Spilnota Detector Media

Oleksii Pivtorak

Detector Media analyst

Lesia Bidochko

Deputy Head of Detector Media Research Center

Українською читайте тут.

On June 25, the ICC issued arrest warrants for former Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov. The court accuses them of committing war crimes, including attacks on civilian targets, excessive harm to civilians, and crimes against humanity.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that the two suspects bear responsibility for missile strikes carried out by the Russian armed forces against the Ukrainian electric infrastructure from at least 10 October 2022 until at least 9 March 2023,” the ICC statement reads.

Gerasimov has led the Russian armed forces since 2012 and was one of those responsible for planning the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Shoigu, a long-time close ally of Putin, served as Russia’s Defense Minister from 2012 until May 2024, when economist Andrey Belousov replaced him. Shoigu then became the Secretary of the Russian Security Council.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reacted to the ICC’s decision, saying, “Every criminal involved in planning and executing these attacks must know that justice will be served. And we hope to see them behind bars.”

The Russian Security Council, where Shoigu holds a senior position, dismissed the ICC’s decision as null and void, claiming it was part of the West’s “hybrid war” against Russia.

On the same day, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found Russia guilty of systematic human rights violations in occupied Crimea since February 2014, marking a victory for Kyiv in its first interstate hearing against Moscow over the peninsula and potentially paving the way for similar future cases.

Previously, the ICC had issued four arrest warrants for Russian officials. In March 2024, the court issued warrants for Sergey Kobylash, commander of long-range aviation, and Viktor Sokolov, commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. A year earlier, the ICC issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Lvova-Belova for the deportation of Ukrainian children.

To analyze the reactions of Russian and pro-Russian Telegram users to the ICC’s decision, we extracted 5,254 messages from the monitoring service “TeleZip / Mantis Analytics” from June 25 to 8:00 AM on June 26, 2024. The keywords included the names of the two Russian military officials for whom the court issued arrest warrants. From this data, we formed a sample of 586 messages with a theoretical representation error of about 1%.

“You Can Wipe Yourself with the Warrant — Russia Does Not Recognize the International Criminal Court”

In most publications about the arrest of Shoigu and Gerasimov, it was emphasized that the decision of the International Criminal Court means nothing to Russia, as it is not a signatory to the Rome Statute and does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction.

“The decision of the International Criminal Court’s Pre-Trial Chamber regarding Russia’s Security Council Secretary Sergei Shoigu is null and void,” Telegram channels circulated a statement from the Russian Security Council’s press service.

Additionally, Russian MP Konstantin Zatulin’s statement was widely shared on Telegram, asserting that Russia should not respond to the ICC warrant since it does not recognize its jurisdiction.

Some messages contained outright mockery. “You can confidently wipe yourself with the ICC warrants. Russia ignores the blatant and cynical disregard for the law and the persecution of its leaders,” read a post in a Telegram channel with 381,000 subscribers. “They are reckless. Gerasimov might order the complete liquidation of the ICC,” wrote a Russian milblogger with nearly 866,000 followers on Telegram.

According to legal experts, these warrants imply that the accused will never have the guarantee that they won’t eventually be sent to The Hague. Indeed, the decision does not mean that the criminals will face trial tomorrow. However, it ensures that they can be held accountable in the future.

“The International Criminal Court Shifts the Blame”

In another post, the same milblogger with nearly 866,000 followers on Telegram depicted the prosecution of Russian officials by the ICC as “arbitrary persecution”: “Putin was sentenced in absentia by the ICC to 11 years for rescuing children and evacuating entire families to Russia. The ICC decided to arrest Shoigu and Gerasimov. And the most interesting thing is that as soon as we started talking about the US’s involvement and responsibility for Sevastopol, talks immediately began about recognizing Russia as a sponsor of terrorism... Such is the situation. We are currently under pressure, under pressure.”

In reality, the ICC has not yet imprisoned Putin. Like Shoigu and Gerasimov, an arrest warrant was issued for him in March 2023.

The post discusses successful attacks by Ukrainian Defense Forces on military targets in Crimea, which propagandists present as causing civilian casualties. Attacks on Crimea were not the only examples where Russians tried to blame Ukraine or its allies for war crimes. For instance, a propagandist with 389,000 subscribers on Telegram cited the earlier incident of a Russian plane crash in Belgorod in January 2024, where Russians spread lists of Ukrainian prisoners of war allegedly being transported for exchange.

“Here’s your expertise; the Yankees shot down the plane but want to arrest Shoigu and Gerasimov,” the propagandist wrote on Telegram.

This is an example of the mirroring propaganda tactic, where accusations against the aggressor are deflected onto others or even the target of the aggression.

