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

<i>The Kremlin Moscow/picture-alliance/dpa/AP</i><br/>Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend the BRICS summit in South Africa in August
The Kremlin Moscow/picture-alliance/dpa/AP
Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend the BRICS summit in South Africa in August

By David McKenzie, Catherine Nicholls and Sana Noor Haq, CNN

(CNN) — Russian President Vladimir Putin will not attend in person the BRICS summit hosted by Johannesburg in late August, his South African counterpart confirmed on Wednesday, halting months of speculation triggered by 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 reported later 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 for Putin and Russian official Maria Lvova-Belova in March, over an alleged scheme to deport Ukrainian children to Russia amid the brutal invasion.

In the months following, South African lawmakers have made contradictory statements over the country’s obligation to arrest Putin should he attend the summit. As a signatory to the Rome statute, the treaty governing the Hague court, South Africa is compelled to arrest individuals indicted by the ICC.

The move by Ramaphosa’s government significantly weakens Moscow’s attempts to reestablish solidarity with key allies, as it finds itself increasingly isolated since launching 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 the Chinese and Russian navies for war games and was accused by the US ambassador of loading arms onto a sanctioned Russian vessel in December. Cape Town has denied any wrongdoing.

Wednesday’s announcement came on the heels of revelations in a confidential affidavit by Ramaphosa, ordered released by a high court judge in Johannesburg on Tuesday. The affidavit was in response to an opposition party’s legal move to compel Putin’s arrest.

“I must highlight, for the sake of transparency, that South Africa has obvious problems with executing a request to arrest and surrender President Putin,” Ramaphosa said, according to the court’s document.

“Russia has made it clear that arresting its sitting president would be a declaration of war. It would be inconsistent with our Constitution to risk engaging in war with Russia,” Ramaphosa continued.

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

Peskov added that it was “absolutely 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, South African authorities failed to arrest then-Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir who was, and still is, under ICC indictment for war crimes and crimes against humanity linked to the genocide in Darfur, during a visit to the country.

™ & © 2023 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Anna Chernova and Eve Brennan contributed reporting.

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