South Africa dodges calls for Putin’s arrest by moving summit

Putin speaks with Cyril Ramaphosa during a Russia-Africa summit in 2019 - Sergei Chirikov/AP

Putin speaks with Cyril Ramaphosa during a Russia-Africa summit in 2019 – Sergei Chirikov/AP

Senior South African government officials are urging Pretoria to move an upcoming BRICS summit to China, so the country can avoid the dilemma of whether to arrest Vladimir Putin for war crimes, according to The Telegraph.

Leading African National Congress (ANC) politicians want President Cyril Ramaphosa to avoid hosting the Russian leader, fearing the country’s stance on the war in Ukraine could hurt its economy.

On Monday, the government said it was granting diplomatic immunity to the participants, but denied it was deliberately shielding Putin, who faces an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court.

Pressure has mounted as the opposition Democratic Alliance party has launched a legal action to compel South Africa to follow through on the mandate if it sets foot in the country.

South Africa’s refusal to condemn Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine and its staging of war games with China and Russia has long frustrated the West. Tensions rose sharply earlier this month when the US ambassador accused South Africa of shipping arms to Russia last year.

Leaders of the bloc of Brics nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) are due to meet in South Africa in August for a summit that Pretoria sees as a cornerstone of its foreign policy. But Putin’s arrival would leave the country with the choice of respecting international law and arresting the leader of a powerful nuclear-armed ally, or becoming a pariah among its Western trading partners.

South Africa’s central bank warned this week that any falling out with the United States could hurt the country’s financial sector.

A senior government official told the Telegraph: “We hope the president will listen to all these concerns and approach China.

“We are suffering from this whole Russian affair. This worries many people, including some in senior government positions. »

Pretoria says it is charting a neutral course in the war in Ukraine and refuses to accept pressure from Europe or America. Many members of the old guard of the ANC also claim their solidarity with Moscow because the USSR supported their struggle against apartheid.

The country has repeatedly hosted Sergei Lavrov, the Kremlin’s top diplomat, and he is expected to return to Cape Town later this week.

But Western diplomats are increasingly concerned that some members of the government are leaning heavily towards Moscow. Earlier this month, Reuben Brigety, the US ambassador, alleged that a sanctioned Russian freighter picked up an arms shipment from South Africa in December.

The rand fell in the days following the allegation despite South African denials. Mr Ramaphosa has now launched a judge-led investigation into the charges.

Thabo Mbeki, the former South African president, is among those who have said South Africa should not host Putin.

The previous BRICS summit in June last year was held virtually in China, meaning Mr Ramaphosa did not attend in person. Pretoria is also believed to be investigating whether Putin could attend remotely in August, avoiding a confrontation.

Moscow has already declared that it will consider any attempt to arrest Putin on foreign soil an act of war.

John Steenhuisen, leader of the Democratic Alliance, is asking for a court ruling that the government would be breaking the law if it didn’t arrest Putin.

His lawsuit argues that the country is “required, under the Rome Statute and implementing legislation, to arrest President Putin upon his arrival in South Africa.”

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