(CNN) President Vladimir Putin always enjoyed his global forays and polished his image as one of the great guns running the world.
As the Kremlin dismisses the ICC’s war crimes charges against him, a different reality will emerge within the Kremlin’s walls. Putin’s world has only gotten smaller.
During the G20 in Hamburg in 2017, he spent hours talking alone with arguably the most powerful man in the world at the time, former President Donald Trump.
A year later, at the next summit of G20 leaders in Buenos Aires, Putin high-fived Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman less than two months after the Saudi became suspicious of ruthless murder journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Basking in an international focus, he could turn his nose at the world, or personally manipulate its leaders, an advantage, if you will, of his stubborn, decades-long hold on power.
His love of and use of the global spotlight also helped him at home, cementing his tough, bare-chested, bear-hunting image as a protector of the Russians and countering perceived NATO evil machinations that were plundering the country’s borders.
But that’s all over. Both Germany and Argentina are signatories to the Rome Statute, two of the 123 countries required if Putin returns to his doorstep to extradite him to The Hague to face trial as a war criminal.
Putin now faces a dilemma when he appears in Delhi for this year’s G20 in September. India, like the US, is not a member of the ICC, but what will Prime Minister Narendra Modi do?
Shortly after the ICC announcement, President Joe Biden, when asked by a reporter, “Should Putin be tried for war crimes,” replied “he has clearly committed war crimes,” indicating, unsurprisingly, that Putin would not be welcome are in the US.
It leaves unclear what kind of legal trap Putin might inadvertently find in the future. Without careful planning, Putin could land in a country seemingly out of alignment with the ICC and unbound by the requirements of international law. process to get him to The Hague.
Putin is unlikely to leave his fate to the rolling of the dice in a foreign court, so his world is even smaller than the ICC makes out to nations. So regardless of the Kremlin spider, Putin’s ego is dented.
Of course, there are plenty of ICC indictees on the run, admittedly, none with the larger-than-life profile of Putin. The only other president among the ICC’s 15 fugitives is former Sudanese president Omar al Bashir, who has successfully evaded justice both in and out of office for more than 13 years now.
But international justice has a wide scope. Former Serbian President Slobodan Milosovic, who fueled the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, finally ended up in The Hague in 2001, where he was charged with war crimes on a number of counts and died in prison there a few years later to heart failure.
He was constitutionally removed from office, never fled Belgrade and never expected the judiciary to extradite him for an international trial.
His accomplices in some of his war crimes, Bosnian Serb military commander General Ratko Mladic, and Serbian nationalist leader Radovan Karadzic tried to hide from justice.
Mladic was eventually caught hiding in a cousin’s farmhouse near Belgrade and Karadzic was spotted in Belgrade despite having shed his clean-shaven appearance for a full, shaggy beard and hiding behind a new identity of a mystical faith healer .
Both ended up in The Hague, were both convicted of war crimes and are still in prison.
The lesson for Putin is that you can run, but you can’t hide. Perhaps more salutarily, the lesson learned in Milosovic’s case is that if you don’t hold on to power, today’s subordinates can become your jailers tomorrow.
Not only is Putin’s world smaller, but his back is simply closer to the wall. His options, especially when viewed through his sometimes paranoid prism, are a lot uglier than last week.
Still, he has a few friends he can count on, at least for now. China’s President Xi Jinping will be in Moscow on Monday to give Putin the perfect image to re-inflate his otherwise diminished status.
What will worry others in Putin’s inner orbit are the implications of them.
Could they face similar charges, will they be able to safely visit their children scattered across Europe’s top schools and universities free from fear of arrest, access their offshore assets, even sunbathe safely in the UAE, the new loophole from Moscow’s elite, or book a table at a posh restaurant on Istanbul’s Bosphorus.
The ICC’s Chief Prosecutor, Karim Khan, seems clear: no one is off limits “absolutely no one should feel that they can act with impunity and commit genocide or crimes against humanity or war crimes.”
The farther potential indictees get from the Kremlin and its protective embrace, the greater the possible consequences will be.
The court’s chief judge, Pitor Hofmanski, said he hopes Putin’s accusations will serve as a “deterrent” as now the mood in Russia appears to be willfully combative.
The reality for Putin and the limits of his reduced world are only becoming visible. There’s no way back.