- As a signatory to the ICC, South Africa is under a legal obligation to heed the warrant and arrest the leader of Russia.
- The European Union, as well as the United States, have all sent diplomatic envoys to South Africa urging the administration in Pretoria to broker some kind of peace talks.
- South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor raised the issue of double standards in the ICC.
South Africa has extended an invitation to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to attend the BRICS Summit later this year in South Africa amidst an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Putin for the invasion of Ukraine.
BRICS is made up of the world’s largest emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. The five countries will be holding their 15th annual summit in Durban South Africa later this year.
Following the issuance of the ICC warrant, the EU issued a supporting statement; “The EU sees the decision by the ICC as a beginning of the process of accountability and holding Russian leaders to account for the crimes and atrocities they are ordering, enabling or committing in Ukraine.”
As a signatory to the ICC, South Africa is under a legal obligation to heed the warrant and arrest the leader of a country that it says, “has always been a friend of South Africa.”
In this regard, Russia is considering its options and is yet to announce whether President Putin attend the BRICS Summit, in person or virtual. What is clear is Russia’s confidence in the growing influence of the BRICS.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said; “This organisation unites five countries, with more than 12 others showing an interest in joining it. Developing links between BRICS and other countries will be a central topic at the upcoming summit of the five which is to take place in August in Durban, South Africa. The clock of multi-polar history is ticking in the right direction.”
Also Read: BRICS Influence: Africa’s position in shifting global economic outlook
Can the West sway South Africa to turn on a ‘long term friend?’
Meanwhile, the West is bidding the Ramaphosa administration to use the BRICS Summit to sway Russia to seize fire. The European Union, as well as the United States, have all sent diplomatic envoys to South Africa urging the administration in Pretoria to broker some kind of peace talks.
The European Union’s Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell visited South Africa in January where he urged Pretoria to try and convince Moscow to end the war with Ukraine.
Describing South Africa as a strategic partner Mr. Borrell expressed the EU’s hope that South Africa will use what he termed as ‘its good relations with Russia’ and ‘its influence in the BRICS’ to convince Russia to, “stop this senseless war.”
U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, who was also in South Africa recently, made the same plea.
“The single best thing we can do to help the global economy is to end Russia’s illegal and unprovoked war in Ukraine,” said Yellen.
She said progress in Africa is stalling and blamed Moscow and more specifically President Putin saying “… the actions of a single man, President Putin, are creating an unnecessary drag on Africa’s economy.”
Despite the diplomatic visits, there is a cloud of frustration hanging over the West and none articulates the concern better than a February article by The Economist titled: ‘Why South Africa is drifting into the Sino-Russian orbit.’
“…the hosting of Russian and Chinese navies for exercises from February 17th-27th is not just a chance for sailors to salute each other. Coinciding with the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the operations underline how the ANC government, despite claiming to be neutral over the conflict, is drifting into the Sino-Russian orbit, partly by choice.
Also Read: ‘What does Russia’s invasion of Ukraine mean for Southern Africa?
South Africa cares about Ukrainians and wants peace – Pandor
In her remarks, while hosting the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov last month, South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor once again raised the issue of double standards in the arbitration of international affairs.
Withholding any blunt criticism of the ICC, the South African diplomat did however point out that according to her, ‘the ICC turns a blind eye to other global atrocities.’
“On other occasions, I have mentioned the problem of double standards in global affairs. There are many other countries that have been involved in wars, invasions of territories, murders of people, and arrests of activists, but none of them have been called out by the ICC,” she alleged.
“It seems that if you are powerful and enjoy a particular status in the international community, you can get away and this worries us because it obscures the objectivity of the ICC as a fair arbitrator,” local media quotes the diplomat.
Nonetheless, Foreign Minister Pandor was cautious to exhibit South Africa’s acknowledgment of the ICC warrant in the wake of its invitation to President Putin saying; “We must have a discussion with the Cabinet to decide how we will act.”
“We are awaiting a refreshed legal opinion on the matter,” she adde and at that instance also seized the opportunity to allay international concerns as to South Africa’s position in the conflict; “We are concerned about the situation of the people of Ukraine. What we would want to do is be in a position where we could continue to engage with both countries to persuade them towards peace.”
Historically, South Africa is known to hold strong ties with Russia dating as far back as the apartheid regime when Russia provided refuge for South Africa’s political exiles and provided training and tactical weapons to its freedom fighters that today form the ruling party the African National Congress (ANC).
So what is South Africa to do, heed its ICC legal obligation, and arrest President Putin, if he does in fact attend the BRICS Summit?
Well, Russia would have it known that any attempt to do so would be considered an act of aggression. Quoted by Deutsche Welle, Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has said an attempt by any country to arrest President Putin based on the warrant issued by the ICC will be “taken as a declaration of war.”