International

Why Putin Won't Be In Attendance At Johannesburg BRICS Summit

Russian President Vladimir Putin won't be in attendance at a scheduled BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa said, due to international warrants out for him. Outlooks looks into the why.

BRICS summit (Representational Image)
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On Wednesday, South Africa's Presidency announced that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not be in attendance at a scheduled BRICS summit in Johannesburg from August 22-24. Russia would instead be represented by its Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov at the summit. The South African Presidency added that this decision was by "mutual agreement". However, the issue cuts a little deeper than just mutual consensus.

The issue cropped up as South Africa was put in a difficult dilemna as it is a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in addition to holding the current BRICS presidency. This situation required Cyril Ramaphosa's Presidency to theoretically arrest Russian President Putin on South African soil, as they are obligated to do so, by the ICC warrant issued for Putin last year for war crimes in Ukraine.

This difficult situation led to South Africa attempting to acquire an exemption from their obligation to arrest Putin, arguing that them acting on this warrant would instead scupper efforts to end the fighting in Ukraine, rather than encourage them. A local court submission showed that President Cyril Ramaphosa had also asked for this exemption, noting that their doing so could amount to a declaration of war as well.

The Kremlin responded on Wednesday as well, saying that it did not tell South Africa that such an act would amount to a declaration of war. However, it clarified that it went without saying that everyone understood what an attempt to infringe on Putin's rights would mean. Behind the scenes talks continued between both nations which eventually resulted in the announcement that Putin would not be in attendance, helping South Africa avoid a potentially very difficult situation. Although neutral on the Ukraine war, South Africa has come under heavy criticism from the West for it's "friendliness" with Russia.

On March 17, the International Criminal Court (ICC) had issued “warrants of arrest for two individuals in the context of the situation in Ukraine: Mr Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin and Ms Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova”. According to the press release from the Court, Putin was “allegedly responsible for the war crime of unlawful deportation…and unlawful transfer” of children from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation”, for which they have been charged under “Articles 8(2)(a)(vii) and 8(2)(b)(viii) of the Rome Statute”. The court added that the crimes were allegedly committed on 24 February 2022, the day Russian Armed Forces invaded Ukrainian territory.

Russia has repeatedly denied that the ICC had any right to issue such a warrant or carry out any action against Putin, noting that it is not a member of the Court. However, South Africa which is a member, was obligated by the agreement all member states had with the court, which meant that South African territory came under it's jurisdiction, to arrest Putin should he step on South African soil. Failure to do so on their part would have exposed the South African government to consequences as ratified under the treaties of the ICC.

Therefore, it was finally agreed by "mutual consensus" that Putin would not be in attendance at the BRICS summit, helping Ramaphosa's government save face. India and China, two other nations which would be in attendance do not recognise ICC jurisdiction and are not obligated to do the same with the Russian premier.

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