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Maria Lvova-Belova: Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights wanted by the ICC for war crimes

The International Criminal Court named the 38-year-old politician alongside Vladimir Putin on a warrant for the ‘unlawful deportation’ of Ukrainian minors

Maria Lvova-Belova
Maria Lvova-Belova during a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow.SPUTNIK (via REUTERS)
Javier G. Cuesta

The political rise of Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova, reached a new dimension when she met face-to-face with Vladimir Putin on February 16, a month before she was included in an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC), alongside the Russian president, which accused her of a war crime over the “unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.” During her meeting with Putin, Lvova-Belova laughed as she told him: “Now I know what it is like to be a mother of a child from Donbas. It is difficult, but we definitely love each other,” she said in reference to Filipp Golovnia, a 16-year-old from the devastated city of Mariupol about whom hardly anything is known, beside the fact he has not had any contact with his biological mother in five years.

Kyiv has accused Russia has of abducting and indoctrinating minors from the occupied territories. During an act to mark the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian provinces last September, Lvova-Belova made some controversial remarks about the practice: “When we brought them [the minors] to the Moscow region so that they could recover a little bit, the story started that they were saying negative things about the president [Putin], all kinds of unpleasant things, and singing the Ukrainian anthem, ‘Glory to Ukraine’ and all that. There is some negativity, maybe at first, but later it turns into love for Russia.”

That same month, September 2022, the presidential commissioner’s adopted Ukrainian son received his Russian passport during a nationally televised ceremony: “Now I am a full-fledged citizen of Russia. This is very important for me, I am very happy, overwhelmed with emotions,” the teenager said. Lvova-Belova expressed her delight at the speed of the process, noting that, through her position in the Russian government, a mechanism had been put in place “so that [passports] can be processed in a short time,” in order to facilitate the adoption of Ukrainian minors by Russian families.

According to the Tass news agency, Lvova-Belova, 38, and her husband, a Russian Orthodox priest, have five biological children, four adopted children and 13 more, all with disabilities, under their guardianship. Lvova-Belova was appointed presidential commissioner for children’s rights in 2021, having emerged on the national political scene two years earlier when former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev himself handed her a membership card for Putin’s United Russia party and she was appointed a regional head of the All-Russia People’s Front, a political movement founded by the Kremlin in 2011 to strengthen its influence across all social sectors, from senior citizens to schools and trade unions. She previously served as a member of the Civic Chamber for the region of Prenza, her birthplace, and at age 21, founded an organization to promote the social adaptation of disadvantaged minors, Blagovest.

“No concrete basis” for ICC arrest warrant

Lvova-Belova was scheduled to give a press conference in Moscow last week, but it did not take place. The department she heads has not responded to EL PAÍS for comment on the situation of Ukrainian minors. Her only statement over the ICC arrest warrant was made on the day of its announcement, March 17, when she said: “It is great that the international community appreciated our work to help the children of our country.”

On a visit to Yekaterinburg on February 22 she told reporters: “What the International Criminal Court is accusing us of, and what the international community is accusing us of, has no concrete basis. We have not been told a single surname, we have not received a single application confirming that the children were separated from their parents or that they were deported to Russian territory.”

Lvova-Belova’s department describes adoptions by Russian families as an extreme case, preferring the legal term of guardianship so the children can be returned “if relatives appear.” However, Article 49 of the Geneva Conventions states: Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive,” and that such evacuations, whether total or partial, are only permissible if they do “not involve the displacement of protected persons outside the bounds of the occupied territory except when for material reasons it is impossible to avoid such displacement.”

Lvova-Belova has not made any statement over the personal risk she faces due to the ICC warrant, but Pavel Chikov, a lawyer and former member of the presidential council for the development of civil society and human rights in Russia, who has been declared a foreign agent by the Kremlin, suggested that Washington might put a price on her delivery: “A little known fact is that the U.S. State Department has a bounty program for war crimes [the War Crimes Rewards Program]. For information leading to the capture of those being sought for such crimes there is a reward of up to $5 million.”

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