The South African government confirmed the decision on July 19, with a spokesman for the country's President Cyril Ramaphosa saying Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will represent Putin at the summit. Lavrov will join Ramaphosa and the leaders of Brazil, India and China "by mutual agreement" during the two-day meeting.
The Kremlin did not immediately comment on the decision. Previously, Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov had remarked Moscow would be represented at the August 2023 summit at the "proper level" – though he did not provide more details.
In an affidavit to a South African court, Ramaphosa argued that arresting Putin while he is in attendance at the BRICS Summit would expose his country to serious risks.
"Russia has made it clear that the arrest of its sitting president would be tantamount to a declaration of war," the South African president wrote. "It would be inconsistent with our constitution to risk engaging in war with Russia."
Peskov denied that Moscow had made such a threat to Pretoria, however. Russian state news agency TASS quoted the Kremlin spokesman's remarks to reporters during a press briefing: "No, it didn't sound like that. Nobody made anyone understand anything."
"In this world, it's absolutely clear to everyone what an attempt to encroach on the head of the Russian state means. Therefore, there’s no need to explain anything to anyone here."
The Russian leader's decision to skip attending the summit resolved a dilemma faced by Pretoria.
South Africa is a signatory to the 1998 Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court (ICC). Given this fact, it is obliged to arrest Putin the moment he steps into South Africa and turn him over to the ICC's chambers in the Netherlands.
In March, the ICC issued arrest warrants for Putin and another senior Russian official over alleged war crimes in Ukraine. Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, dubbed the ICC's warrants legally void.
The BBC noted that while Pretoria is required to aid the ICC, it has refused to honor that obligation in the past. In 2015, South Africa permitted safe passage to former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The erstwhile leader of Sudan was wanted at the time for war crimes against his own people.
Meanwhile, South African officials have said in recent weeks that they would prefer Putin not to attend the summit in person. Ramaphosa himself acknowledged this in the affidavit he filed: "South Africa has obvious problems with executing a request to arrest and surrender Putin." (Related: Putin rejects South Africa's request not to attend BRICS Summit over ICC arrest warrant.)
Even South African Deputy President Paul Mashatile noted how his country is stuck between a rock and a hard place over its ICC obligations. But he can now breathe a sigh of relief as the problem eventually solved itself.
"We would be happy if he [Putin] doesn't come," said Mashatile. "We understand we are bound by the Rome Statute, but we can't invite someone and then … arrest them. You can understand our dilemma."
Head over to RussiaReport.news for more stories about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Watch this news report about the ICC's issuance of an arrest warrant for Putin.
This video is from The Willow channel on Brighteon.com.