Putin’s world just got smaller with the ICC arrest warrant

(CNN) President Vladimir Putin always enjoyed his global trips and shone his image as one of the world’s leaders.

While the Kremlin rejects the war crimes charges brought against him by the International Criminal Court, another reality is emerging within the Kremlin walls. Putin’s world got smaller.

At the Hamburg G20 meeting in 2017, he spent hours talking alone with the most powerful man in the world at the moment, former president Donald Trump.

A year later, at the next G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Putin praised Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman less than two months after the Saudis were suspected of brutally murdering journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

With his international focus, he could tamper with the world, or manipulate its leaders personally, if you will, from his stubborn, decades-long grip.

His love and use of the global limelight also helped him at home, cementing a tough, bare-chested, bear-hunting image as a protector of the Russians, curbing NATO’s supposed malevolent machinations to pillage the country’s borders.

But all this is over. Both Germany and Argentina are signatories to the Rome Statute, two of the 123 countries that are bound if Putin steps on their doorstep again to extradite him to The Hague to stand trial as a war criminal.

The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin on Friday.

Putin now faces a dilemma if he arrives in Delhi for this year’s G20 summit in September. India, like the US, has not joined the ICC, but what is Prime Minister Narendra Modi doing?

Shortly after the ICC’s announcement, President Joe Biden, when asked by a reporter “if Putin were convicted of war crimes,” replied “he’s clearly guilty of war crimes,” indicating that Putin would not, surprisingly, be welcome in the United States.

It leaves unclear what kind of legal trap Putin might accidentally find himself in the future. Without careful planning, Putin could land in a country that is apparently not allied with the International Criminal Court and does not meet the requirements of international law, be extradited to The Hague, however, due to unprecedented international political pressure or their own newfound desire for international law, which triggered the legal process to get him to The Hague.

Putin is unlikely to leave his fate to the roll of the dice in a foreign court, so his world is smaller even than the International Criminal Court holds nations. So regardless of the Kremlin’s spin, Putin’s ego has been bruised.

Of course, many people indicted by the International Criminal Court are in trouble, but none of Putin’s larger-than-life profile. The only president among the 15 ICC fugitives is former Sudanese president Omar al Bashir, who has managed to evade justice both in and out of office for over 13 years now.

But international law has a long reach. Former Serbian President Slobodan Milosovic, who instigated the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, finally ended up at The Hague in 2001 after being indicted for war crimes in several cases and died of heart failure in prison a few years later.

He was removed from office constitutionally, never fled Belgrade, and never expected its judiciary to hand him over for international trial.

His accomplices in some of his war crimes, Bosnian Serb military commander General Ratko Mladic, its Serbian nationalist leader Radovan Karadzic, both tried to hide from justice.

Mladic was eventually found hiding on a cousins’ farm near Belgrade, and Karadzic was spotted in Belgrade despite ditching his clean-shaven appearance for a full shaggy beard and hiding behind a new identity as a mystical faith healer.

Both ended up before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, both were convicted of war crimes and both are still in prison.

Putin’s lesson is that you can run, but you can’t hide. Perhaps more salutarily, the lesson learned in the Milosovic case is that if you don’t hold on to power, today’s subjects may become your prisoners tomorrow.

Not only is Putin’s world smaller, but his back has just gotten closer to the wall. His options, especially when viewed through his sometimes paranoid prism, are much uglier than last week.

Still, he has friends he can count on, at least for now. Chinese President Xi Jinping will be in Moscow on Monday, offering Putin the perfect image to boost his otherwise weakened position.

What worries others in Putin’s inner circle are their consequences.

Can they face similar charges, can they safely visit their children scattered across Europe’s best schools and universities without fear of arrest, access their offshore assets, even sunbathe in the United Arab Emirates, the new bolthole of Moscow’s elites, or book a table at a fancy Bosphorus-side restaurant in Istanbul.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, seems clear, no one is off limits “no one should really feel that they can act and commit genocide or crimes against humanity or war crimes with impunity”.

The further the potential defendants are from the Kremlin and its protective embrace, the greater the potential consequences.

The court’s chief judge, Pitor Hofmanski, said he hoped Putin’s charges would serve as a “deterrent”, as the atmosphere in Russia at the moment appears to be deliberately brutal.

Putin’s reality and the boundaries of his reduced world are just beginning to settle. There is no going back.

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