It’s unlikely that Russian President Vladimir Putin will be handcuffed any time soon after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him, but former U.S. officials and war crimes prosecutors said the former KGB agent’s world shrank significantly after the announcement.
The court’s accusation on Friday, that he oversaw the war crime of the 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 Russia, the experts said.
“The result of this is he’s not going to travel any place he thinks he might get 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 has no police force of its own, the warrant “cordons off” the 123 countries that signed on to the statute that created the court, because Putin runs the risk of arrest if he travels to any of them, said Buchwald, now a professorial lecturer in law at George Washington University’s Law School.
Under the statute, those countries are obliged to carry out arrest warrants, no matter the rank of the accused. But most governments also abide by an international legal principle that heads of state have legal immunity from other courts.
And it is unclear how many governments would be ready 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 treat this,” he said in a Telegram post Friday.
But Putin will have to take into the account the danger of being arrested and flown to The Hague in the Netherlands, where the court is based.
The warrant also “puts pressure on any future Russian government,” said Wayne Jordash, a British lawyer who is leading teams of local and international prosecutors and investigators in Ukraine. “If they want to normalize relationships with the international community, then there’s one easy way of doing that: Turn him over for trial,” he said.
There is precedent for a country turning over its leader to the court for war crimes.
The arrest warrant issued in 1999…
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