Vladimir Putin arrived in Kyrgyzstan Thursday, visiting abroad for the first time since the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him in March.
He is due to meet his Kyrgyz counterpart Sadyr Japarov and to take part in a summit of the Commonwealth of Independent States with his Belarus ally Alexander Lukashenko and other regional leaders.
The long-time leader has rarely left Russia since launching the Ukraine offensive in February 2022.
This year, he has travelled only to Russian-occupied parts of Ukraine, with his last foreign trips to Belarus and Kyrgyzstan last December — a far cry from the busy international schedule he had earlier in his rule.
Now, in a sign of Russia’s isolation, he is planning a visit to North Korea next, as well as China.
Moscow has likened the prospect of Putin being arrested abroad to an act of war, casting the warrant as “illegal”.
In practice, however, it has taken precautions: in August, Russia sent Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to a BRICS summit in ICC member South Africa, instead of Putin.
While the full-scale Ukraine offensive made Putin a persona-non-grata in the Western world, the ICC ruling virtually closed the door to a large part of the globe for him.
The Rome Statute, a treaty requiring members to adhere to ICC rulings, has been ratified by 123 countries.
The ruling caused a legal headache for ICC member South Africa, which hosted the BRICS summit to which Putin was invited.
In a last-minute decision, Moscow sent its foreign minister instead of Putin.
“Why should I create some problems for our friends during an event?” Putin said this month, commenting on his absence from Johannesburg.
“If I come, a political show will start,” he added.
Putin is wanted alongside his children’s rights commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova for the war crime of allegedly unlawfully deporting thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia.
Moscow rejects the allegations.
Armenia PM snubs meeting
The visit comes amid some rifts among Russia’s allies.
Armenian leader Nikol Pashinyan will skip the summit attended by Putin, host country Kyrgyzstan announced two days before the event.
Pashinyan has criticised Moscow for not intervening when Azerbaijan launched a successful offensive to take over the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh region last month.
His snub came after Armenian lawmakers moved to join the ICC, angering Moscow and potentially limiting Putin’s travel options further.
Putin is planning to meet with the leader of Armenia’s arch-foe, Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliyev.
Moscow’s Ukraine offensive has also rattled its Central Asian partners.
Putin visited all five regional countries — Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan — in 2022, portraying them as Russia’s core allies.
Ahead of Putin’s trip, Kyrgyzstan said it had ratified an agreement for a common air defence system with Russia.
Moscow has similar deals with other allied countries including Kazakhstan, Belarus and Tajikistan.
But suspicion of Russia in parts of the region has grown. None of the Central Asian countries supported Russia in a key UN vote on Ukraine last year.
In September, Kazakhstan even vowed to comply with the massive Western sanctions on Russia, with its leader saying Astana will not help Moscow circumvent them.
Central Asian countries, which have many citizens working in Russia, have warned their people not to fight in Ukraine alongside Moscow’s forces.