Give us a week, Mashatile says on question of Putin’s Brics attendance

The deputy president confirmed that South Africa would be forced to host the Brics summit and was likely to host the Russian leader in person

Give us a week, Mashatile says on question of Putin’s Brics attendance
Paul Mashatile

After months of uncertainty over whether Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who is accused of war crimes linked to its invasion of Ukraine, will visit South Africa next month, a final decision will be known this week, Deputy President Paul Mashatile said in an interview with the Mail & Guardian.

Mashatile said he had met President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday, who had said he was in deliberations with Putin almost daily. The Brics summit is to be held in Johannesburg in August.

The M&G first reported on Putin’s insistence on attending the summit in May when Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, rejected a proposal by International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Mandisa Pandor for Putin to attend the meeting virtually. 

Several insiders in Pretoria and in the ANC previously told the M&G that it was unlikely the Russian government would shift from its stance on Putin attending the conference in person alongside the leaders of fellow Brics members Brazil, India, China and South Africa.

On Tuesday, Mashatile confirmed that the Russians had rejected the virtual attendance proposal, insisting that the entire delegation led by Putin would be physically present.

“The president has been in discussion with President Putin and advised that he should delegate, preferably his foreign minister. The Russians are not happy with that, they want their whole delegation to come led by him. Those discussions are continuing,” Mashatile said.

He also confirmed another M&G report that South Africa had intended to move the Brics summit to China, but added that this would not succeed because India and Brazil were opposed to the suggestion. 

“We had three options, one was that he shouldn’t come and that he should delegate, the second was that maybe we should have it virtually. No member of Brics is happy with virtual. They want to be physical. India was amenable,” Mashatile said.

“Then we said maybe somebody should take over. We must get another country to chair. We thought maybe China because they were supposed to host Brics during Covid-19. China did not refuse but they said that we want to hear what others say.” 

This, he said, meant that South Africa was back to square one because its allies vetoed all its options. 

One diplomat well versed on the situation said South Africa suspected India refused to entertain China hosting the summit because of the growing tension between the two countries, which have been at odds over border control.

“We are back to square one. The discussions with Putin are continuing. [I] spoke to him [Ramaphosa] on Monday and he said he was still speaking to President Putin,” Mashatile said.  

“We understand we are bound by the Rome Statute [but] we can’t invite someone and then you arrest them. You can understand our dilemma. We would be happy if he doesn’t come. But we didn’t take a view to say we are not inviting you. We said you are invited but there is this situation. I would say maybe give us a week, we should be able to know how we are going to manage this.”

The Rome Statute established the International Criminal Court, which issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest in March, alleging that he was responsible for the war crime of taking Ukrainian children to Russia. This has become an international relations nightmare for South Africa, which is a signatory to the statute.

Mashatile added that Pretoria would like to see an outcome before the Africa-Russia two-day summit taking place in St Petersburg, Russia, from 27 July. 

“I am hoping that we don’t have to wait for the Africa-Russia summit,” he said.

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