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International Criminal Court Issues Arrest Warrant For Putin; Chinese President Xi To Meet With Putin In Russia Next Week. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired March 17, 2023 - 14:00   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Victor Blackwell.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN HOST: And I'm Bianna Golodryga.

Vladimir Putin is now officially a wanted man. The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant today for the Russian president and one of his officials, seen with him here in this photo for allegedly deporting thousands of Ukrainian children from occupied territories in Ukraine to Russia. Ukraine says at least 16,000 children have been forced to live in Russia. The ICC president said the contents of warrants are routinely kept secret to protect the victims, but today, an exception was made.


PIOTR HOFMANSKI, PRESIDENT, INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT: Nevertheless, the judges of the chamber in dealing with this case decided to make the existence of the warrants public in the interest of justice and to prevent the commission of future crimes.


BLACKWELL: Now, the Kremlin calls the war an outrageous and unacceptable. The Chief of Staff for Ukrainian President Zelenskyy said this is just the beginning. And just hours before Putin's warrant was issued, China's Ministry announced its President Xi Jinping will be going to Russia to see Putin on Monday. This is part of a three-day visit. U.S. intelligence has assessed that China is considering giving Russia lethal military supplies for its war in Ukraine.

CNN's chief international correspondent Clarissa Ward is that The Hague just spoke with the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. What did you learn?

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, I think everybody here feels that this is a truly historic day. It's a day that they have been working very hard towards. These are the first international charges that we've seen pressed against the Russian Federation since the invasion of Ukraine. And while it's clear from the Russian response that we may not see President Vladimir Putin in the dock anytime in the near future, this is nonetheless a serious and significant step.

We spoke, as you mentioned, to the chief prosecutor Karim Khan. He pointed out this is the first time in history that a sitting head of state of the UN Security Council member has been issued with an arrest warrant by the ICC. And it's also significant because it's the first time that we have seen the International Criminal Court move at this pace.

The criticism traditionally of the ICC has been that it is a slow- moving beast that it is mired in bureaucracy, which has essentially made it quite toothless. But in this instance, we have been -- they have been working in months as opposed to years.

In terms of the next concrete steps that will be taken. Essentially the Registrar of the court will explain the charges to the Russian Federation who have already made clear that they have nothing but disdain and disregard for the court, and they're not signatories, anyway, to the Rome Statute. But it is possible that while a trial cannot take place without President Putin and also Maria Lvova-Belova being here, that there could be some kind of a hearing that would take place to at least ensure that all the evidence is put on the record in a timely manner.

GOLODRYGA: Now, Clarissa, as you noted, neither the United States nor Russia for that matter, acknowledge and recognize the jurisdiction of the court. And the ICC acknowledged to you that it will be relying on other countries to try to get Putin into custody. I believe there are nearly 140 signatories there. Tell us about that.

WARD: So, essentially, any one of the signatories, if they choose to enforce these arrest warrants could potentially arrest President Putin or indeed the Russian Commissioner for Children, Ms. Lvova-Belova if they set foot on their soil. In essence, though, what we have seen happen over and over again with the International Criminal Court is that countries that do not want to participate, do not participate, essentially. And those that do, usually already have sanctions levied against individuals or against states, which make it impossible for those individuals or our high-powered officials from those states to actually set foot on that soil anyway.

So, in essence, coming back to the point that I was just making, it is very unlikely that you are going to see in the short term, at the very least, any high-level Russian officials let alone President Putin himself facing charges here in The Hague.


But the hope is that there is an important symbolism to this moment that nobody is above the law and that the ICC will do the fullest of their ability, not just in Ukraine but across the world to try to prosecute war crimes when they see them as being carried out. And it's also worth noting. This is just the beginning with regards to Ukraine. There are a number of other investigations that they are actively pursuing. There is a lot of evidence out there. They have made multiple trips to Ukraine. And so, this is just the sort of first step in what may be a much longer journey.

GOLODRYGA: A significant and historic move today, nonetheless. Clarissa Ward, thank you.

