With the ICC's arrest order, Putin's world has significantly shrunk.March 18
President Vladimir Putin has used his global outings to burnish his image as one of the big guns running the world. At the Hamburg G20 in 2017, he spent hours talking alone with former President Donald Trump. At the next G20 leader's summit in Buenos Aires, he high fived Saudi's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman less than two months after suspicion fell on the Saudi over the brutal murder journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Both Germany and Argentina are signatories to the Rome Statute, two of 123 nations who are obliged if Putin pitches up on their doorstep again to extradite him to the Hague to face trial as a war criminal. Putin faces a dilemma now, if he shows up in Delhi for this year's G20 in September, as India, like the USA, is not signed up to the ICC, but what will Prime Minister Narendra Modi do?
President Joe Biden, when asked by a reporter, "should Putin be tried for war crimes," replied "he's clearly committed war crimes," indicating Putin would not be welcome in the US. Without careful planning, Putin could inadvertently find himself in the future in a country unaligned with the ICC and not beholden to the international law requirements he be handed over to the Hague. Putin is unlikely to leave his destiny to the roll of the dice in a foreign court, so his world is smaller even than the ICC hold out nations. However, international justice has a long reach and former Serbian President Slobodan Milosovic and Bosnian Serb military Commander General Ratko Mladic both tried to hide from justice. Mladic was eventually picked up hiding out in a cousins farm near Belgrade and Karadzic was spotted in Belgrade despite his shedding his clean shaven looks for a full shaggy beard and hiding behind a new identity of a mystic faith healer.
Both ended up facing international justice in the Hague, both were convicted of war crimes and both are still in jail. The lesson for Putin is that you can run but you can't hide. The lesson learned in Milosovic's case is that unless you hold on to power, today's underlings could become your jailors. Putin's world is smaller and his options are more limited, but he does have some friends he can count on. President Xi Jinping of China will be in Moscow Monday to reinflate his otherwise diminished standing.
The ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan seems clear, no one is off limits and the further potential indictees are from the Kremlin and its protective embrace, the greater the potential ramifications. The courts chief judge, Pitor Hofmanski, hopes Putin's charges will be a "deterrence," but the mood in Russia appears willfully truculent. The reality for Putin and the limits of his diminished world are only settling in and there is no turning back.