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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Putin’s arrest warrant threatens to turn his most important relationship upside down

News of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s arrest warrant may not result in an immediate war crimes indictment, but it could upend one of his most important relationships, which he has systematically nurtured over the past year.

On Friday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) filed the first formal international indictment against Putin since Moscow invaded Ukraine in February 2022. The court, which does not recognize Russia but prosecutes those accused of war crimes, accused the Kremlin leader of wrongful Kidnapping and kidnapping transport of Ukrainian children and youth.

Prosecuting war crimes can be difficult, especially in the case of Russia, which never ratified the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court in 1998. Also, Russia does not extradite its own nationals. If Putin did not travel to one of the countries that have ratified the law, it would be nearly impossible for court authorities to enforce the warrant.

Aside from the complicated logistics behind the warrant, the decision to call for Putin’s arrest comes days ahead of a critical meeting between Russia’s leader and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

On Thursday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that Xi would pay a state visit to Moscow from Monday to Wednesday at the invitation of Putin. It is Xi’s first trip to Russia since the start of the war in Ukraine and is seen as a clear sign of how close the two countries have become over the past year.

“This will linger over the upcoming meeting between President Xi and President Putin,” said retired US Army Europe commanding general Ben Hodges news week. “China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, needs to think about its credibility and its role in the world, especially when it also considers providing lethal aid to Russia.”

Next week’s visit was the latest sign of how emboldened Beijing has become in its ambitions to become a major global player. Although China has tried to present itself as neutral in the war in Ukraine, it is seen by the US as siding with Russia. China has condemned Western sanctions against Russia, criticized NATO’s response to the invasion and said there are “no limits” to its partnership with the Kremlin.

The US, whose relations with both Beijing and Moscow are deteriorating, has warned China against proposing a ceasefire during Xi’s visit. Western allies have urged Xi to contact Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. They also have doubts about Beijing’s motives for strengthening its ties with Putin.

Eleonora Tafuro, Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Russia, Caucasus and Central Asia of the Italian Institute for International Political Studies, narrates news week that even if the timing of the arrest warrant and the meeting with Xi are just a coincidence, the collision of the two events “may actually make Xi nervous as he faces mounting Western pressure to stop supporting the Russian regime.”

It seems unlikely that Xi will address the ICC’s arrest warrant during his trip to Moscow. But the circumstances of Xi’s visit will be far from ideal, said Michael Kimmage, who held the Russia/Ukraine portfolio while he was on the State Department’s policy planning staff news week.

Still, the inconvenience “is nothing that would stand in the way of China-Russia relations,” he said.

Jordan Gans-Morse, faculty director of Northwestern University’s Russian, Eurasian, and Eastern European Studies program, said news week“It’s hard to imagine that this will change President Xi’s calculations regarding his upcoming visit to Russia.”

Gans-Morse said there was more thought being given to how a visit to Moscow could tarnish the reputation of a European leader like French President Emmanuel Macron or German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. But with Chinese media so tightly controlled by the state, “Xi has no reason to worry about such a narrative emerging at home.”

Even on a geopolitical level, Gans-Morse said Xi probably feels safe enough that he isn’t particularly concerned about being shunned by the US or Europe. Those perceptions could change, however, should China show more open involvement in a Ukrainian wartime peace plan next week.

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