Debate over Putin’s visit heats up in South Africa as US ‘concerned’ about BRICS intentions

Johannesburg – Foreign ministers from the five BRICS bloc countries of developing economies, Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa, were meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, on Thursday amid growing speculation about the prospect of the presence of Russian President Vladimir Putin a peak in August in the country. In March, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Putin on alleged war crimes in Ukrainehe could therefore potentially be arrested if he sets foot in South Africa, which is a signatory country to the ICC.

The South African government has said it is seeking legal advice on possible loopholes in the Rome Statute, which created the international court, that could allow Putin to attend the high-level BRICS summit this summer.

South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor, right, meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, center, ahead of a meeting of BRICS foreign ministers in Cape Town, South Africa, June 1, 2023.

Handout/Facebook/South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation

On Monday, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor announced an order granting diplomatic immunity to all foreign dignitaries attending this week’s meeting, as well as the next one in August. It was the clearest signal yet that the South African government is keen to allow Putin to attend the meeting.

Obed Bapela, a senior official in the South African presidential office, told the BBC World Service, meanwhile, that the government planned to submit changes to the country’s laws, in particular the implementation act, to parliament in June. implementation of the ICC, which would give leaders the power to decide who to arrest, regardless of ICC warrants.

Bapela said the government would also seek a specific waiver from the ICC to ensure it would not have to arrest Putin if he showed up in August.

The Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s main opposition party, has filed a lawsuit to force the authorities to arrest Putin if he comes this summer.

A campaign billboard from the organization Avaaz, urging South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin if he attends a planned summit in the country in August, is seen near Centurion, in South Africa, May 31, 2023.


Speaking at the National Assembly in Cape Town on Wednesday, President Cyril Ramaphosa said there had been “concerted efforts to draw South Africa into the wider geopolitical competition around the Russia-Ukraine conflict. we have always maintained our non-aligned position, our respect for the Charter of the United Nations and for the peaceful resolution of conflicts through dialogue.

As the debate over a possible visit by Putin intensified, Ramaphosa said he would send four of his senior government ministers, including Pandor, to G7 countries as envoys to explain the commitment of the South Africa to adopt a “non-aligned” position on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

Earlier in May, Ramaphosa announced a “peace mission” by African leaders to Ukraine and Russia in June. Ukrainian Presidents Putin and Volodymyr Zelenskyy have said they will meet African heads of state, who will be led by Ramaphosa.

“Principal of our discussions are efforts to find a peaceful resolution to the devastating conflict in Ukraine,” Ramaphosa said when announcing the mission by himself and six other African heads of state.

Visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to South Africa
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (L) meets with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in Pretoria, South Africa, January 23, 2023.

Russian Foreign Ministry/Document/Anadolu Agency/Getty

The BRICS meetings follow a late May summit of Group of Seven (G-7) leaders in Japan. This meeting was marked by the United States and the world’s other largest economies hitting Russia with a series of new sanctions for its ongoing invasion of Ukraine, and talks of fighting an increasingly China. affirmed.

South Africa was not invited to the recent G-7 summit – the first time the country was not invited since Ramaphosa took office in 2018.

US Ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety, who on May 11 accused the country of supplying Russia with weapons at odds with its declared neutrality in Ukraine, noted that BRICS officials had portrayed the bloc as a “counterpoint” to the G-7, and he made it clear that the United States was watching.

“Our officials have expressed some pretty serious concern about the explicit articulation of the BRICS setup as, quote-unquote, a counterpoint to the G-7,” Brigety said. “Of course, South Africa is free to choose its diplomatic and economic partners as it sees fit, as is the United States of America.”

“It’s not about intimidation, as I often hear in this context. It’s not about threat,” Brigety said. “That’s how any relationship works.”

Examination of the possible ramifications of the ICC arrest warrant against Putin


Regarding the prospect of a visit by Putin to South Africa in August and the authorities’ refusal to place him under arrest under its obligations as an ICC signatory country, Brigety said the United States could not “understand why the South African government would not publicly and fully commit to the obligations it voluntarily imposed on itself.”

South African-American relations were strained since the country affirmed its “non-aligned position” on the Russian war in Ukraine, and they deteriorated further when Brigety accused South Africa of secretly loading weapons on a sanctioned Russian ship in the port of Simon’s Town in December 2022, before the ship returns to Russia with its contents.

His remarks came after tension erupted in February over South Africa’s decision to organize joint naval war games off its coast with Russian and Chinese warships, as the world marked a full year since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

South Africa Russia China Exercises
Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, Commander-in-Chief of the Russian Navy, second from right, and Chinese naval officers attend Armed Forces Day in Richards Bay, South Africa, on February 21, 2023, amid joint naval exercises off the country’s east coast with the Russian and Chinese navies.

Themba Hadebe/AP

During Thursday’s meetings in Cape Town, the five BRICS foreign ministers will be joined virtually by their counterparts from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Argentina and the Republic democracy, to name a few.

This larger group, called “Friends of the BRICS”, represents a growing set of nations from the so-called Global South who wish to join the BRICS bloc.

Russian news agency TASS quoted a source on May 26 as saying that Putin had “not withdrawn his participation in the summit”, adding: “The Russian leader was invited.”

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