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Putin Will Attend BRICS Summit Via Video Call, Kremlin Says

The Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, glancing back toward his South African counterpart, Cyril Ramaphosa, as they walk in front of the flags of their countries and that of Brazil.
President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, right, with President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa at the BRICS summit meeting in Brasília in 2019.Credit...Eraldo Peres/Associated Press

President Vladimir V. Putin will not attend a diplomatic summit in South Africa next month in person, the Kremlin said on Wednesday, a decision that allows the host nation to avoid the difficult predicament of whether to arrest the Russian leader, who is the subject of an international warrant on war crimes charges.

President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa had said in a court affidavit made public on Tuesday that his country would risk war with Russia if it arrested Mr. Putin at the summit, a long-planned meeting in Johannesburg in August of the heads of state of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, a bloc known as BRICS.

The decision for Mr. Putin not to go to Johannesburg was made “by mutual agreement,” according to a statement released by Mr. Ramaphosa’s office. Russia will instead be represented in person by its foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, the statement said.

Mr. Putin will participate in the summit via video link, the Russian state news agency Ria Novosti reported, citing a Kremlin spokesman, Dmitri S. Peskov.

The news caps a tense few months for South African officials, who painstakingly deliberated over how to proceed, given that their government considers Russia a close friend and ally. South African officials were forced to weigh that alliance against the country’s relationship with Western partners — a relationship strained lately because of South Africa’s refusal to condemn Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The dilemma for South Africa was resolved when Mr. Putin finally decided on Tuesday to stay home, in large part because of the recent instability set off last month by a revolt organized by the Russian mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin, according to a South African government official who requested anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Mr. Putin “became easier to persuade as a result of the recent domestic problems he is having,” said the official, referring to the impact of the brief revolt.

Mr. Putin is the subject of an arrest warrant on accusations related to the war in Ukraine by the International Criminal Court. The warrant makes South Africa, as a signatory to the court, legally obliged to arrest the Russian president. Russia “has made it clear” that arresting Mr. Putin “would be a declaration of war,” Mr. Ramaphosa said in his affidavit.

“It would be inconsistent with our Constitution to risk engaging in war with Russia,” Mr. Ramaphosa wrote in the 32-page affidavit.

Mr. Ramaphosa was responding to a petition by South Africa’s largest opposition political party, the Democratic Alliance, that asked a court in Pretoria, the nation’s executive capital, to force the government to arrest Mr. Putin if he attended the summit, in Johannesburg, scheduled for Aug, 22 to 24. The court is expected to hear arguments in the case on Friday.

Mr. Ramaphosa argued in his affidavit that South Africa’s Bill of Rights required the government to protect and promote certain rights, including “the right to be free from all forms of violence.”

“An act that would be perceived as a declaration of war by Russia would be reckless,” Mr. Ramaphosa wrote, and conflict with his and “the government’s constitutional obligations.”

Mr. Ramaphosa also argued that arresting Mr. Putin would conflict with South Africa’s effort to broker a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine. Mr. Ramaphosa joined several African leaders last month in meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine in Kyiv and then with Mr. Putin in St. Petersburg, Russia, to discuss a path to ending the war — a mission that was met with skepticism from both.

South Africa had been exploring options that would allow it to avoid arresting Mr. Putin if he went to Johannesburg. Mr. Ramaphosa said in his affidavit that he was consulting with the leaders of each BRICS country, and he had asked the court to give him time to complete the consultation.

Last week, South Africa’s deputy president, Paul Mashatile, said his country had raised the possibility of holding the summit virtually or moving it to China. Both options were rejected by South Africa’s BRICS partners, he said. And Russian officials had resisted a suggestion that Foreign Minister Lavrov attend the summit in his place, Mr. Mashatile said.

Posted on 19 Jul 2023 17:11 link