“Only Prigozhin Has the Right to Issue Arrest Warrants for Shoigu and Gerasimov”

Shoigu has often been a target of criticism by some Russian propaganda outlets, which we detailed here. Former Russian militant leader Igor Girkin, for instance, called Shoigu a “plywood marshal,” accusing him of failing to prepare the country for the war, greed, large-scale corruption, and even suspected deliberate betrayal. The conflict with Shoigu was one of the stated reasons for Prigozhin’s rebellion in the summer of 2023. The head of the Wagner terrorist group also accused the Russian Ministry of Defense leadership of incompetence and corruption. Throughout the first half of 2023, Gerasimov was the main target of criticism from Prigozhin and his media empire. Therefore, in response to the ICC arrest warrants, Russian Telegram channels spread the suggestion that the investigation into the crimes (from corruption to treason) of Shoigu and Gerasimov should be conducted in Russia.

“For corruption, Shoigu and Gerasimov should answer before the Russian court and prosecutor’s office, not the ICC,” read a post in a Russian Telegram channel with 495,000 subscribers.

In the analyzed sample of publications, negative mentions of Shoigu and accusations of corruption were much more frequent than those of Gerasimov. For example, here is what was written concerning Shoigu’s alleged corruption on a Telegram channel with 75,000 subscribers:

“And they tell us, the cattle, about the beautiful tales of tens of thousands of volunteers. About some militants and Nazis. About ‘no losses.’ **** Shoigu, instead of being arrested, went to a cushy position.”

And in a Russian Telegram channel with 7,000 subscribers, they wrote they were waiting “for the Russian prosecutor’s office to issue an arrest warrant for Shoigu.”

Pro-Russian Telegram users who consider Shoigu and Gerasimov corrupt linked the ICC arrest warrants to Prigozhin’s revenge.

“It is quite possible that Ye. V. Prigozhin is still alive. And, having changed his identity, he has sided with the Western enemies of the Kremlin. How else can you explain that the ICC issued warrants for generals Shoigu and Gerasimov right on the anniversary of Prigozhin’s uprising in 2023?” joked a propagandist with almost 137,000 Telegram followers.

There were also more serious messages mentioning Prigozhin, asserting that Shoigu and Gerasimov should be tried in Russia for corruption, not for war crimes.

“Lloyd Austin Talked with the New Shoigu”

Shoigu was also mentioned in the context of a conversation between U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Russia’s new Defense Minister Andrey Belousov. The previous conversation between representatives of the U.S. and Russian defense ministries took place in March 2023, when Shoigu was still Russia’s Defense Minister.

Interpretations of the Austin-Belousov conversation on Telegram fit into two recurring themes of Russian propaganda. The first is that aid to Ukraine allegedly provokes Russia to view Ukraine’s partners as its enemies or harms those who provide assistance.

“Belousov warned Austin about the risks of escalation due to the supply of weapons to the Armed Forces of Ukraine. The last time the defense ministers of Russia and the USA spoke by phone was in March 2023,” reported a Telegram channel with 13,000 subscribers. In similar cases, Belousov’s position was mainly presented without mentioning what Lloyd Austin said.

The second part of the messages concerned the proposal for Ukraine to surrender:

“The head of the Pentagon, Austin, talked with the new Shoigu. Macron, according to the media, again expressed a desire to negotiate with Putin. And even Ukraine agrees to negotiations at the next forum. Everyone is tired of the war except Putin,” reported a Telegram channel with 5,000 subscribers.

The themes of “compulsion to peace” trace back to discussions from the Global Peace Summit held on June 15-16, 2024, in Bürgenstock, Switzerland, and other proposals for achieving peace on Russia’s terms, which would require Ukraine to accept the occupation of territories, reduce its armed forces, and abandon the aspiration to NATO membership.

Russian propaganda tries to present the accountability of its criminal officials as trivial. However, the arrest warrants for two more Russian officials from the International Criminal Court are a serious matter and a step towards holding those responsible for initiating Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine accountable.

The arrest warrants for Shoigu and Gerasimov, like other individuals whom the ICC has ordered to be arrested, mean that they can be detained and handed over to the court in 124 countries that have ratified the Rome Statute and recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction. Under the Rome Statute, any signatory country is obligated to arrest and transfer anyone for whom an ICC arrest warrant is issued. This significantly limits Russia’s ability to cooperate with countries in the Global South, including parts of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, which Russia considers its allies.

The fact that two more Kremlin figures have joined the virtual defendants’ bench makes Russia an even more toxic ally for Eurosceptics and other Moscow-supportive forces in the West. Western Putinverstehers (German for “those who understand Putin”) find it increasingly difficult to openly support those whom international justice accuses of actions against Ukraine’s population, as such a position marginalizes them and aligns them with criminals. Furthermore, these decisions undermine Russia’s lies about the “humane” treatment of civilians and its claim that only military facilities are being targeted.

Main page illustration and infographic by Nataliya Lobach

NGO “Detector Media” has been working for our readers for over 20 years. In times of elections, revolutions, pandemics and war, we continue to fight for quality journalism. Our experts develop media literacy of the audience, advocate for the rights of journalists, and refute Russian disinformation.

“Detector Media” resumes the work of our Community and invites those who believe that the media should be better: more professional, truthful and transparent.


Support us. Become part of the project!

Every day, our team prepares the freshest and independent materials for you. We would be extremely grateful for any support you may have. Your donations are an opportunity to do even more.

Support us