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BRICS Summit’s Empty Chair

The Oasis Reporters

July 21, 2023







The South African and Russian foreign ministers speak at a BRICS meeting. South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor (left) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are seen during a press conference at the BRICS foreign ministers’ meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, on June 1.Rodger Bosch/AFP via Getty Images


Russian President Vladimir Putin is once again the odd man out. By “mutual agreement” with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Putin announced that he would not attend this year’s annual BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, on Aug. 22-24. Instead, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will take his place for in-person meetings, and Putin will make an appearance via video link. The leaders of Brazil, India, China, and South Africa are all expected to attend.

Controversy over whether Putin should travel to Johannesburg for the conference stemmed from South Africa’s obligations as a signatory of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). In March, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Putin, charging him with war crimes for the forced abduction and transportation of Ukrainian children to Russian-controlled territory. As a member of the ICC, South Africa is required to uphold the body’s arrest warrants, which would mean arresting Putin if the Russian leader entered South African territory.

For months, Moscow has pushed Ramaphosa to allow Putin to attend the BRICS summit without fearing arrest. In a 32-page affidavit released Tuesday, Ramaphosa indicated that the Kremlin had said “arresting its sitting president would be a declaration of war.” Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied such a threat was ever made; however, Moscow has issued similar warnings to other nations in the past. Let’s imagine “the leader of a nuclear power visits the territory of Germany and is arrested,” Dmitry Medvedev, the deputy chair of Russia’s Security Council, said in March. “In this case, our assets will fly to hit the Bundestag, the chancellor’s office, and so on.”

In Tuesday’s affidavit, Ramaphosa hinted that Pretoria had been in confidential talks with the ICC for months. Ramaphosa worried that arresting Putin would hinder South Africa’s ability to negotiate peace talks between Moscow and Kyiv. Just last month, Ramaphosa traveled to the region with officials from six other African nations to discuss first steps toward a truce.

Putin’s decision not to attend the summit in person takes the pressure off Ramaphosa, but it also highlights just how much the Russian leader’s global standing has changed thanks to his war on Ukraine. “Being branded a war criminal by the embodiment of global justice further isolates both Putin and Russia,” political scientist Mark Lawrence Schrad argued in Foreign Policy in March. “Gone are the days when Putin basked in the glow of high-level summits.”

© Foreign Policy

Greg Abolo

Blogger at The Oasis Reporters.

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