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Putin will not attend BRICS summit in South Africa as ICC arrest warrant overshadows important talks

Russian President Vladimir Putin will not be attending in person the BRICS summit hosted in Johannesburg at the end of August confirmed its South African counterpart on Wednesday, ending months of speculation following an arrest warrant issued against the Kremlin leader for alleged war crimes in Ukraine.

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s office said Putin will not attend the conference “by mutual agreement”, adding that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would visit instead.

Russian state media RIA Novosti later reported that Putin would dial in via video link. The leaders of the other members of the BRICS economic bloc, Brazil, India and China, are still expected to attend in person.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant in March for Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova over an alleged plan to deport Ukrainian children to Russia amid the brutal invasion.

In the months since, South African lawmakers have issued conflicting statements about the country’s obligation to arrest Putin if he were to attend the summit. As a signatory to the Rome Statute, the treaty governing the Hague court, South Africa is required to arrest individuals charged by the ICC.

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The move by the Ramaphosa government significantly weakens Moscow’s efforts to restore solidarity with key allies as it finds itself increasingly isolated since its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Western diplomats have criticized South African lawmakers for their perceived solidarity with Russia since the start of that conflict.

South African government officials have long maintained that they are a neutral party, but they have refused to condemn Russia in United Nations General Assembly votes.

Earlier this year, South Africa hosted Chinese and Russian navies for war games and was accused by the US ambassador of loading weapons onto a sanctioned Russian ship in December. Cape Town has denied any allegations.

Wednesday’s announcement followed revelations in a confidential statement from Ramaphosa, which was released by a Johannesburg high court judge on Tuesday. The affidavit was in response to an opposition party’s legal move to force Putin’s arrest.

“For the sake of transparency, I must emphasize that South Africa has clear difficulties in carrying out a request to arrest and extradite President Putin,” Ramaphosa said, according to the court document.

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“Russia has made it clear that arresting its sitting president would be a declaration of war. It would be against our constitution to risk going to war with Russia,” Ramaphosa continued.

However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later refuted Ramaphosa’s claims saying, “No, [such warnings] were not transferred.”

Peskov added that it was “perfectly clear to everyone what an encroachment on the head of the Russian state would mean, so there is no need to explain anything to anyone here.”

In 2015, during a visit to the country, South African authorities failed to arrest then Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was and still stands under ICC indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity related to the genocide in Darfur.

CNN’s Anna Chernova and Eve Brennan contributed to the reporting.

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