Michael Bociurkiw is a senior fellow in Atlantic Council and currently based in Odessa, Ukraine, and retired Army Lieutenant General Mark Hertling is a CNN military analyst. Welcome both of you. So, General, let me start with you. As we noted, the U.S. is not a signatory to the Rome Statute here, though. So, this is at this point, at least, a highly symbolic gesture. For Americans at home, how should they be interpreting this news?

LT. GEN. MARK HERTLING (RET), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, first, I'll go from the Russian standpoint, Bianna. That -- many have called for this action. This is just the first of the war crimes that Mr. Putin is going to be held responsible for. It's certainly well deserved. And it really affects Russia significantly on the world stage.

Their military has been mauled, their information system had been affected by the intelligence that the U.S. and NATO countries have given and their economy has been affected. Now, you're seeing Mr. Putin embarrassed on the world stage. I should say, further embarrassed on the world stage with this kind of action.

But what you're talking about with the signatories, and it's an important point, this dates back to the Clinton administration. You know, the Congress in 2002 passed something called the American Service Member Protection Act. This -- the ICC, the International Criminal Court is geared toward member states that can't or had been seen not to be able to hold themselves responsible for war crimes. And it's obvious that Russia is doing things and in fact, boldly doing things and congratulating people for doing things like kidnapping children from their parents and trafficking them across borders. That is a war crime, and they have yet to try and hold themselves responsible for it. That is what the U.S. is concerned about.

Will the Biden administration be able to support this? I think they will. But they're going to have to work their way through some legal restrictions because they are not signaled -- excuse me signatories to the ICC.

BLACKWELL: Let's bring it now also to the conversation, Nic Robertson, CNN's International diplomatic editor. Nic, the Ukrainian general prosecutor said today that any world leader should think twice before shaking Putin's hand or sitting down to negotiate with him. I wonder how much now this arrest warrant changes his position because any world leader who considers him a pariah, likely did so long before today. What's this change for Putin?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Very simply, there's an international obligation now under international law that any of the signatories to the Rome Statute, and that's 123 different countries, that should President Putin set foot there, then they would have an obligation to hold him to account to the crimes or extradite him to The Hague to face the ICC charges right there in the Hague in person. So, President Putin's world, just his physical world, just got a whole lot smaller.

This is a man who likes his position as a leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world. He is the leader of a nation that sits, of course -- is one of the five permanent members at the UN Security Council, is a leader of a G20 Nation. He likes being able to go to New York and be able to speak to the UN Security Council. He likes to be able to go to the G20 meetings around the world and meet with other leaders and put his points of view across. There -- that's going to be limited.

Now, he has a G20 meeting -- leaders meeting scheduled for September in India this year. India is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, is not a member of the ICC, so is not in the same way obliged to arrest him. But it's going to raise a question for future meetings. He's unlikely to come to any European capital, for example.

This is going to hurt Putin's self-image of how he portrays himself globally, and as how he's able to portray himself at home. And I think all of this contributes to the message that the international community is trying to send him that they will support Ukraine to the hilt to stop Putin in his tracks and in his aims in Ukraine.


GOLODRYGA: And the timing is significant too because it comes just weeks, beginning next month, it is Russia's turn to hold the presidency at the UN Security Council, if one can believe that it's hard to square that too, right, an arrest warrant issued by the ICC.

But, Michael, these allegations of child abduction and kidnapping have been going on since this war began -- since the invasion began. We remember President Zelenskyy specifically talking and calling out Mariupol and the thousands of Ukrainian children he said were kidnapped by Russian soldiers. I want to play sound from you in terms of the Russian propaganda and how Russia is spinning this at home. We don't have the sound.

But just an example of what Russians at home see with these Ukrainian children. Just last month, Michael, there was a huge rally that President Putin was holding at a big stadium in Moscow where they took some of these children that had been kidnapped from Ukraine and spun it to have the Ukrainian children thinking these "liberators." I mean, that is just some of the propaganda that Russians are saying. Clearly, the ICC is seeing through this.

MICHAEL BOCIURKIW, FORMER SPOKESPERSON, ORGANIZATION FO SECURITY AND COOPERATION IN EUROPE: Yes, absolutely. And you know, we just saw a video the other day though, OK admittedly Ukrainian telegram channels showing young kids abducted in Crimea learning how to load guns and how to take defensive posture -- offensive postures, excuse me. So, very concerning what is happening to these kids as well. I -- if you believe the numbers of one of the leading Ukrainian NGOs right now, they're over 16,000 Ukrainian children abducted by Russia -- forcibly abducted. So, the rap sheet is pretty big against Mr. Putin and Mrs. Maria Lvova-Belova.

