Putin to miss BRICS summit by mutual agreement, South Africa says

Putin’s absence at the summit has been announced by the South African presidency, ending months of speculation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend the summit of the BRICS group of nations in South Africa in August “by mutual agreement”, South Africa’s presidency has said.

“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 Mr [Sergey] Lavrov,” Vincent Magwenya, a spokesman for President Cyril Ramaphosa, said in a statement on Wednesday.

Putin will participate remotely in the high-level talks, according to Moscow.

“President Putin decided to take part in the BRICS summit in a video conference format,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov was cited as saying by Russian news agencies. “It will be a full-fledged participation.”

Putin is sought by the International Criminal Court (ICC) over accusations that Russia unlawfully deported Ukrainian children.

The decision for Putin to stay away from South Africa follows “a number of consultations” held by Ramaphosa, the latest of which took place last night, said Magwenya.

South Africa faced a dilemma in hosting the summit because, as a member of the ICC which issued an arrest warrant for Putin in March for alleged war crimes, it would theoretically be required to arrest him if he were to attend.

The dilemma led to intense debate in South Africa and the West about whether the warrant would be executed, given South Africa’s stance of neutrality on the war in Ukraine and South Africa’s historic ties to the Kremlin.

In 2015, South Africa also failed to arrest then-Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir, who was also the subject of an ICC warrant.

Putin was formally invited to the BRICS summit due to take place in Johannesburg between August 22 and 24, but Pretoria came under heavy domestic and international pressure not to host him.

South Africa is the current chair of the BRICS group, an acronym for economic heavyweights Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, which sees itself as a counterweight to Western economic domination.

According to spokesman Magwenya, the leaders of the other countries will all be in attendance in person.

“President Ramaphosa is confident that the summit will be a success and calls on the nation to extend the necessary hospitality to the many delegates who will arrive from various parts of the continent and the globe,” he said.

In court papers released Tuesday, Ramaphosa wrote that arresting Putin would have amounted to a declaration of war on Russia.

The assessment was given in an affidavit responding to an application by the country’s leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), which aimed at forcing the government’s hand and ensuring the Kremlin leader was handed over to the ICC if he were to arrive.

An arrest would have also undermined a South African-led mission to end the war in Ukraine and “foreclose any peaceful solution”, Ramaphosa argued.

Last month, Ramaphosa led a seven-country African peace delegation including representatives from Egypt, Senegal and Zambia, to talks in Kyiv and Saint Petersburg.