His warning came weeks before the five-member BRICS group – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – is set to hold the 2023 BRICS Summit in the South African city of Johannesburg. The Russian leader was invited to the August 2023 event.
Putin would be subject to arrest under a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) the moment he leaves Russian soil.
The ICC warrant accused Putin of committing war crimes during the Russia-Ukraine war. Moscow, meanwhile, denounced the arrest warrant as "outrageous" and "legally void" as Russia is not a member of the organization. However, South Africa is a member of the ICC and a signatory of the 1998 Rome Statute that established it – thus obliging Pretoria to aid in Putin's arrest.
Based on court filings obtained by the BBC, Ramaphosa opposes any attempt to arrest Putin due to national security concerns. He said in an affidavit: "South Africa has obvious problems with executing a request to arrest and surrender Putin."
"Russia has made it clear that arresting its sitting president would be a declaration of war. It would be inconsistent with our constitution to risk engaging in war with Russia."
The South African leader also noted that his nation is one of many countries in Africa holding talks with both Russia and Ukraine "with a view [to] ending the war altogether." Attempting to arrest Putin, he said, would be counter-productive.
While Pretoria is required to aid the ICC in its attempt to arrest Putin, it has refused to honor that obligation in the past. Back in 2015, South Africa permitted safe passage to former Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The erstwhile leader of Sudan had been wanted at that time for war crimes against his own people.
Even South African Deputy President Paul Mashatile acknowledged the difficulty of having to arrest Putin, a close ally of his country in the BRICS group, under ICC obligations.
"We would be happy if he doesn't come," the deputy president said in a statement. "We understand we are bound by the Rome Statute, but we can't invite someone and then … arrest them. You can understand our dilemma."
Fortunately for both Ramaphosa and Mashatile, the dilemma solved itself with Putin eventually deciding to skip the BRICS Summit. The Wall Street Journal reported on the development on July 19, citing a spokesman for Ramaphosa.
According to the source, the Russian leader will not be attending the two-day meeting in Johannesburg. Instead, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will take Putin's place during the gathering "by mutual agreement."
The Kremlin, meanwhile, did not immediately comment on the decision. Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitri Peskov had previously said Moscow would be represented at the summit at the "proper level" – although he did not provide more details.
Head over to RussiaReport.news for more stories about Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Watch this Russia Today report about the BRICS group introducing a gold-backed digital currency, a point of discussion at its upcoming summit.
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