South Africa’s Department of International Relations hosted a press briefing on Thursday in Johannesburg, following the announcement that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not be attending the BRICS summit in August.
During the press briefing on the BRICS chairmanship, Deputy Director-General for Asia and Middle East and BRICS Sherpa Anil Sooklal told reporters that Putin would not “attend the summit physically, but he will attend the summit virtually. He’ll be involved in all of the sessions where the leaders are partaking.”
He added that the decision would “ensure that we have a highly successful summit in South Africa with [Putin’s] participation virtually.”
The announcement on Wednesday that the Russian leader would not be attending follows months of speculation over whether he would travel to South Africa. The possibility that Putin would attend posed a diplomatic dilemma for South Africa who, as a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), would be obliged to arrest him if he sets foot in the country.
Putin is under arrest warrant from the ICC for alleged war crimes related to the war in Ukraine.
On Tuesday, prior to the announcement, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said arresting him would be a “declaration of war”.
Moscow denied that it had told South Africa an arrest would mean war but said it was “clear to everyone what [that kind of] infringement against the head of the Russian state would mean”.
Clayson Monyela, Deputy Director-General of Public Diplomacy at the South African Department of International Relations, said at Thursday’s press briefing, “Any attempt to arrest the president is a declaration of war. This is on record. So the president mentioning that, again, is not being dramatic or anything like that.”
“Secondly, there’s no precedent in the history of a sitting head of state being arrested in a foreign country,” Monyela added. “So if you do that, you’ve got to consider that all options are on the table for that country whose president you are arresting. If you link the two, the statement from Moscow, plus this precedent I’m talking about, our president saying that in his affidavit is being pragmatic, in my view.”