(Reuters) - Moscow's envoy to the United Nations in New York has denied that Russia has deliberately taken children out of Ukraine or allowed them to be adopted in Russia, rejecting charges brought against President Vladimir Putin by the International Criminal Court.
The ICC two weeks ago accused Putin and his children's commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova of the war crime of unlawful deportation of people, in particular children, and their transfer from areas of Ukraine occupied by Russian forces.
Ukraine says it is investigating the deportation of over 19,000 children, many of them taken from parents at "filtration points" as they tried to leave newly captured territory, removed from care institutions, or taken from people who were caring for them after their parents were killed in the war.
Russia has denied the accusations, insisting it has only been doing what was needed to protect children at risk in the territories it has taken control of, most of which it has unilaterally declared to be part of Russia. It says millions of people have chosen to move to Russia.
"We are talking about evacuation from a war zone in full compliance with obligations under international humanitarian law, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child," Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the state-run news agency TASS in an interview published on Friday.
"Millions of people have been evacuated in this way, including children who, in the overwhelming majority of cases, arrive in Russian territory with their parents, guardians and trustees."
Nebenzia said only a small number of children had been found in orphanages or without parental care, and that "primary attention was paid to the placement of minors in the families of blood relatives living in Russia".
He said Western suggestions that such children had been adopted were "deliberately misleading".
"In reality, we are talking about temporary preliminary guardianship or temporary guardianship," he said.
"The main goal is for children to be in families, not in orphanages. This form was chosen specifically taking into account the potential reunification of minors with their blood relatives, if any are found."
Nebenzia said Russia did not prevent children contacting or communicating with relatives and friends, wherever they lived, and that parents could apply to Lvova-Belova's office for help with reunification.
He said that so far, 15 children from eight families had been reunited with their relatives in this way.
(Writing by Kevin Liffey; Editing by Angus MacSwan)