And by the way, I think what you might see happen is Mrs. Lvova-Belova maybe being careless, maybe going to Dubai or to the Maldives, something like that. And hopefully, one of the states there, even if they're not a signatory will pick her up. And I -- as you know, I've always been advocating the nose against these Russian officials needs to be tightened and include Gulf countries, other states, otherwise, they're going to roam scot-free for quite some time.

BLACKWELL: General, on the point of Ms. Lvova-Belova. She issued a statement after the announcement of this war, and I'm going to read just a sentence of it where she says it's great that the international community has appreciated the work to help the children of our country, that we do not leave them in the war zones, that we take them out, that we create good conditions for them, that we surround them with loving, caring people. Of course, more propaganda. These are children, essentially stolen from their home country and moved into to Russia.

It is the boldness with which they did this when you consider the other potential war crimes. The first time the U.S. government accused Russia of a war crime, it was after the atrocities and Bucha. Of course, the targeting of the infrastructure as well. But this is something they put on a stage to show the world that likely made this the first, what could be more charges from the ICC.

HERTLING: Yes, Victor, and when you look at the Geneva Convention which the international court bases their actions on, there is a specific protocol for the protection of children and women and non- combatants. And when you look into the details -- I'm not a lawyer, but we had to learn this as a soldier when you look into the details of this. It's not only the kidnapping of the soul of the children but the trafficking of them.

You know, when you're talking anywhere, as we just said, between six to 16,000 children that were pulled away from their parents and separated and then sent back to reeducation camps, as they call them in Russia, to brainwash and to put them in these kinds of situations, it's not only a criminal action but it's just horrific. Can you imagine having your child taken away and shipped across the border to new parents and never been able to see them again? It's just despicable across the board.

GOLODRYGA: And the question is, will these children ever be reunited with their families in Ukraine? A lot of them have already gone through the adoption process in Russia at this point. Nic, back to you because this wasn't the only blow to Vladimir Putin and his ego today. We also got news that Turkey has ratified Finland's admission into NATO. Talk about the significance of that and perhaps Sweden now following.

ROBERTSON: Yes. And we heard from the Finnish president speaking after that meeting saying that he was really hoping that Turkey and Hungary as well were both finish off ratifying, Sweden as well, and that they will be able to join the NATO's Leaders' Summit in Vilnius late or early this summer. So, there's really a still a concern that Turkey is holding out against Sweden, but it's hugely important that President Putin sees the message that Ukraine -- that NATO has become more united.


Why? Because one of the principal reasons for going to war, as Putin said, was to put other countries off joining NATO. And here's a country that has about 800 miles of border with Russia that is now past -- ticked all the boxes, if you will been accepted by all NATO members now to become a member nation. And Finland is actively right now reinforcing that very long frontier with Russia that until now, it's been relatively porous, is reinforcing it. That's a message to President Putin that NATO is not diminished, that it's stronger, and that Russia and his forces are more contained.

Now, how is he going to read that and how is he going to spin it? He's going to spin it as NATO aggression. But the reality is that NATO is coming through this stronger when Putin thought he'd make it weaker.

BLACKWELL: Nic Robertson, Retired Lieutenant General Mark Hertling, and Michael Bociurkiw thank you all.

At the top of the next hour, we'll speak with the president of the International Criminal Court to ask about this arrest warrant for President Putin and one of the members of his government.

GOLODRYGA: Hey, you don't want to miss that really important conversation. Also, this. Chinese President Xi Jinping will travel to Moscow next week to meet with Vladimir Putin. It's his first trip to Russia since Putin launched the invasion of Ukraine. Why U.S. officials are watching closely?

BLACKWELL: And CNN exclusive. Dozens of Mar-a-Lago staffers are subpoenaed to testify in the Trump classified documents investigation. Who's on the list and what these signals from the special counsel? We have that for you.



