Where Putin could flee to escape a trial on war crimes after defeat?

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his minions are now at risk of being charged with war crimes as a result of their barbaric war of aggression against Ukraine. Putin himself, his inner political circle, and military commanders are aware of this, Politico claims.

Russian leadership can be judged for war crimes in an international tribunal

In media discourse in Russia, you can already hear a fear of this scenario where the political and military leadership of the Russian state end up at an international tribunal, the way former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milošević did, for the crimes they committed in Ukraine. 

Putin and his allies must undoubtedly be thinking about their escape plans as Russia’s war efforts fail following Ukraine’s powerful counterattacks and severe Western sanctions that hit the Russian economy. So, the likelihood of even a small success decreases, and the chance of a regime transition or state collapse increases every month.

International Criminal Court gathers the evidence of Russia’s war crimes

Christine Van den Wyngaert, a former jurist at the International Criminal Court of Justice (ICC) in The Hague, one of the tribunals looking into alleged crimes in Ukraine, commented on this in an interview with POLITICO. Van den Wyngaert said any potential war crimes trial would likely be drawn out, but the timeline could be helped by the ICC investigators that are already gathering evidence of Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine.

Involvement in the murders in Bucha, Kyiv region, where mass graves and tied corpses were found after the Russian troops retreat, alone, according to Van den Wyngaert, might be sufficient for a life sentence if the murderers go on trial in the ICC.

Putin’s fantasy is, of course, that his loyal successor in Moscow will simply make a deal with him and let him live in his comfortable dacha. However, given the current circumstances, where Moscow faces a total collapse, this scenario is implausible.

Putin can be held accountable for tens of thousands of deaths in Ukraine

Putin and his regime should be held accountable for tens of thousands of deaths in Ukraine, so things will turn bad for the dictator and his entourage. So, could Putin now think of where to hide to escape judgment?

Van den Wyngaert predicted that Putin’s legal team would counsel him to travel to a country that hasn’t ratified the ICC statute. She suggested a few potential destinations for Putin, selected based on their political solidarity with the Kremlin, stability, and extradition danger.

Top 3 destinations for Putin’s exile

Exile in China

Putin has referred to Xi Jinping as a “close buddy”, and the Chinese leader is said to have dubbed Putin his “best and bosom friend.” The two autocrats are very close. China has not condemned Russia for the war of aggression against Ukraine. Xi recently won a third term as Chinese president, effectively guaranteeing the stability of his position. However, in this scenario, Beijing may not want to endanger its economic relations with the West by hosting an accused war criminal. 

Exile in Syria

Syria can be an exile with a longtime war friend, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He would accept hosting Putin, as himself, he asked the Russian President for assistance in the civil war against the opposition in 2015. Bashar al-Assad would not fear any sanctions, as his regime lives in severe isolation already. However, there is no absolute safety in Syria, as the war has not fully stopped there, and the al-Assad army might lose with the dictator losing power.

Exile in Iran

Tehran has nothing to lose from hosting Putin since Iran lives under severe Western sanctions. Iran has backed the Kremlin in the war against Ukraine, sending kamikaze drones and military equipment. So, the Iranian regime might face accusations too.

The connection between Russia and Iran has grown stronger as a result of the sanctions that have been placed on both states in recent years. However, relative safety in Iran might vanish in cases of violent protests in the country or civil unrest. 

Do you see more potential destinations for Putin to exile after Russia completely loses the war, or internal unrest and economic collapse lead to a regime fall with Putin dismissed and wanted by the International Criminal Court? Leave your thoughts in the comments here below.

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