Putin’s likely G20 visit to India in September will be watched closely after ICC warrant

By Mayank Chhaya

Mayank Chayya

With an arrest warrant against Russia’s President Vladimir Putin by the International Criminal Court out, a visit by him that is likely to be most watched is one to India to attend the G20 summit September 9 and 10.

Although neither Russia nor India are state parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC and are not obliged to act on its warrants, the Putin visit has the potential to cause discomfort for Prime Minister Narendra Modi. With the United States, which is also not a state party to the ICC, watching the likely visit it will be a delicate balancing act for the Modi government since U.S. President Joe Biden will also be one of the attendees.

Despite the fact that the arrest warrant may not immediately curb Putin’s movement, in the long-term it has the potential to cast a shadow on his future. The 123 countries which have ratified the Rome Statute and are members of the ICC Assembly of States Parties are obliged to arrest Putin should he visit any of them. However, the prospects of his visit to those countries at this stage are next to none. The only expected visit on the horizon is to India for the G20 summit.

The issuance of the warrant has the potential to weaken Putin domestically given that there is already growing disenchantment in Russia over the continuing war with Ukraine that Putin is inextricably committed to. The fact that the arrest warrant has been prompted by Russia’s forced deportation of hundreds of Ukrainian children to Russia is something that is of considerable interest within Russia.

The accusation of criminal responsibility laid out by ICC prosecutor Karim A. A. Khan can be escalated to more serious charges, including crimes against humanity and even genocide. In the short-term the warrant may not mean much but in the long run it has power to undo Putin’s so far untrammeled authority over his country. Moscow has rejected the warrant saying it has no meaning from their legal point of view as well as not being a party to the statute it has no obligation to act on it.

The United States too has stayed out of the statute because of the apprehensions that some day some of its own leaders and officials may be vulnerable to similar charges given Washington’s extensive meddling around the world. According to a report in the New York Times, there is an internal dispute within the Biden administration over whether to transfer to the ICC evidence of war crimes against Russia gathered by U.S. intelligence. “Most of the administration favors transferring the evidence, according to people familiar with the internal deliberations, but the Pentagon has balked because it does not want to set a precedent that could pave the way for eventual prosecutions of Americans,” the paper reported on Friday. With that as the backdrop the U.S. also does not acquit itself particularly well in such matters.

Experts who have dealt with the ICC believe that it may not seem now that the warrant would have any meaningful impact on Putin but historically whenever such warrants have been issued against leaders and officials in Africa, Europe and elsewhere they have eventually undone those leaders and officials.

The timing of the warrant makes it quite awkward for China’s President Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow next week where he plans to meet President Putin and likely discuss a possible way out of Ukraine among other things. As of now the visit stands and that is being seen as a boost for the Russian leader. Beijing has projected itself as a neutral player in the Russia-Ukraine war even as it has eschewed condemning Moscow and even declared to have a “no-limits” friendship with Russia.

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