/ 19 July 2023

Brics summit to go ahead without Vladimir Putin

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Home boy: Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will attend Brics virtually. (Photo by Contributor/Getty Images)

Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend the Brics summit in Johannesburg next month, relieving South Africa’s government of the dilemma it faced over his International Criminal Court arrest warrant should he participate.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Vincent Magwenya, confirmed that Putin —  who faces the warrant over the unlawful deportation and transfer of thousands of children in Russia’s war against Ukraine — would not be heading his country’s delegation.

Magwenya said the decision that Russia’s delegation to the summit, being held in Sandton from 22 to 24 August, would be headed by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was reached “by mutual agreement”. 

The announcement comes a day after the Pretoria high court ordered the release of Ramaphosa’s confidential affidavit in which he said that arresting Putin would result in a “declaration of war” and possibly nuclear war by Russia.

The decision appears to have caught the governing ANC party off guard, coming an hour after a briefing earlier on Wednesday by its first deputy secretary general, Nomvula Mokonyane, in which she said the matter of Putin’s participation was still under discussion.

Mokonyane had addressed the media on the sidelines of the Brics political parties plus dialogue in Johannesburg, telling them that the peace and security commission sitting on Wednesday would deal with the matter.

Magwenya made the Putin announcement in a state of readiness briefing note, in which he said Ramaphosa had participated in the latest of a series of preparatory discussions on Tuesday night.

An agreement had been secured that the leaders of Brazil, India, China and South Africa would attend and that Lavrov would head the Russian delegation.

Magwenya said a more comprehensive statement would be issued in due course on “the substantive issues to be covered at the summit and other related foreign policy matters”.

Ramaphosa was “confident” that the summit would be a success, Magwenya said.

The 11th hour reprieve was welcomed by the ANC, whose spokesperson, Mahlengi  Bhengu-Motsiri, said it “commended” Ramaphosa for “walking the talk” with regard to holding discussions with Russia and Ukraine about the war.

Bhengu-Motsiri said the decision had reaffirmed South Africa’s non-aligned status and Ramaphosa’s role in the process aiming to kick-start some form of peace talks between the parties.

The outcome was a “win win” because it allowed the summit to go ahead with the participation of all parties while operating within the rules of the international order.

“We are here now. This may have taken away a lot of the negative focus on the summit. It enables everyone to focus on the outcomes without distraction,” Bhengu-Motsiri said.

The 15th Brics summit is the first being held in person since the Covid-19 pandemic, with a number of new nations applying to join and the member states punting the development of a mutual currency as an alternative to the United States dollar.