/ 7 June 2023

Ramaphosa, Putin ‘touch on’ Brics summit during phone call

Putin Ramaphosa
Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Cyril Ramaphosa. (Sergei Chirikov/AFP)

President Cyril Ramaphosa and Russian president Vladimir Putin have “touched on” preparations for next month’s Russian-Africa summit and the Brics leadership summit set for Johannesburg in August, during a phone call.

This was according to a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia (MFA) late on Wednesday night.

 “Issues related to the well-known African initiative to find ways to resolve the Ukrainian conflict were also discussed, and it was agreed that Vladimir Putin would soon receive a delegation of a number of African heads of state,” said the MFA.

The statement comes as South Africa grapples with having Putin attend the August leadership summit, despite the International Criminal Court (ICC) in March having issued a warrant for his arrest.

To circumvent having to arrest Putin when he is on South African soil, the international relations department is allegedly looking at the potential of moving the summit – possibly to China or India who, unlike South Africa, are not signatories to the ICC’s Rome Statute.

The ICC alleges that Putin is responsible for the unlawful deportation and transfer of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to Russia – a war crime – since 24 February 2022, the day Russia invaded Ukraine.

The African presidential peace delegation that will be visiting Russia and Ukraine this month comprises Ramaphosa, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt, Kaikande Hichilema of Zambia, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo, and Macky Sall of Senegal.

On Monday during a press briefing in Pretoria, Ramaphosa said the African leaders would engage with Putin and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy about “the elements for a ceasefire and a lasting peace in the region”.

The “peace mission” is set for mid-June.

Having Putin attend the summit in August has cast a shadow over relations between South Africa and trading partners the United States and European Union, who remain unconvinced that Putin’s attendance is acceptable because of South Africa’s “non-aligned” stance in the Russia-Ukraine war.

Tensions have also been heightened by the United States ambassador to South Africa, Reuben Brigety, alleging last month that weapons and ammunition had been loaded onto the sanctioned Russian vessel, the Lady R, when it was docked in Simons Town in December.

While the African National Congress and government have denied the allegations and said Brigety has apologised for the remarks, he has not. Instead, he mentioned that the manner in which he made the allegations – at a press briefing instead of going through prescribed channels – was inappropriate.

Ramaphosa has tasked a three-member “independent” panel chaired by retired judge Phineas Mojapelo to “enquire into the circumstances of the docking” of the Lady R. The presidency has cited national security to justify not releasing the terms of reference for the inquiry.

According to the MFA, Putin also spoke to Turkish president Recep Erdogan over the phone.

In that call, “Vladimir Putin stated that the Kiev authorities, at the suggestion of their Western handlers, were still making a dangerous bet on the escalation of hostilities, committing war crimes, openly using terrorism methods and organising sabotage on Russian territory. A clear example of this was the barbaric action to destroy the Kakhovskaya hydroelectric power station in the Kherson Region, which resulted in a large environmental and humanitarian catastrophe”.

Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, told the Mail & Guardian that the presidency would be issuing a statement about the phone call between Ramaphosa and Putin in due course.