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International court seeks arrest of Russian officials over attacks on Ukrainian civilian targets

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, gestures as he speaks to Russian Chief of General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov prior to a meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin with the top military brass in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023. (Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File) Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, gestures as he speaks to Russian Chief of General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov prior to a meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin with the top military brass in Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2023. (Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP, File)
THE HAGUE, Netherlands -

The International Criminal Court said Tuesday it issued arrest warrants for Russia's former defence minister and its military chief of staff for attacks on Ukraine's power plants, the third time the global court has accused senior Russian leaders of war crimes.

There is no immediate likelihood of either former Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu or chief of staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov being detained. Russia isn't a member of the court, doesn't recognize its jurisdiction and refuses to hand over suspects.

But the move heaps more moral condemnation on Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

The warrant is the global court's latest effort to intervene in a major conflict. Earlier this year, the court's chief prosecutor requested arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his defence minister and three leaders of the Hamas militant group over the militants' deadly attacks in southern Israel and the ensuing war in Gaza.

Last year, the court issued a warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of personal responsibility for the abductions of children from Ukraine. That has occasionally complicated his travel though the practical implications have been limited.

Russia's Security Council dismissed the arrest warrants as "null and void" on Tuesday.

"That is empty talk, considering that the ICC's jurisdiction does not include Russia and the decision has been made as part of the West's hybrid warfare against our country," it said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.

Shoigu and Gerasimov face charges of war crimes and the crime against humanity of inhumane acts. The court said in a statement that warrants were issued Monday because judges considered there were reasonable grounds to believe that the men are responsible for "missile strikes carried out by the Russian armed forces against the Ukrainian electric infrastructure " from Oct. 10, 2022, until at least March 9, 2023.

Judges who approved the prosecutors' request for warrants said the suspects are charged with inhumane acts because there is evidence they "intentionally caused great suffering or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health" of civilians in Ukraine.

Under the leadership of Shoigu and Gerasimov, the Russian military has launched waves of missile and drone strikes that have killed thousands and damaged the country's energy system and other vital infrastructure.

Moscow has insisted that it only has targeted military facilities despite daily casualties in civilian areas. The court alleged missile attacks covered in the warrant targeted civilian installations.

"During this time frame, a large number of strikes against numerous electric power plants and substations were carried out by the Russian armed forces in multiple locations in Ukraine," the court said.

It added that in the case of any installations that could have been considered military targets "the expected incidental civilian harm and damage would have been clearly excessive to the anticipated military advantage."

Details of the warrants were kept under seal to protect witnesses, the court said.

Putin removed Shoigu as defence minister in a Cabinet shakeup in May as he began his fifth term as president.

Shoigu, 69, has been widely seen as a key figure in Putin's decision to invade Ukraine. Russia had expected the operation to quickly overwhelm Ukraine's much smaller and less-equipped army.

Instead, the conflict galvanized Ukraine to mount an intense defence, dealing the Russian army humiliating blows, including the retreat from an attempt to take the capital, Kyiv, and a counteroffensive that drove Moscow's forces out of the northeastern region of Kharkiv and from around Kherson in the south in the fall of 2022.

Shoigu, who had personal ties with Putin, got a soft landing with the high-profile post of secretary of Russia's Security Council. At the same time, Shoigu's entourage faced purges. A long-time associate and deputy, Timur Ivanov, and several other senior military officers were arrested on corruption charges, and other senior Defence Ministry officials lost their jobs.

Gerasimov, the chief of the General Staff since 2012, has so far kept his job. The 68-year-old career military officer has directly overseen Russian military operations in Ukraine.

In addition to the warrant against Putin, the court issued arrest warrants in March for two high-ranking Russian military officers on charges linked to attacks on civilian infrastructure in Ukraine that judges said happened "pursuant to a state policy."

Last year, Russia announced indictments in absentia for a judge and prosecutor at the International Criminal Court who issued a warrant against Putin. Top Stories

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