rscn4338When the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued their arrest warrant for Putin this week, I was happy to hear it.

Of course, since Russia isn’t signatory to the ICC (though 123 countries have joined, some large countries have not – India, China, Russia and, sadly, the USA are among these), and since Russia broke international law with the invasion of the Ukraine to begin with, so that almost everything that has followed has been a criminal act, you’re not to be blamed if you think these arrest charges are going nowhere.

But circumstances can change. No one thought Slobodan Milosevic, the Serbian leader responsible for many atrocities during the 1990’s Balkan war, would ever be held to account for them, but he was. An international tribunal tried him. That happened because once Milosevic was removed from leadership, the Serbian government that replaced him, hoping to restore their position in European political society, found it convenient to allow his arrest. I think they assisted in it.

Another example – in the USSR in the 1950s when Stalin was dying, everyone assumed that the much feared head of the NKVD (predecessor to the KGB), Laventry Beria, who had multiple other high positions in government, would replace Stalin. He appeared to be carefully maneuvering himself into position. In July 1953, shortly after Stalin’s death, TIME magazine put Beria on their cover for this reason.

Everyone was taken by surprise when Nikita Krushchev, a middle-rank world war II general, now member of the politburo, with help from a few allies, including general Zhukov, who had been the leader of the army that defeated Germany but had been demoted by Stalin to an insignificant position, managed to get enough selected army units into Moscow to counter those loyal to Beria, then, in a political ambush, arrested Beria, tried him for many crimes, then executed him.

When something like this happens, I’m always reminded of the wonderful saying from the island of Trinidad (my late wife’s original home) – “After one time, is two time.”

Just because things are this way today, doesn’t mean they will be tomorrow.

Yes, just because Putin appears to be in full control of Russia now, doesn’t mean he will be next week. Throughout history there have been legions of successful political coups. They are almost always done with the assistance of the army, or directly by the army. Once Rome abandoned democracy and switched to emperors, almost every emperor was chosen by the army. The one time that the emperorship was put up for auction and won by a prominent businessman, disgusted soldiers killed him shortly after.

Why political commentators keep asking whether the Russian financial ‘oligarchs’ could remove Putin, I don’t know. Money is not in charge here – raw force is in charge. You can be sure Putin watches his generals more closely than he watches the oligarchs. With the Russian economy collapsing from sanctions (don’t believe the World Bank/IMF reports that are apparently based on figures produced by Russian economists), and with so many young Russian soldiers dying in the Ukraine, a Russian general, or band of generals, who successfully deposed Putin could reasonably expect to be popular in Russia.

Don’t believe these reports that Putin is popular. As political opponent and ex-world chess champion Gary Kasperov says, “What would you say if you lived in Moscow and some pollster phoned you and asked whether you approve of Vladimir Putin?”

But anyone who manages to remove Putin, has to decide what to do with him. They might find it convenient to turn him over to the International Criminal Court. Given that the leading charge against him is currently the deportation/abduction of Ukrainian children, you can imagine that there would be world-wide approval, which would help the new Russian leaders restore the country’s reputation.

Don’t be surprised if that happens.

One thought on “Rescuing the Future | the ICC arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin | is it symbolic only?

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