The Russian official charged alongside President Vladimir Putin by the International Criminal Court for the alleged abduction of thousands of Ukrainian children said Wednesday that Moscow is “fully open” to cooperation in the interest of the children.
“Unfortunately, there is no official communication through official channels with Ukraine, although we are ready to work with the relevant bodies,” Maria Lvova-Belova, Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights, told a meeting organized by Russia at the United Nations.
“We haven’t received a single request from their side, only completely unfounded accusations in the media and social media,” she said.
Lvova-Belova spoke by video link because international travel would expose her to possible arrest and extradition to The Hague-based court, which issued arrest warrants for her and Putin on March 17.
The ICC said that “there are reasonable grounds to believe” that the two “bear criminal responsibility for the unlawful deportation and transfer of Ukrainian children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation,” hundreds of whom were adopted in Russia.
More than 16,000 deported, says Ukraine
Ukraine says more than 16,000 children have been forcibly deported to Russia since its invasion 13 months ago. The Russian official said only about 2,000 children had come to Russia either as orphans with guardians or unaccompanied, and many have been reunited with relatives.
“No amount of disinformation spread by the Russian Federation can deny the truth of the matter, nor shield individuals from accountability for these crimes,” Ukraine said in a statement supported by 49 other nations in response to Wednesday’s informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council, known as an Arria.
Children moved for safety, says Russia
Lvova-Belova did not address the ICC charges during her remarks but said, “This is a campaign to discredit our country.”
Russia sought to portray its transfer of Ukrainian children during the war as being for their protection.
Lvova-Belova offered two videos during her remarks, presumably of Ukrainian children. One was a short video in Russian with subtitles that said “we rescued orphaned children from shelled areas” of the country’s east and featured children being hugged and kissed by caregivers.
A second, 3-minute video started with images of children in a war zone and then flashed forward to children living in Russia with foster families, enjoying time on a swing, playing with a rabbit and building Legos. “It’s a good life,” one teen girl says.
“I want to stress that unlike the Ukrainian side, we don’t use children for propaganda,” Lvova-Belova said at the conclusion of the second video.
Several representatives walk out
Junior diplomats represented the council’s 14 other members during the meeting, which took place in a U.N. conference room. When Lvova-Belova began her remarks, the representatives of Albania, Britain, Malta and the U.S. walked out.
“If she wants to give an account of her actions, she can do so in The Hague,” a U.K. spokesperson said ahead of the meeting.
The U.K., along with the U.S., blocked the meeting from being broadcast on the U.N.’s website, although it could still be seen on internal video feeds and on the Russian mission’s website.
U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters Wednesday that the U.S. opposed the Lvova-Belova briefing because she has been charged with war crimes.
“And that’s why we've joined the U.K. in blocking U.N. WebTV from being used to allow her to have an international podium to spread disinformation and to try to defend her horrible actions that are taking place in Ukraine,” she said.