South African Deputy President Paul Mashatile said Russian President Vladimir Putin wants to attend the BRICS summit in the country next month. But he added that South Africa is trying to keep Putin away from the summit to avoid the legal and diplomatic repercussions of the international arrest warrant.
The International Criminal Court issued an indictment against the Russian leader in March for war crimes, including kidnapping children from Ukraine. South Africa, a signatory to the treaty establishing the court, is therefore obliged to arrest Putin if he enters the country.
There is a possibility that South African authorities will violate the treaty and not arrest Putin. But opposition parties, rights groups and legal activists have said he should be arrested and threatened to do it themselves.
South Africa, one of the countries that condemned Russia after its invasion of Ukraine, will risk strained relations with the West if it allows Putin to freely attend a summit of the BRICS emerging economies bloc.
In an interview with South African news outlet News24, South African Vice President Mashatile said the invitation to Russia went out before the indictment was issued and that he wanted Putin to attend the summit.
"It's a big dilemma for us. Of course, we cannot arrest him," Mashatile said. "It's almost like you invite your friend to your house, and then arrest them. That's why for us, his not coming is the best solution. The Russians are not happy, though. They want him to come."
When Mashatile proposed solutions such as moving the summit to China, organizing a virtual summit or having Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov represent Russia, the Russian side rejected them all.
Mashatile, who was tasked by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa with finding a solution, said Ramaphosa would try to convince Putin not to travel to South Africa when they meet at the Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg later this month.
"We've now decided to leave this matter with the president, who is talking to Putin," Mashatile said. "The president is going to the Russia-Africa summit later this month, so they will continue to talk. We want to show him the challenges that we face because we are part of the Rome Statute and we can't wiggle out of this."
Putin has not traveled to any country that has signed the court treaty after an arrest warrant was issued for him.