Putin’s possible trip under spotlight as Russian and Chinese foreign ministers prepare to meet in South Africa

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Russian and Chinese foreign ministers are scheduled to meet their counterparts from the BRICS economic bloc in Cape Town on Thursday, a precursor to a broader summit of leaders from developing countries in South Africa in August that Russian President Vladimir Putin can attend while they are indicted by the International Criminal Court.

South Africa hinted without explicitly saying it would not arrest Putin if he decided to travel to the main BRICS summit in Johannesburg, despite being obliged to do so as a signatory to the treaty of Rome of the ICC.

The BRICS are a bloc of emerging economies made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, and their leaders, including China’s Xi Jinping, were invited to the summit on 22 to August 24.

Any trip by Putin – and the Kremlin has not said whether he will take part – would draw more attention to South Africa’s relationship with Moscow. Westerners are clearly concerned that Africa’s most developed economy will align itself with Russia and drag other developing countries with it at a time of heightened global tensions.

Those concerns came to light earlier this month when the US ambassador to South Africa called a press conference in Pretoria and accused the country of supplying weapons to Russia for its war in Ukraine. The South African government has denied the allegation, but a Russian cargo ship’s visit to South Africa’s main naval base near Cape Town in December is under investigation.

While South Africa has yet to state its official position on the arrest warrant for Putin, its foreign ministry said on Tuesday that people traveling for Thursday’s meeting of foreign ministers from BRICS and leaders attending the main summit in three months would enjoy standard diplomatic immunity.

But the privileges “do not supersede any warrant that may have been issued by an international court against a conference participant,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela said, an indirect reference to Putin.

This means that the ICC arrest warrant would still apply if Putin surrenders in August, even though South Africa is highly unlikely to arrest him.

The Russian president has not visited any country that is part of the International Court’s treaty since he was indicted in March on war crimes charges related to child abduction in Ukraine.

Away from Putin, the main BRICS leaders’ summit could be one of the most important in the bloc’s short history, analysts say. There could be movement on two critical issues: the BRICS could be expanded to admit new members like Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates. The bloc could also adopt a resolution on the creation of a BRICS currency.

These movements within a group including Russia and China could be seen as “a direct economic challenge for the United States”, said William Gumede, associate professor at the School of Governance at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. and BRICS analyst.

“The BRICS could be very different…and (that) would just change the global power dynamic,” Gumede said.

BRICS officials said in April that at least 19 countries – including major oil producers Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates – had applied for membership. South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor also confirmed that a BRICS currency would be discussed.

Talks could begin this week when Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang meet with Pandor and other counterparts from Brazil and India.

Although there are complications with the introduction of a common currency in countries with very different economic configurations, Gumede said a formal decision to pursue it could still be seen as a major “political statement” and a attempt to begin the “de-dollarization” of certain parts of the world.

The United States “should respond, one way or another,” Gumede said.

The BRICS rallies follow a summit of Group of Seven leaders in Japan, dominated by the United States and the world’s other advanced economies, extending sanctions against Russia as punishment for its large-scale invasion of the Ukraine and finding ways to counter China’s economic policies. .

While accusing South Africa of arming Russia and running counter to its declared neutrality in the war in Ukraine, US Ambassador Reuben Brigety also spoke of the country’s hosting of upcoming BRICS meetings and how they had been presented by some within the bloc as the “counterpoint” to the G-7, the meeting on the other side.

Brigety said 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 bullying like I often hear in this context. It’s not about threatening. That’s how any relationship works.


Gerald Imray reported from Cape Town.


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