BLACKWELL: There's a new reaction from the White House after the announcement that China's President Xi will meet with President Putin in Russia beginning on Monday. China says it wants to help broker peace in Ukraine. But earlier today, National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby expressed deep concerns about the growing partnership between Moscow and Beijing.

GOLODRYGA: Joining us now CNN is Jeremy Diamond. Jeremy, American officials say they'll be watching the summit very closely. What will they be looking for?

JEREMY DIAMOND, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they certainly will be, Bianna. And you may recall, it was just a few weeks ago when the Chinese first released their 12-point peace plan that President Biden said look, if Putin is applauding it, then it can't be any good. And that is effectively still the position of the White House today.

The White House's National Security Council Spokesman John Kirby today saying -- trying to preempt Chinese President Xi Jinping's meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow next week and the potential that he could present a peace plan for this conflict saying effectively that any proposal that the Chinese would put forward would be one-sided and only to Russia's advantage. In particular, John Kirby talks about the possibility that a peace proposal would include a ceasefire a plan, saying that that would only serve to effectively ratify Russia's territorial gains and allow the Russians to regroup and then choose to -- and then attack the Ukrainians at a time of their choosing. So, certainly, the White House is not mincing words about the potential for the Chinese to use this meeting with Vladimir Putin next week as an opportunity to present themselves as some kind of honest broker in this conflict.

At the same time, the White House is still encouraging the Chinese president to speak directly with the Ukrainian president. We saw those reports emerge earlier this week about the possibility of a phone call there. And the U.S.'s position is effective that it would still be good for the Chinese to hear directly from the Ukrainians on this matter.

As of yet, the only thing on the schedule right now is for the Chinese president to meet with the Russian president next week. But we will see on that. There's also, of course, something the U.S. is still watching is the possibility of China providing lethal weapons to Russia. So far, U.S. officials say that they have not seen any evidence that China has decided to make that decision. But John Kirby did say today that there is no indication that China has taken that off the table either.

GOLODRYGA: All right. Jeremy Diamond, thank you.

BLACKWELL: CNN's Global Affairs analyst Kimberly Dozier joins us now. She's also the senior managing editor for the Military Times. Kim, how does the arrest warrant that's been issued by the ICC for President Putin change in form this relationship with Xi or their meeting that's coming up next week?

KIMBERLY DOZIER, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, I think as you've seen from some of the official statements coming out of Moscow, what you'll see is that both countries who are not members of this organization don't recognize it, will make this one more sign that the West is trying to attack Moscow, attack anyone that's not part of the Western mode of being, and this plays into their fight for influence around the world, especially China's fight for influence and business and political deals. This helps China eat away at U.S. supremacy at a time when it's trying to supplant the United States in the next couple of decades.

And as you mentioned, Beijing is trying to position itself like a potential peacemaker or at least a power broker, which negotiators have to go through if they want Moscow to withdraw any forces. And only in the last two weeks did Beijing sort of supplant U.S. diplomatic firepower by bringing about a peace deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia. So, basically, they're saying, you know, we're now the new power you have to deal with, and they want to be the -- up next to do that in Ukraine.

GOLODRYGA: Though that will be a much thornier issue for them to broker, Kim, and you have this meeting now between Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin. And one expert told me that it is not in China's interest at this point to see this war coming to an end nor is it in China's interest to see Russia lose. What is in China's interest is to see this war prolonged and a weaker Russia. What do you make of that, and what exactly do you think will come out of this meeting between the two of them?


DOZIER: I've actually heard that expressed as a fear from Indian diplomats and others who have had a long-term alliance with Russia or relationship with Russia that they see as each week and month goes on and Moscow was more and more reliant on Chinese business contracts, and now Chinese political influence to still matter in the world against the raft of sanctions and these other international moves of censure that that will leave Moscow basically in Beijing's pocket. Only in the last year or so did Beijing and Russia trade rise by about 30 percent which means Moscow is increasingly reliant on China for feeding its people, keeping the banks running, and that leaves Putin much weaker.

GOLODRYGA: And China is increasingly more reliant on Russian energy at a much lower cost, we should note as well. Kim Dozier, always good to see you. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: U.S. stocks are falling right now. Investors are still not satisfied with the federal response to the growing concerns over the banking sector. We have new details for you.