Revealed: Putin agreed in June not to come to summit, but Ramaphosa had to consult BRICS partners before going public
President Cyril Ramaphosa has outlined in a court affidavit the tortuous and stressful diplomatic consultations Pretoria went through before announcing on Wednesday that Russian President Vladimir Putin would not, after all, attend next month’s BRICS Summit in Johannesburg.
An additional affidavit filed by President Cyril Ramaphosa in the DA’s court application demanding that South Africa should arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin if he comes to the country, reveals that Ramaphosa started consultations with BRICS heads of state about the issue after bilateral talks with Putin on the sidelines of the African Peace Mission in June in St Petersburg, Russia.
Daily Maverick understands that is when Ramaphosa reached an agreement with Putin about not attending the summit in August, but he had to also consult with the other BRICS member states.
Ramaphosa first spoke to Brazilian President Lula da Silva about the matter on the sidelines of the Summit for a New Global Financing Pact in Paris, held on 22 and 23 June. However, the President wanted his affidavit to be kept confidential until after he spoke to the Chinese and Indian heads of state.
“At this meeting, the President of Brazil agreed that the preferred option, being that President Putin would not attend the summit in person, had his support,” Ramaphosa said in his affidavit.
“This was soon after my trip to Russia as part of the Africa Heads of State Peace Mission on 19 June 2023.
“To sum up the position: I have had consultations with the President of Brazil, and the President of Russia. Dirco [Department of International Relations and Cooperation] has been making every effort to ensure that I get an audience with the President of China [Xi Jinping], as well as the Indian Prime Minister [Narendra Modi],” Ramaphosa’s affidavit reads.
“Until I am able to, I ask this court and DA to please keep this affidavit confidential. The Brics works on the basis of consensus. Releasing the content of this affidavit before I have had the opportunity to speak with my India and Chinese counterparts may strain diplomatic relations between South Africa and those countries, and also be in violation of the consensus model of the Brics. I really do not wish for that to happen,” reads the affidavit, which Ramaphosa signed on July 18.
On Tuesday, the DA won its bid to unseal the President’s confidential affidavits along with all its supporting documents.
In the first affidavit, which was released on Tuesday, Ramaphosa set out that South Africa would have issues executing the request to arrest Putin and was aware of the dire implications — including the risk of war with Russia — if the country were to contribute towards his arrest.
Ramaphosa explained that South Africa had initiated Article 97 proceedings of the Rome Statute, which allow for consultation with the International Criminal Court (ICC) if a problem is identified that could potentially impede or prevent the execution of an ICC request, such as one to arrest and surrender an ICC suspect.
Fadi El Abdallah, who speaks on behalf of the ICC, refused to give Daily Maverick a comment on whether Pretoria had in fact consulted the court on trying to secure a waiver of the court’s request to SA to arrest Putin.
The Presidency on Wednesday afternoon formally announced that Putin will not be attending the BRICS Summit. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will represent the country instead.
Russia’s Tass news agency then reported that Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said that Putin would address the summit via video conference.
Putin’s party reacts
Speaking to the media on the sidelines of the BRICS Political Parties Dialogue in Johannesburg, Andrey Klimov, a senior United Russian Party member who is also a member of Russia’s State Duma and the co-chairman of the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, said the decision for Putin not to attend had been taken unanimously.
He told Daily Maverick that he had a conversation with Ramaphosa on the eve of the announcement and that Russian officials were aware that the South African government had been placed in an invidious position.
“Honestly, I am not surprised [that Putin will not be able to attend] … the situation is based on factors which are not from South Africa. This is about the environment of today’s world and of course, we need special confirmation from the official side of the presidential administration of the Russian Federation.
“Before leaving Russia, I heard different scenarios of what would happen, but certainly we Russians, we Chinese, we Indians, we are guests here and it is up to the master of the house, the president of the country, to make decisions on this. The most important thing is that BRICS is still a powerful alliance of sovereign states. Russia is still a friend of South Africa,” Klimov said.
The SA Communist Party’s General Secretary, Solly Mapaila, believes it was inevitable that South Africa would give in to the ICC. Besides the legal implications, Mapaila explained that South Africa had a lot to lose had it allowed Putin to attend the summit.
“What we need to say is that SA should take this lesson as the leader of their country to develop its own instruments. Just as a general speculation, we do not have public systems in place.
“President Putin today has become the most important leader for a multipolar world system. He represents that. The West is trying to divert that vision so that we only see a man who is obsessed with power.”
Opposition parties react
The DA welcomed the announcement by the Presidency that Putin wouldn’t attend the summit and deemed it a victory for the party.
“By mutual agreement, Putin and Ramaphosa have now bent the knee before the DA’s fight for the rule of law. The DA firmly believes that no one, regardless of their position, should be above the law. Our commitment to the principles of justice, accountability and adherence to international treaties won the day against the ANC and their Russian ally.
“South Africa’s reputation on the international stage and its commitment to upholding the rule of law were at stake in this matter. By standing firm on the need to adhere to our obligations under the Rome Statute and other international conventions, we have demonstrated our unwavering dedication to justice and human rights,” said DA leader John Steenhuisen.
Despite this development, the DA is going ahead with its court bid. Its application to ensure South Africa arrests Putin should he visit the country will be heard on Friday at the Pretoria High Court.
The EFF said, “In a typical Western imperialist fashion, South Africa faced threats of losing financial and political ties with the West unless they arrested President Putin. The United States of America even threatened to withdraw South Africa from the African Growth and Opportunity Act as a form of pressure.
“It must therefore be highlighted that President Putin’s withdrawal is a consequence of the South African state’s reluctance to be firm on international affairs and their inability to resist pressure from Nato. Further hypocrisy lies in the fact that the ICC has not prosecuted individuals like George Bush and Tony Blair for war crimes, raising questions about its impartiality, yet our government bows to its threats.” DM