South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that arresting Russian President Vladimir Putin if he attends an economic summit in South Africa next month would amount to a "declaration of war" by his country.
South African officials have said Putin wants to attend the BRICS summit, but an international arrest warrant requires them to enforce the legal order when he enters the country. President Ramaphosa has therefore intervened to keep Putin away from the summit.
The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant for Putin for war crimes committed during Russia's invasion of Ukraine. South Africa, one of the founders of the International Criminal Court, will have to arrest Putin if he visits the country.
South Africa's diplomatic dilemma is playing out in court, where the leading opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is trying to force the government's hand and ensure the Kremlin leader is held and handed over to the ICC if he steps foot in the country.
But in a responding affidavit, Ramaphosa described the DA's application as "irresponsible" and said national security was at stake.
Speaking to the court on Tuesday, Ramaphosa reiterated his recent statement that such action against Putin could derail efforts to end the war in Ukraine.
"I must highlight, for the sake of transparency, that South Africa has obvious problems with executing a request to arrest and surrender President Putin," he said. "Russia has made it clear that arresting its sitting president would be a declaration of war."
"It would be inconsistent with our Constitution to risk engaging in war with Russia," Ramaphosa added.
The ICC's decision to issue an arrest warrant against Putin puts Ramaphosa in a dilemma because of South Africa's planned visit of the Russian leader. South Africa, which wants to keep Russia, a member of BRICS, on its side, has consistently abstained from voting against Putin at the United Nations.
Instead, the South African leader has called for dialogue to end the war. Together with other African leaders, he first visited Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv. Then they sat down with Putin in Moscow to discuss a peace mission.
"An arrest of President Putin would introduce a new complication that would foreclose any peaceful solution" to the conflict, Ramaphosa said in the affidavit, submitted last month.
Ramaphosa had insisted that the affidavit remain confidential but the court ruled on Tuesday it can be made public.
The South African leader had earlier said that an announcement about Putin's possible participation at the Aug. 22-24 would be made soon.
Source: AP - The Moscow Times