Lawfare Comes into Fashion: The New Geo-political ‘Rack’

So here we are: more ‘mud’ slinging at President Putin (ludicrously enough) as an alleged indicted ‘child abductor’. This tactic is not new. It is drawn from the old Anglo-American playbook first honed for service against Slobodan Milosevic.

It always seemingly reverts to the same question: Did Europe properly think this through? Again, the probable answer is ‘no’. More likely the ‘strike’ against President Putin was seen rather, as clever ‘optics’ — the image of the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant for Putin issued, with a German official stating flatly that Germany will enforce the warrant should Putin visit that country.

The ‘ploy’ may turn out possibly as counterproductive as that of trying to collapse the Russian economy through financial war. That was another wheeze that didn’t work out well! So now it is the turn of ‘Lawfare’ against the Russian President, in place of financial war.

Of course, the warrant will never come to anything, but the rationale behind it, though, is plain enough: The US already has disdainfully dismissed President Xi’s mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and categorically rejected Xi’s earlier call for a Ukrainian ceasefire. The possibility of Xi unilaterally proposing a Ukraine ‘deal’ whilst in Moscow (with the US absent), terrifies a fragile White House — It would make Biden look ‘weak’.

It is not clear that Xi has any such intention (at this moment to fully engage on Ukraine), but globally important statements and agreements are expected to emerge from President Xi’s summit with Putin this week. And even if he does not intervene on Ukraine, the language coming from Beijing — and directly from Xi — has turned acerbic towards the US, and its misuse of Ukraine as a tool to weaken Russia. Again, it portrays Biden as ‘weak’; as a ‘loser’ in the Great Game of Triangulation between the US, Russia and China.

Should Xi not even focus particularly on the Ukraine war, the image of China and Russia gelling together in opposition to Biden’s ‘Rules-Based Order’ is enough to set teeth grinding jarringly in Washington — at the sensitive moment when Washington is hoping for a last Ukrainian throw-of-the-dice, with some sort of ‘spring offensive’ before it becomes all too obvious that Kiev has expended its manpower and ammunition — and the Biden Team is obliged to ‘move-on’.

So here we are: more ‘mud’ slinging at President Putin (ludicrously enough) as an alleged indicted ‘child abductor’. This tactic is not new. It is drawn from the old Anglo-American playbook first honed for service against Slobodan Milosevic:

(Washington Post, 28 May 1999): Russia vowed to continue to try to mediate between NATO and Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic; but the latter’s indictment on the eve of [mediator] Chernomyrdin’s visit was denounced by Russia – The newspaper Izvestia noted that “it is impossible to come to terms with a wanted military criminal” and claimed the indictment would cancel out Chernomyrdin’s diplomacy.

Just to be plain: the game-plan for Yugoslavia was precisely to broadcast that Milosevic was ‘the issue’, and that once he was gone, an arrangement would come into easy reach. It was not true, of course. The word was not kept. The point was that Milosevic went to the Hague, and Yugoslavia was dismembered.

Naturally, Russia is not Yugoslavia. Russia was particularly weak in 1999. It is not today. Neither Russia, China, the US (nor Ukraine) are members of the Rome Statute which set up the ICC (though Ukraine dabbles with it). (There is also the separate issue that to date, all 44 people indicted by the court have been African; the ICC has appeared reluctant to investigate western states).

No one in Russia therefore takes this indictment seriously – seeing it more as a harbinger of western desperation.

But Britain evidently does. It is in the driving seat — with the US again leading from behind. There have been rumours for some months of attempts last year by western powers to try have a UN Special Tribunal set up to try ‘Russian War Crimes’, but such efforts failed to gain traction either for a stand-alone Tribunal or indeed, as ‘floated’ by western officials, for a reference by the General Assembly to the Court in the Hague. There was neither the support, nor any consensus that there existed any legal basis for such action.

So, if it is legally questionable, how did this arrest warrant get issued, given the general doubts expressed in the General Assembly on the validity of the ICC issuing a warrant against a head of state that is not a member of the Rome Statute, or which accepts its jurisdiction?

Well, we cannot say for certain – but the man who wrote the arrest order was Karim Khan, a prominent British lawyer, who had been nominated by the UK for the post of Chief Prosecutor.  He is the brother of Imran Ahmad Khan, a UK Tory politician who was convicted of child sex last year.

So here is the ‘counter-productive’ crux: After the West’s seizing of Russian assets last year, and the threats to seize any Russian gold they find, many non-western states revised the risk calculus of keeping their reserves in western custody. There consequently has been a flight of gold and foreign exchange from western jurisdictions.

The issuance of an ICC on such flimsy pretext — absent any apparent reference from any competent authority to the Court — must expose many senior politicians visiting Europe to a new risk: that of ‘Lawfare’ used as a geo-political stick against governments who have run up against the grain of western interests in some way. Again, states will rightly become more cautious of any interaction with western legal jurisdictions. Lawfare is in fashion — look at what is happening in the US with Trump and his supporters. Caveat!

In the case of President Putin, it is not about western ‘pressure’ or interests — it is about regime change, pure and simple. The warrant is a direct threat against a Head of State. Its main consequence is to sabotage the climate for dialogue between Moscow and Kiev. Zelensky was unwise to put war-criminality from the first on the political ‘table.

The Law of unintended consequences: The western Ruling Class clings to the conviction that Putin can be ousted (Milosevic-style). The British media seemingly believe that (pro-western) Russian oligarchs will overthrow Putin in embarrassment from his indictment for ‘child abduction’. This is absurd! The move has only increased Putin’s esteem outside the West — but estimation of Europe’s political nous and understanding of Russia, however, is sharply diminished.

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