South Africa has announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has an outstanding arrest warrant issued in his name by the UN’s International Criminal Court (ICC), will not travel to a BRICS summit to be held in Johannesburg next month, according to RFE/RL news report.
“By mutual agreement, President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation will not attend the Summit, but the Russian Federation will be represented by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov,” the office of President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement on July 19.
The leaders of Brazil, India, China, and South Africa will attend the summit of the bloc of developing economies, the presidency said.
The ICC in March issued the arrest warrant accusing the Russian leader — along with his children’s commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova — of being responsible for the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russia during the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, an act that amounts to a war crime under international legislation.
Russia is not a member of the ICC, but South Africa is, and Putin’s presence on its territory would oblige South African authorities to arrest him.
Russia said at the time that the warrant was “outrageous” and legally void, though Putin has not traveled outside Russia since. By contrast, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has traveled to Asia, the Middle East, and extensively through Europe in the past two months as he looks to increase military pledges from countries to help Ukraine battle invading Russian forces.
The Ukrainian government says it has identified almost 19,500 children who have been deported or separated from their parents or guardians since the start of Russia’s unprovoked invasion in February last year.
The South African presidency’s statement came a day after it emerged that Ramaphosa said on July 18 that arresting Putin would amount to a “declaration of war” by his country.
“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 statement to a court in the capital, Pretoria, where he had been summoned by the country’s main opposition party, which wanted the court to oblige Ramaphosa to arrest Putin in case he showed up in person.
“Russia has made it clear that arresting its sitting president would be a declaration of war,” Ramaphosa said.
The Kremlin has not yet confirmed that Putin will skip the event, but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied on July 19 that Moscow had directly threatened South Africa with war, but issued an intimidating statement nevertheless.
“In this world, it’s absolutely clear to everyone what an attempt to encroach the Russian leader means. Therefore, there’s no need to explain anything to anyone here,” Peskov said.
Ramaphosa last month led six African leaders on a mission to Kyiv and Moscow aimed at brokering a peace deal. Many impoverished African nations depend on Ukrainian and Russian grain and other agricultural imports to feed their growing populations.
U.S. State Department spokesman Matthew Miller commented on the situation during a briefing with reporters.
“There is no better illustration of [Russia’s] vastly diminished standing in the world than the fact that the president of Russia…can hardly leave his own borders now. He’s an international pariah,” Miller said.