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Former Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, right, and Russian Chief of General Staff Gen. Valery Gerasimov attend a meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin with commanders of military districts at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 15, 2024. © 2024 Vyacheslav Prokofyev/Sputnik/Kremlin Pool Photo via AP Photo

New arrest warrants by International Criminal Court (ICC) judges were issued this week against former Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and chief of the general staff of Russia’s armed forces, Valery Gerasimov. These warrants are a significant step towards accountability for the immense suffering Russia’s persistent violations of the laws of war have inflicted on Ukraine’s civilians. 

They also signal that no one, no matter their rank, can escape justice.

The arrest warrants relate to Russian forces’ attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure, starting in October 2022, and lasting through the winter. Earlier this year, the court issued arrest warrants against Sergei Kobylash, a lieutenant general, and Viktor Sokolov, a Navy admiral, for the same set of attacks.

The court believes Shoigu and Gerasimov may be responsible for the war crime of directing attacks at civilian objects and, in instances where electricity infrastructure may have been for both civilian and military use, causing disproportionate harm to civilians. Characterizing the attacks as “a campaign” of strikes involving “the multiple commission of acts against a civilian population” the court also said Shoigu and Gerasimov may have “intentionally caused great suffering or serious injury” as part of widespread or systematic attacks against the civilian population, which is a crime against humanity. 

Human Rights Watch documented these attacks which killed dozens, injured hundreds and deprived millions of civilians of access to electricity, water, heat, and related vital services as the winter was setting in.

Russian politicians, lawmakers, and commentators on Russian state media applauded the prospect of Ukrainian civilians being left without heat and water in winter. One member of parliament said that ordinary people should “rot and freeze”; another said the strikes were necessary to destroy the Ukrainian state’s capacity to survive.

Civilians in Ukraine deserve justice for all serious crimes committed by Russian forces, including widespread torture, enforced disappearancesextrajudicial executionsforced transfers, and unlawful attacks on civilians in cities in Ukraine, including Mariupol.

Combined with the ICC’s 2023 warrants against President Vladimir Putin, and his children’s rights commissioner, these new warrants show that the wheels of justice are turning. 

ICC member countries should continue to support the court’s efforts to advance justice for grave abuses committed in the context of the Russia-Ukraine war, and across its docket.  

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