Vladimir Putin will not attend the BRICS summit in South Africa next month where he was at risk of arrest, the country’s presidency said on Wednesday.
Russia will instead be represented by foreign minister Sergei Lavrov “by mutual agreement”, Pretoria said, after “a number of consultations” on hosting the summit.
The announcement has defused an intense political dilemma for president Cyril Ramaphosa, after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Putin.
As a member of the ICC, South Africa would have been expected to act on the warrant if Putin set foot in the country for the summit alongside the leaders of Brazil, India and China.
But Pretoria had argued any arrest would be tantamount to a declaration of war against the nuclear-armed power.
South African diplomats have spent months trying to wrangle a way out of the confrontation, with suggestions including holding a remote meeting or transferring the summit to China.
Pretoria said Mr Ramaphosa was now “confident that the summit will be a success and calls on the nation to extend the necessary hospitality to the many delegates who will arrive from various parts of the continent and the globe”.
The opposition Democratic Alliance had added to the government’s discomfort by going to court to compel the ruling African National Congress to act on the warrant.
A government response before the court said Mr Ramaphosa believed seizing Putin would put South Africa at war.
He told the court: “It would be a reckless, unconstitutional and unlawful exercise of the powers conferred upon the government to declare war with Russia by arresting President Putin.
“My government and I have constitutional obligations to protect the national sovereignty, peace and security of the republic and its people.”
The BRICS group of nations and their attempt to form a counterweight to Western economic domination is a cornerstone of South Africa’s foreign policy.
However, the country has come under heavy domestic and international pressure not to host Putin since the ICC issued the warrant for his alleged role in deporting Ukrainian children.
Analysts have speculated that the recent domestic upheaval in Russia, with the brief mutiny by Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner forces, may have come to Mr Ramaphosa’s aid, leaving Putin uneasy about travelling abroad.
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