Putin’s Arrest Warrant: a perspective on its feasibility and effects on the conflict

March 22, 2023 by

Raffaele Petroni

Putin’s Arrest Warrant: a perspective on its feasibility and effects on the conflict

The arrest warrant on Vladimir Putin issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for personal responsibility for the commission of the war crime of abducting and kidnapping Ukrainian children has sparked a debate on both the feasibility of executing this warrant and the effects on the war in Ukraine. While this decision was positively welcomed by the government of Kiev, it has been rejected by the Kremlin on the grounds that Russia is not a member state of the ICC and does not recognize its jurisdiction.

Both Ukraine and Russia are not members of the ICC. However, the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) sets its jurisdiction on two declarations of acceptance of the ICC’s jurisdiction made by the government of Kiev: the first concerned the period between ent of Kiev: the first concerned the period between November 21, 2013, and February 22, 2014, while the second concerned the period from February 20, 2014 onward, without setting a temporal end.

Following these declarations, the then prosecutor analyzed the legality and technicalities of the situation, concluding that any new crimes arising from the conflict (which was then geographically restricted to the Donbass region) would have fallen under the jurisdiction of the court. Based on these grounds, the court found that it had jurisdiction over the events that are taking place in Ukraine. A few days after the start of the conflict in Ukraine, the OTP announced that he would have sought authorization to open an investigation on the situation in Ukraine.

One of the main questions concerns the feasibility and likelihood of the execution of this arrest warrant. The ICC does not have its own police forces; as such, it has to rely on the cooperation of other states. It is very unlikely that the Russian president will travel internationally to states that could and would have the intention to execute the arrest warrant. At the same time, several states that have criticized the decision of the court (e.g., Serbia) would find themselves in the very uncomfortable position of executing the warrant.

The issue of this warrant is a test of the ICC’s reputation. The Court has already gone through the negative experience of trying to arrest Sudan’s former president, Al-Bashir. That failure was a deep blow to its prestige, a blow that reinforced the opinion that the court is strong with the weak and weak with the strong. The court is therefore in need of improving its legal stature; should it fail to obtain the arrest of Mr. Putin, it would mark a new low in its reputation.

Other questions concern the effects of the court’s decision on the war in Ukraine. It is unlikely that this arrest warrant will have any effect on the situation on the ground. However, it is more likely that this decision will affect any attempts to find a negotiated and diplomatic solution to the conflict. It is highly probable that Russia would insert clauses concerning the end of any claims against Russia and its leaders before any international tribunals. From a domestic perspective, Mr. Putin will most likely leverage this warrant to increase his popularity.

While justice is usually seen as desirable and a necessary element to restore peace, its implementation is not always a smooth process. It would not be surprising, therefore, if in this case its effects were curtailed as a way to have all the parties on board for any negotiated settlement.

About the Author

Raffaele Petroni is leading the International Law and Human Rights desk at CIRIS.

To read more articles from CIRIS experts- Articles – Center for International Relations and International Security (ciris.info)

About the author

Raffaele Petroni

Raffaele Petroni