This year’s BRICS Summit is looking at a significant issue if Russian President Vladimir Putin is to attend in person. The Summit is set to be held in August and will take place in Johannesburg, South Africa. Currently, South Africa is a signatory of the International Crime Court (ICC) and is obligated to arrest President Putin if he attends the Summit physically.
Last month, the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued international arrest warrants for Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Commissioner for Children’s Rights Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova over the alleged “war crime of unlawful deportation of population (children) and that of unlawful transfer of population (children) from occupied areas of Ukraine to the Russian Federation.” In a statement, the ICC said that there is “reasonable grounds” to believe both Putin and Lvova-Belova bore “individual criminal responsibility for the aforementioned crimes, for having committed the acts directly, jointly with others and/or through others.”
The ICC does not have an enforcement branch, thus relying on global cooperation from Rome Statute signatories to execute the arrest warrants. This situation leaves South Africa with few options, especially since the country has been cozying up to Moscow. Recently, South Africa took part in the joint “Mosi” naval exercises with both Russia and China, who seek further political and economic influence over the African continent. Currently, the country is looking towards alternative means of hosting the Summit while acknowledging the country’s obligation to cooperate with the ICC. Per a Reuters article published on March 19, a spokesman for the South African President stated, “We are, as the government, cognisant of our legal obligation. However, between now and the summit we will remain engaged with various relevant stakeholders.”
If South Africa were to allow Putin to come to Johannesburg without arresting him, the country would risk alienating itself from the 123 member countries of the ICC. As for now, it seems that South Africa is exploring the possibility of a hybrid setting that would allow Putin and others to attend the Summit virtually.
Regardless of how Putin attends, this situation brings up the point that South Africa’s diplomatic relationship with Russia could damage the country’s economic and business relationships with the United States and the European Union.