In an unprecedented move, the Kremlin has announced that President Vladimir Putin will not be attending the 15th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, in person next month. Instead, he will participate virtually due to concerns over an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes. This decision marks the first time a BRICS Summit will be held in person since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, but Putin's absence in person has sparked speculations.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov clarified that President Putin's virtual participation will not compromise the quality of the summit. "We are talking about full participation. It will be both the president's address and — if necessary — participation in an exchange of views," Peskov emphasized, as reported by PTI.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be attending the summit in person, representing Russia at the international event. This practice of sending Lavrov as a representative has been employed by Moscow in the past for similar gatherings.
The decision to opt for virtual participation for President Putin comes in light of the ICC arrest warrant issued on March 17, which includes accusations of "unlawful deportation" and transfer of population, including children, from Ukraine to Russia. Moscow has stated that since Russia is not a party to the ICC Rome Statute, the court's decisions hold no legal standing for the country.
Responding to concerns over the connection between the arrest warrant and Putin's virtual attendance, Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova cautioned against searching for "hidden meanings." She highlighted that Russia frequently engages in international events this way, just like many other countries.
South African Presidential Spokesman Vincent Magwenya has stated that Pretoria and Moscow carefully considered South Africa's obligations under the Rome Statute when deciding on the form of President Putin's participation in the BRICS summit. Magwenya emphasized the commitment to South Africa's successful hosting of the historic event and the recognition of the country's legal obligations to the Rome Statute.