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What Putin’s Arrest Could Look Like

A week has passed since Russian President Vladimir Putin was made a global outlaw.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for him on March 17, accusing him of committing war crimes in his full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Since then, some of the court’s member states have weighed in on whether they would detain and hand Putin over to the court in The Hague.

It is unclear whether Putin will ever be held fully accountable for overseeing the illegal deportation of Ukrainian children. However, should he enter the territory of the ICC’s member states, they are legally obliged to carry out the arrest warrants on Putin and Russia’s presidential commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova.

However, that may not be the only risk for Putin following the arrest warrant, as he also faces the prospect of embarrassment, humiliation or even death at the hands of enemies both within and abroad.

All ICC states—including every member of the European Union, most African states, all Latin and South American states except Cuba and Nicaragua, and even Tajikistan—are legally required to arrest Putin if he ever steps foot on their territory, the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA) has noted.

The ICC lacks its own police force to enforce its arrest warrants, and is dependent on its 123 member states to assist by placing individuals under arrest by national law enforcement—something that hasn’t always played out in the past. Former Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir has two arrest warrants from the ICC dating back to 2009 and 2010. Despite visiting ICC member states since then, he remains at large.

While several NATO member states, including Germany and the US, have doubled down on commitments to abide by the ICC’s arrest warrant for Putin, Hungary, which is also a member of the 30-member military alliance, has announced that it would not arrest the Russian president if he entered the country.

Gergely Gulyas, chief of staff to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, said on March 23 that although his country is a signatory to the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC, and ratified it in 2001, there is no basis in Hungarian law for arresting Putin.

That announcement came after Russia’s former President Dmitry Medvedev warned that any attempt to arrest Putin on the ICC’s warrant would amount to a declaration of war against Russia.

There is also growing discussion about whether Putin could be arrested this August during an expected trip for a summit of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations this August in South Africa, which is also obliged to carry out the warrant .

Vlad Mykhnenko, an expert in the post-communist transformation of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union at the University of Oxford, told Newsweek he believes Putin could be arrested and sent to court at The Hague should he be removed from power, or if Russia’s elites set him up for an arrest to oust him from power.

“Because the Kremlin is, number one, paranoid about Putin’s safety and number two, believes the US runs the world, Putin will not step foot on the territory of an ICC member state to avoid any embarrassment,” said Mykhnenko, adding that Putin likely won’t risk going to Dushanbe, in Tajikistan, or South Africa.

And if Putin does risk visiting ICC member states and “gets into trouble,” that could be the result of the siloviki (an elite group of Russian businessmen and leaders) setting him up for an arrest “to get rid of him,” said Mykhnenko .

“A substitute could be easily conjured up, who could even promise ‘to avenge’ the loss of the dear leader, but just for a show,” he said.

Boris Bondarev, a former Russian diplomat who resigned publicly over the invasion of Ukraine last year, also told Newsweek last month that Putin can be replaced, and that he may eventually be forced to step down should he lose his war against Ukraine.

Putin can be replaced. He’s not a superhero. He doesn’t have any superpowers. He’s just an ordinary dictator,” said Bondarev.

Mykhnenko drew comparisons to Slobodan Milosevic, who was indicted in 1999 by the precursor of the ICC, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

“After he lost power at home, the new Serbian leader—to re-establish relationship with the West— handed over Milosevic to the tribunal in The Hague,” said Mykhnenko.

“I think that post-Putin leaders could pull the same trick to re-establish the relationship with the West.”

However, in this scenario, Putin might not even make it to The Hague.

“Given Putin’s extensive connections across Europe and what he could potentially tell the judges about corruption and dodgy dealings between Moscow and major Western capitals, there will be a lot of incentive to silence him before The Hague,” Mykhnenko said.

A week has passed since Russian President Vladimir Putin was made a global outlaw.

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