Like the OP, I have mixed feelings about the wisdom of war crime accusations against Russia's leadership. Yes, all the current answers make valid points and it is a matter of principle. However, as a matter of practicality, Russia is neither Serbia nor Libya and should be given as little reason to continue with their war of aggression as possible, because the reality is that they cannot be compelled by force except on the territory of Ukraine, by the armed forces of Ukraine.
On the other hand, one also needs to consider what specific war crime the ICC is issuing a warrant for, the deportation of children.
Today, 17 March 2023, Pre-Trial Chamber II of the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or “the Court”) issued warrants of arrest for two individuals in the context of the situation in Ukraine: Mr Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Ms Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova.
Mr Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, born on 7 October 1952, President of the Russian Federation, is allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation (under articles 8(2)(a)(vii) and 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute).
Pre-Trial Chamber II considered, based on the Prosecution’s applications of 22 February 2023, that there are reasonable grounds to believe that each suspect bears responsibility for the war crime of unlawful deportation of population and that of unlawful transfer of population from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation, in prejudice of Ukrainian children.
That has four particular characteristics:
- It's unambiguously included in the Rome Statute.
- Russia's leadership is on the record talking about committing that crime.
- It concerns children, whom all cultures aim to protect, making it a very difficult offense to propagandize away.
- Unlike most of Russia's other crimes in Ukraine, the withdrawal of Russia's forces from Ukraine will not suffice to make it stop.
Applicability of the crime, @ Rome Statute
Note: I originally linked to the UN definition of genocide and was corrected in comment that I should have looked at the Rome Statute instead, and that the indictment did not mention genocide.
Those clauses, which do not mention children are:
8.2.a.vii vii) Unlawful deportation or transfer or unlawful confinement;
8.2.b.viii The transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population
into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of
the occupied territory within or outside this territory;
Additionally, if you look up "children" under Rome Statute, it copies verbatim the UN genocide definition in article 2 under its own article 6 (although it was not mentioned in the indictment):
1. Definition of genocide
Article 6 Genocide
For the purpose of this Statute (Rome), "genocide" means any of the following acts co
In the present Convention, genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
Killing members of the group;
Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
ST. PETERSBURG, April 1. /TASS/. Mora than 200 orphan children from Donbass may be adopted into families in Russia in the near future, Russian children’s rights ombudswoman Maria Lvova-Belova said on Friday.
"As many as 1,560 children left without parents have arrived in Russia. Some of them arrived with their guardians. It means that these parentless children have foster parents. There are around 500 such children. The rest are children from child care homes. A total of 222 of them have the entire package of documents and can be adopted into families," she said, adding that the list of potential foster families has already been drawn.
Many other offenses listed in the Rome statute are either not under ICC scope for this war. Or they can happen without willful intent during a war. It will therefore be a matter of interpretation. Furthermore, illegal killings of civilians, as in Bucha, can be blamed on "undisciplined troops". Or "staged and falsified evidence". In this case Russia's top official on children is on the record promoting this deliberate policy.
4. Last, but not least, after Russia leaves Ukraine, these children will need to be recovered.
Bringing Putin to trial for atrocities like Bucha would be great, in line with the other answers. However, it might not be realistically achievable, in line with question's wisdom about pursuing such a goal. It may also be hard to prove intent at top of Russia's government. In any case, prosecution will not bring back the dead so might be balanced against the expediency (if at the cost of principles) of expediting Russia's withdrawal.
However, that cannot be said of those children. Their sequestration in Russia is an ongoing crime, which can only be stopped by returning them. As such having the ICC indictment on the books (and the possibility of dropping those charges on their safe return) gives an additional point of pressure to get them back as part of any settlement with Russia.
(note that the same concern applies to civilian adults and POWs held against their will in Russia but those are not genocide-specific crimes)
p.s. and even without an actual arrest, the threat is a hindrance to Russia's diplomacy. To cite Meduza (keeping in mind that they have a strong anti-Kremlin bias):
According to two sources close to the Putin administration, these trips were very important for domestic propaganda, among other things, because Russia’s pro-government media could cite them while telling citizens that Russia “still has more friends that detractors” and that it remains “one of the pillars of the multipolar world.”
“The restrictions on foreign visits will work in the opposite direction. Before the warrant, [Putin’s] trips abroad were combined with foreign leaders’ trips to Moscow. Now, it won’t be possible to keep having meetings with the same frequency — you can’t constantly invite everybody to come to you,” one source said.
JOHANNESBURG, March 19 (Reuters) - South Africa is aware of its legal obligation, a spokesperson for President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Sunday, referring to a proposed visit by Vladimir Putin after an international court issued an arrest warrant against the Russian leader.