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Russian war crimes prosecutor will travel to London next week

The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor investigating alleged war crimes in Ukraine will travel to London next week as he prepares the first arrest warrants against Russians for their alleged wrongdoing in the year-long conflict.

Karim Khan is set to attend a war crimes conference organised by the UK government on Monday, according to three people with knowledge of the plans. Khan, a British lawyer, has already submitted applications for arrest warrants for Russian nationals to pre-trial judges of The Hague-based court, one of the people said.

Accountability for crimes committed during Russia’s war against Ukraine is a big focus area for western countries, who are backing investigations into tens of thousands of allegations of executions, child abductions, torture and sexual violence as well as attacks on civilian infrastructure and forced deportations.

The ICC prosecutor opened an investigation into potential war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity in Ukraine more than a year ago, and Khan has personally travelled to the country four times since then, to meet Ukrainian investigators and assess collected evidence.

The arrest warrant preparations were first reported by the New York Times.

Western officials believe trials and convictions of alleged Russian war criminals will be a critical plank of a postwar framework in which Moscow can be held accountable for its actions and legally bound to contribute financially to Ukraine’s reconstruction before any international sanctions against the country can be lifted.

Russia has denied that its troops have conducted war crimes or atrocities against civilians during the conflict. Instead, Moscow has accused Kyiv of staging evidence and blamed Ukraine’s soldiers for some atrocities.

Ukraine is not a member of the ICC but has recognised the court’s jurisdiction for events occurring in the country since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea.

Khan’s trips to Ukraine have involved visits to Bucha, a town close to Kyiv where mass graves were discovered, and parts of eastern Ukraine where residential areas were destroyed by artillery fire. Last month’s visit focused on Russian missile attacks in Ukraine’s power infrastructure.

The ICC has repeatedly stressed that it will take years to collate and process the vast amounts of photographic and video footage captured by private citizens as well as evidence collated by professional Ukrainian investigators.

Legal experts have warned that pressure for convictions will test the limits of an underfunded system that has been criticised for its limited success in convicting those responsible for previous war crimes.

The UK announced in January that it would hold next week’s conference in conjunction with the Netherlands, which has taken a leading role in corralling support both for the ICC and other routes for accountability, such as a special tribunal or through the UN.

Didier Reynders, the EU’s justice commissioner, is also expected to attend the London conference, alongside Ukraine’s chief prosecutor Andriy Kostin. Reynders is expected to stress the importance of bringing prosecutions against those suspected of taking part in the deportation of children from Ukraine, according to a person briefed on his attendance.

Reynders will also voice the EU’s “full support” for the ICC’s “central role” in prosecuting alleged war crimes in Ukraine, even as Brussels continues to discuss other potential options.