BRICS diplomat Sooklal rejects notion of moving summit away from SA to legally accommodate Putin
Sooklal was speaking on Thursday at the BRICS foreign ministers meeting in Cape Town, which is preparing for the summit in Gauteng in August.
South Africa’s senior BRICS diplomat has dismissed suggestions that the BRICS summit scheduled to take place in South Africa in August, might be moved to a different country so that Russian president Vladimir Putin could legally attend.
Anil Sooklal, SA’s ambassador at large on Asia and BRICS, said in reply to a question on this that “we have constantly stated that we have fixed the date for the summit as 22-24 August at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg and we are busy with preparations for the summit. That is our responsibility as the current chair of BRICS.”
Sooklal was speaking in Cape Town at the BRICS foreign ministers meeting, which is preparing for the summit. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and counterparts from Brazil, China and India are participating in the meeting chaired by SA international relations minister Naledi Pandor.
Read more in Daily Maverick: BRICS foreign ministers meet in Cape Town as questions mount about Putin’s possible visit
A small group of Ukrainian supporters carrying Ukrainian flats and brandishing placards condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine mounted a demonstration on the road outside the 12 Apostles Hotel in Cape Town where the foreign ministers are meeting.
The issue of Putin’s attendance at the summit has become critical and controversial.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest in March, charging him with war crimes for alleged complicity in the abduction of Ukrainian children by Russia and their deportation to Russia.
As a member of the ICC, South Africa would be obliged to arrest Putin if he visits SA for the BRICS summit. Pretoria has said it is trying to find a way of hosting him while still complying with its legal obligations to the ICC and to South Africa’s own ICC Implementation Act.
This effort to find a solution, headed by deputy president Paul Mashatile, is still underway and so Sooklal said it would be premature to comment. However other government sources have said that they don’t believe that there will be time to amend SA’s legislation or to get a waiver from the ICC in time to allow Putin to attend the summit.
They said as a result, SA was considering other options such as Putin attending the summit virtually or moving the summit to a neutral country, i.e. one that is not a member of the ICC. Now Sooklal seems to have shot down the latter option at least.
And Pandor declined to answer a question about whether SA and Russia were discussing the option of Putin participating in the summit virtually. She said in a briefing for journalists before the foreign ministers’ meeting on Thursday that she was not aware of discussion between Putin and President Cyril Ramaphosa about that.
Pandor repeated that the government is looking at options to resolve the dilemma and Ramaphosa would be the one to give SA’s final position.
Elephant in the room
When asked what BRICS could do about the war in Ukraine, since it involved one of its members, Sooklal said BRICS looks at all geopolitical hotspots, not just one. But he added that the situation in Ukraine must also receive attention. “But it’s not the only one. The current situation in Sudan warrants our attention, the ongoing situation of the plight of the Palestinians in terms of them being denied statehood has constantly been on the agenda.”
He added though that BRICS stood for peaceful resolutions of conflicts through dialogue.
“We would like to see a sustainable peace in all of these hotspots where we have conflicts and violence and sadly loss of life.”
He noted that BRICS members were involved in three peace initiatives, the African peace initiative of six African presidents including President Ramaphosa, plus China’s 12-point peace plan; and Brazilian president Lula da Silva had also proposed some suggestions.
Sooklal also denied that Brics was against the Global North. “We have always had very strong relations with all our friends around the world. We have a strong relationship with our partners in the global North and South. It would be wrong to place one relationship to be more important than the other. We value all these partnerships and relationships and we can speak frankly even if we have differences amongst ourselves.”
Sooklal said the foreign ministers meeting on Thursday would focus on the broad themes of SA’s chairmanship, including the global geoeconomic situation, and the BRICS New Development Bank. This session would be addressed by NDB vice president Leslie Maasdorp, a South African.
The third session would focus on the preparations for the summit “to which all BRICS countries are invited.” It would be preceded by an economic forum which the BRICS leaders would address.
On 24 August there would be a BRICS outreach where the BRICS leaders would meet invited leaders from around the world. He said President Ramaphosa had decided to invite all the African leaders to that outreach session, along with key leaders from the Global South and the leaders of key organisations, like the Non-Aligned Movement, the G77 plus China, Caricom, Asean.
Sooklal said the final session of the foreign ministers meeting would focus on institutional development including security and economic issues.
The foreign ministers would also look at the criteria and procedures for admitting new members to BRICS.
He also said that the fact that well over 20 countries had asked to join BRICKS, formally and informally, was a sign of the considerable confidence in the bloc from around the world and what it stood for including addressing ‘major faultlines’ in the geopolitical and financial order.
He noted that one of the foreign ministers who would be joining the BRICS Plus meeting on Friday — also called Friends of the BRICS — would be carrying a letter from his head of state formally applying to join BRICS.
“And just in the last week, we have received two further letters from heads of state requesting membership.” He also confirmed that Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran submitted formal requests to join.”
Lavrov Mozambique visit
In Maputo on Wednesday, Lavrov met president Filipe Nyusi and later commented on the recent accusation by US ambassador to South Africa Reuben Brigety that arms for Russia had been uploaded onto the Russian cargo ship Lady R in Simons Town naval base last December.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Lady R in South Africa
“If something seemed (out of place) to the American or any other ambassador overseas, then actually he should mind his own business and not get involved in other people’s affairs,” Lavrov said. He added that: we never violate international norms” about arms sales.
“But our Western colleagues violate them by declaring neutrality regarding the events in Ukraine and pumping this country with a huge number of modern long-range and generally unsafe weapons, including for those who use them, I mean shells with depleted uranium, for example.” DM