Putin is a wanted man – a trial is not imminent, but the world is closing in
Russian President Vladimir Putin is unlikely to be handcuffed anytime soon after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him, but former US officials and war crimes prosecutors say the world of former KGB agent had shrunk considerably after the announcement.
The court’s accusation on Friday that he supervised the war crime of unlawful abduction and deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia locks in his status as an international pariah and will severely limit his ability to travel outside of Ukraine. Russia, experts said.
“The bottom line is that he won’t go to a place where he thinks he can be arrested,” said Todd Buchwald, who served as special coordinator for the State Department’s Office of Global Criminal Justice in the Obama and Trump administrations. .
Although the ICC does not have its own police force, the mandate “loops off” the 123 countries that signed the statute that created the court, as Putin faces the risk of arrest if he visits the one of them, said Buchwald, now a law professor at George Washington University School of Law.
Under the statute, these countries are required to execute arrest warrants, regardless of the rank of the accused. But most governments also abide by an international legal principle that heads of state enjoy legal immunity from other courts.
And it’s unclear how many governments would be willing to follow through and arrest the president of a nuclear-armed, oil-rich power with a history of exacting revenge and carrying out assassinations.
Putin’s press secretary Dmitry Peskov rejected the court’s findings. “We do not recognize this court, we do not recognize the jurisdiction of this court. This is how we deal with it,” he said in a Telegram post on Friday.
But Putin will have to consider the danger of being arrested and flown to The Hague in the Netherlands, where the court is located.
The warrant also “puts pressure on any future Russian government”, said Wayne Jordash, a British lawyer who leads teams of local and international prosecutors and investigators in Ukraine. “If they want to normalize relations with the international community, there’s an easy way to do that: send him back for trial,” he said.
There is precedent for a country to hand over its leader to a war crimes tribunal.
The arrest warrant issued in 1999 against Serbia’s then-incumbent president, Slobodan Milosevic, by the United Nations Yugoslav Tribunal for war crimes committed in Bosnia “became the vehicle used to expel him from Serbia”, said Dermot Groome, who led the investigation. and the prosecution of Milosevic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
“As more and more Serbian citizens and members of the military grew weary of his iron grip on power and his loss of the lives of young Serbian men in neighboring Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo, his support collapsed and in June 2001 he was arrested by Serbian authorities and sent back to The Hague on this arrest warrant where he was tried for international crimes,” said Groome, now a professor at Penn State Dickinson. Law.
Milosevic died before the end of the trial, and the limits of the ICC are well known. Omar Hassan al-Bashir, the former president of Sudan, has been charged but has never been arrested in the countries he has visited.
But the court convicted 10 people, including Thomas Lubanga, convicted of war crimes in 2012, of using child soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
And there is hope that the warrant against Putin could reduce excessive violence and brutality in Ukraine, where Russia has also paid a heavy price since the February 2022 invasion, with some estimating the country has lost around 200 000 soldiers in the first year of the war.
The move warns Russia that international prosecutors are closely monitoring the regime’s actions on the battlefield and could make some Russian officials think twice about carrying out orders that could put them in legal danger, experts said. .
This “puts pressure” on people around Putin “to distance themselves from him,” Buchwald said.