Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis, (@fridaghitis) a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a weekly opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to The and a columnist for World Politics Review. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.
When the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced on Friday that it had issued arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and another key Russian official for charges related to an alleged scheme to forcibly deport thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia, it also effectively placed Putin’s name on a short list alongside some of the most brutal leaders the world has seen since the end of World War II. With that, it branded him before the entire world — including the Russian people — as an international pariah, potentially guilty of historically egregious crimes.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called the ICC’s move “outrageous and unacceptable,” dismissing the warrants as “null and void” for Russia. But there’s no question that this is a stunning, historical reputational blow not just to Putin but to modern Russia.
Only three sitting heads of state have faced ICC charges while in office. The other two were the late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Sudan’s former President Omar al-Bashir, both accused of horrifying crimes against their own people.
Russia is not Libya or Sudan, both impoverished developing nations barely out of colonial rule. Russia is one of the countries that helped defeat Hitler’s Germany in World War II. It is a once-proud nation that emerged from world war, and later from communism, with vast natural resources, a highly educated population and a drive to become a thriving democracy. It faced many challenges, but had a promising future.
Then came Putin, handpicked by his predecessor Boris Yeltsin and then elected president more than 20 years ago, who dismantled democracy block by block, tightening his hold on power and crushing the country’s democratic aspirations even before he launched his brutal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.