Putin set to attend BRICS summit in South Africa

BRICS heads of state will discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at the five-nation bloc’s summit next month as South Africa drives a continental initiative to bring an end to the conflict, President Cyril Ramaphosa said.

“When we meet, we will be discussing the various crises that are taking place around the world,” Ramaphosa said at a meeting of governing party officials in Johannesburg on Thursday. “We will also discuss the crisis in Europe between Russia and Ukraine.”

Ramaphosa held talks Thursday with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to discuss an effort by African leaders to help end hostilities.

The South African leader and three other African heads of state presented their 10-point plan to Zelenskiy and Russian leader Vladimir Putin last month.

The talks between Ramaphosa and Zelenskiy focused on the plan and “particularly the release of the children who have to be taken back to their own country and own parents,” Ramaphosa said at a dialogue on BRICS hosted by the governing party in Johannesburg.

The leaders of BRICS — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — are due to hold a summit Aug. 22-24 in Johannesburg.

The bloc, formed in 2009, has been striving to gain more clout globally as a way of counterbalancing the dominance the US and its traditional allies have in multilateral financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

A key issue Pretoria is confronting before the summit is whether Putin will attend in person.

As a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the International Criminal Court, the South African authorities would be obliged to arrest the Russian leader on an arrest warrant the tribunal issued against him in March for war crimes related to the alleged abduction of children from Ukraine — if he does come.

Putin Options

Russia refused a request by Ramaphosa for their delegation to be led by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov instead of Putin, South African Deputy President Paul Mashatile said in an interview with the Johannesburg-based Mail & Guardian newspaper on Friday.

India and Brazil rejected a second option to move the summit to China, while a proposal to host the event virtually was opposed by all four nations, he said.

“Discussions with Putin are continuing” on his attendance, Mashatile said. “We understand we are bound by the Rome Statue, but we can’t invite someone, and then you arrest them. You can understand our dilemma. We would be happy if he doesn’t come.”

The prospect of Putin visiting South Africa heightened investor concern that the country’s close ties to Moscow threaten its relations with some of its biggest trading partners, including the US.

America’s ambassador to South Africa last month accused Pretoria of contradicting its neutral stance on the war in Ukraine by supplying weapons to Russia, an allegation the government denied.

South Africa’s business community has urged the government to make public its decision on how it will handle Putin’s attendance, BRICS business council member and Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd. executive Stavros Nicolaou said at the meeting.

“We are hopeful that a decision will be taken once and for all shortly so that you know what you are dealing with at the end of the day,” Nicolaou said. “Markets, and business hate uncertainty.”


Top JSE indices