Putin arrest warrant prompts South Africa to weigh moving BRICS summit

Tribune Content Agency

South Africa is considering switching the venue of an upcoming summit of BRICS leaders to another country, according to people familiar with the matter, a move that would resolve its dilemma over whether to execute an international arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The government is considering asking China to host the meeting of heads of state, or alternatively neighboring Mozambique, the people said, asking not to be identified because discussions about the matter are private and no decision has been taken yet. Department of International Relations Minister Naledi Pandor’s spokesman, Lunga Ngqengelele, said that as things stand, the summit will be held in Gauteng province, where the commercial hub of Johannesburg and the capital, Pretoria, are situated.

“As far as we are aware, we have announced the summit venue as Gauteng, South Africa,” he said. “That is what we know as of today.”

South Africa has invited Putin, along with the leaders of Brazil, India and China, to the Aug. 22-24 summit. Because South Africa is a member of the International Criminal Court, it would be obliged to execute an arrest warrant for Putin that the tribunal issued earlier this year if he travels to the country — an eventuality it’s intent on avoiding.

Putin’s planned visit has unnerved investors concerned that South Africa’s close ties to Russia threaten its relations with some of its biggest trading partners, including the U.S. America’s ambassador to South Africa last month accused Pretoria of contradicting its so-called non-aligned stance on Russia’s war on Ukraine by supplying weapons to Russia, an allegation the government has denied.

The geopolitical tensions have added to worries about the effect on South Africa’s economic outlook from daily blackouts and logistical constraints that are hampering exports, with the rand falling to successive record lows over the past month.

Neither China nor Mozambique are parties to the Rome Statute that established the ICC, which allows Putin to travel there without fear of arrest. Mozambique is unlikely to be a suitable venue because the country lacks the capacity to host an event on the scale of a BRICS summit, one of the people said.

The possibility of China being considered as a possible venue for the summit was reported by Reuters earlier on Thursday.

The government is still weighing the various legal options that are available on how to handle Putin’s visit, Pandor told reporters at a meeting of BRICS foreign ministers in Cape Town on Thursday. President Cyril Ramaphosa will communicate “the final decision” once those options have been assessed, she said.

The South African government previously drew international criticism in 2015, when it refused to execute an ICC arrest warrant for then-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who had been indicted for war crimes and genocide, while he was attending a meeting of African leaders in Johannesburg. South Africa’s Supreme Court of Appeals ruled that the government had acted unlawfully and the ICC found that it had failed to failed to comply with its international obligations.