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Caught off guard How the ICC’s arrest warrant for Putin threw a wrench in the Kremlin’s plans for 2023
Story by Andrey Pertsev. Translation by Sam Breazeale.
Since the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against Vladimir Putin on Friday, the Kremlin has done its best to appear unfazed. But multiple sources close to the Russian authorities have told Meduza that the Putin administration was not expecting the court’s announcement, and that the severe restrictions the warrant puts on the president’s ability to travel abroad could poke holes in the image he tries to project at home.
Meduza has learned that the International Criminal Court’s decision to issue an order for the Russian president’s arrest came as a major surprise to the Kremlin. According to two sources close to the Putin administration, the Russian authorities were unprepared for the situation.
In the leadup to Russia’s 2024 presidential election, the Kremlin planned to present Putin to voters as a “warrior against the West” and a “defender of Latin American and African countries against colonial oppression,” Meduza’s sources said. However, that plan would necessarily involve overseas trips that Putin will now likely be unable to take; because of the warrant against him, the Russian president could theoretically be detained in any of 123 countries. According to sources close to his administration, the Kremlin is unsure how it would be possible to “ensure the security” of the president given the new circumstances.
Meduza’s sources noted that even since Putin launched the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, he has regularly traveled abroad and participated in various forums and summits. In the summer of 2022, for example, he visited Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Iran, and in the fall, he visited Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Armenia (though it’s true that he hasn’t visited any Western countries since the start of the full-scale war).
According to two sources close to the Putin administration, these trips were very important for domestic propaganda, among other things, because Russia’s pro-government media could cite them while telling citizens that Russia “still has more friends that detractors” and that it remains “one of the pillars of the multipolar world.”
“The restrictions on foreign visits will work in the opposite direction. Before the warrant, [Putin’s] trips abroad were combined with foreign leaders’ trips to Moscow. Now, it won’t be possible to keep having meetings with the same frequency — you can’t constantly invite everybody to come to you,” one source said.
The president’s foreign travel difficulties have already begun: in August 2023, South Africa is slated to host the next BRICS summit, and Cape Town has already said that it’s “cognisant of its legal obligation” regarding the ICC warrant. Putin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, however, has said that the Kremlin has remained “calm” and will “continue working.” (State Duma Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin, on the other hand, called the warrant “aggression against Russia,” while Russian Investigative Committee head Alexander Bastrykin called for a legal assessment of the decision and for the judges who issued the order to be identified.)
In addition to Putin, the ICC also issued a war crimes warrant against Russian Children’s Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova, a key figure in Russia’s system of forcibly deporting Ukrainian children to Russia. Sources close to the Kremlin told Meduza that the Putin administration believes The Hague may put out warrants against more Russian officials in the future, such as the Russian-installed governors of the regions from which Ukrainian children have been taken. Even if that does happen, though, the Kremlin doesn’t think it will affect the officials’ lives: “In reality, civil servants don’t travel abroad [during wartime] anyways.”
Translation by Sam Breazeale
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