Updated Jul 19, 2023, 7:40am EDT

What to know: Putin won’t attend South Africa’s BRICS summit in person

ssian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa after a meeting with delegation of African leaders to discuss their proposal for peace talks between Russia and Ukraine, in Saint Petersburg, Russia June 17, 2023. Yevgeny Biyatov/Host photo agency RIA Novosti via REUTERS
Yevgeny Biyatov/Host photo agency RIA Novosti via REUTERS

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The News

Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be attending the BRICS summit next month in South Africa, Pretoria announced on Wednesday.

A statement from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office said that “by mutual agreement,” Putin would not attend the meeting and that the Russian Federation would instead be represented by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

As a member of the International Criminal Court, South Africa would have been obligated to arrest Putin, accused of war crimes by the ICC, if he attended the BRICS summit in person. On Tuesday Ramaphosa had said that arresting Putin in this manner would be a “declaration of war.”

We’ve compiled information you should read on why Putin’s attendance at BRICS would have put South Africa on rocky legal footing.

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  • Putin will not attend the BRICS summit, which will host the leaders of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. But his attendance had been the subject of intense negotiations with Pretoria talking to the ICC about ways to get around the warrant, fearing that arresting Putin, if he attended, would spark a conflict. “South Africa has no capacity to declare or wage war with Russia. Nor does it wish to,” Ramaphosa said. — Bloomberg
  • South Africa was earlier exploring other options to avoid arresting Russia’s president. Among the countermeasures discussed were moving the BRICS summit to China, or hosting it virtually — but partner countries had reportedly rejected these suggestions until Wednesday. Another compromise, that Russia’s foreign minister attend in Putin’s place, also faced initial resistance from the Kremlin. — The New York Times
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“Russia has made it clear that arresting its sitting president would be a declaration of war,” Ramaphosa said in an affidavit published Tuesday. “It would be inconsistent with our Constitution to risk engaging in war with Russia.”

South Africa is among a contingent of six African nations who are seeking to broker a peace deal between Russia and Ukraine. Ramaphosa has refused to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine, and instead has called for a mutual peace deal. South Africa and Russia’s diplomatic ties stretch back decades.