In the coming months, the South African government could face a landmark decision: whether or not to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin.
South Africa’s predicament started last week when the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague issued an arrest warrant for Putin over allegations he conducted the illegal deportation of children from Ukraine to Russia.
A spokesman to President Cyril Ramaphosa said South Africa is aware of its legal obligation.
“We are, as the government, cognisant of our legal obligation. However, between now and the summit we will remain engaged with various relevant stakeholders,” mouthpiece Vincent Magwenya said.
Russian head of state Putin could visit South Africa in August to attend a BRICS summit.
Despite the lack of an official confirmation of Putin’s visit, he is expected to attend the 15th BRICS summit, as he did in 2013. Such a visit would place Ramaphosa’s government, which has not condemned Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, in a precarious position.
The arrest warrant means that any country that’s signed up to the 1998 Rome Statute that established the ICC in 1998 must arrest Putin if he steps into their country. South Africa is one of those signatories.
Dmitry Medvedev, the former president and prime minister of Russia, on Thursday said any country that arrests Putin will be declaring war on Russia.
“Let’s imagine – it’s clear that this is a situation that will never happen – but nevertheless let’s imagine it does,” Medvedev said in a video posted on Telegram.
“The current head of a nuclear state arrives on the territory of, say, Germany, and is arrested. What is this? A declaration of war against the Russian Federation.”
He added: “All of our means, rockets and others, will fly on the Bundestag, in the Chancellor’s Office and so on.”
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, South Africa has kept some political ties with Russia. President Ramaphosa has claimed he believes his country can play a part in peace talks, which is why, he said, South Africa was one of 15 African countries that abstained from a UN vote condemning Russia’s invasion.
“It remains South Africa’s commitment and very strong desire that the conflict in Ukraine is resolved peacefully through negotiations,” Magwenya said.