BY GERALD IMRAY
Russian President Vladimir Putin listens to Saratov Region Governor Roman Busargin during their meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Tuesday, July 18, 2023. (Alexander Kazakov, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA (AP) — Vladimir Putin has agreed not to attend an economic summit in Johannesburg next month after being asked to stay away by host country South Africa, which was facing a major legal quandary over whether to arrest the Russian president on an International Criminal Court warrant.
The August summit brings together Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — a bloc of developing economies known as BRICS. Officials have said that Putin wants to attend the gathering but have been trying to persuade him to stay away to avoid the legal and diplomatic fallout over his international arrest warrant.
On Wednesday, the office of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said Putin will not attend the BRICS summit after a “mutual agreement,” ending months of speculation. South Africa is a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC and would have been obliged it to arrest him.
Although Moscow has dismissed the warrant and Russia doesn’t recognize the authority of the international court, Putin has not traveled to any country that is a signatory to the court’s treaty since he was indicted by the ICC in March for war crimes relating to the abduction of children from Ukraine.
South African authorities had given strong hints that they would have likely not executed the arrest warrant against Putin, but South Africa’s main opposition party has taken the government to court in an attempt to compel it to arrest the Russian leader if he sets foot on South African territory.
Russia will be represented at the BRICS summit by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Ramaphosa’s office said in a statement. All the leaders of the other four countries, including China’s Xi Jinping, will attend the summit, it said.
Ramaphosa has said that any attempt to arrest Putin would have serious consequences for South Africa, including it being viewed by Russia as a “declaration of war.”
“I must highlight, for the sake of transparency, that South Africa has obvious problems with executing a request to arrest and surrender President Putin,” Ramaphosa said in a court affidavit related to the legal case brought by the opposition party.
“Russia has made it clear that arresting its sitting president would be a declaration of war,” Ramaphosa added in the affidavit, which was made public on Tuesday.
However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied that in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. That call was held before South Africa’s announcement that Putin would not attend the summit.
“No one has indicated anything to anyone,” Peskov said. “In this world, it is absolutely clear to everyone what an attempt to encroach on the head of the Russian state means. So there is no need to explain anything to anyone here.”
Although the Kremlin had not confirmed Putin’s plans to attend the summit, South Africa has claimed he was determined to.
South Africa Deputy President Paul Mashatile said in an interview with a top South African news outlet last week that South Africa had proposed other solutions to the arrest warrant issue, including moving the summit to China or holding a virtual summit where Putin could appear on a screen from Russia.
Russia rejected those ideas and wanted Putin to attend in person, Mashatile said.
AP Africa news: https://apnews.com/hub/africa